The Remains of the Day and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie share characters attracted to fascism. They were not atypical representations. A swath of the British upper crust, including some royals, were slow in awakening to the Nazi threat. The bogeyman was communism, not fascism. Under Hitler, the German economy had begun chugging again. As for German anti-Semitism, for the British aristocracy, it was a small price to pay to be rid of Reds.
As late as 1939, the daughters of British aristocrats traveled to Germany for “finishing.” The most notable examples were two of the Mitford sisters. Unity Mitford developed a friendship with Hitler. She shot herself in the head when England declared war on Germany. Diana Mitford also befriended Hitler. She later left her husband, brewing heir Bryan Guinness, to live with and marry Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists. The wedding took place at the home of Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler in attendance. Hitler’s wedding gift was a picture of himself. Diana reportedly owned a diamond swastika. The Mosleys were interned during the war for three years beginning in 1940. As for the BUF, at its peak, it claimed membership of 50,000. It adopted a fascist salute, promoted anti-Semitism, and formed an auxiliary of Blackshirts. The BUF was given disproportionate publicity by newspaper entrepreneur Lord Rothermere.
Perhaps the most famous Brit to flirt with Hitler was Britain’s abdicated King Edward VIII. During his brief reign, the King, who claimed German ancestry through his mother, his great-grandfather Prince Albert, and through Queen Victoria’s Hanover roots, broke protocol to speak directly with the German ambassador and also threatened to abdicate if Hitler’s advance into the Rhineland was stopped. Against government advice, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the titles given to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson post-abdication, visited Hitler in 1937 and regaled him with the Nazi salute. According to one scholar, the Duke favored not just appeasement but an Anglo-German alliance, blaming “the Jews, the Reds, and the Foreign Office” for the war and advocating German bombing of Britain to induce peace. Soviet intelligence believed that the Duke was negotiating with Hitler during the war to form a new English government. The Duke reportedly dropped state secrets to the enemy and communicated with Nazi officials. Apparently because of doubts about the Duke’s loyalty, Churchill arranged for his being named Governor of the Bahamas, removing the potential for treachery. After the war, the Duke and the Duchess settled in Paris where among other guests they entertained Diana Mitford Mosley. Diana became the Duchess’ biographer.