“1921: On March 21, vivacious American-born Lady Astor faced an intruder at her Devonshire home threatening to kill her. After coaxing him into a calmer frame of mind, Lady Astor got him out of the house. She then gathered up her skirts and chased him through the surrounding lanes.”

GOSSIP 1920-1970: Fifty Years of High Society – the Scandals, Triumphs and Tragedies, by Andrew Barrow (Pan Books, 1978), is exactly what it somewhat unwieldily says on the tin. I found it for a pound in the secondhand book stall outside the NFT, and it’s my book of the year so far: a detailed and totally addictive history of the utterly trivial, every lost nine-day-wonder reduced to a single compelling paragraph. Round the edges of the nonsense, you catch momentary flashes of the history you already know, as it unfolds, unattended.

1922: “On December 9, the new Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, arrived in England for an Allied Premiers conference on the German reparations. He was met at Victoria station by cheering London fascists and escorted to Claridge’s Hotel. He later dined at Buckingham Palace where he was described as being in ‘fine fettle’.”

The basic topics of gossip don’t change – horrid murder, scandals sexual or financial, the mighty made absurd – but their local flavour certainly does: many of the stories from the 20s read like G. K. Chesterton (admirals brandishing cutlasses; daring jewel robberies during high society banquets; venerable Dukes rubbing thighs with perky American film stars); there’s a sense of real-life jumpcut surrealism that maybe says as much about the aftermath of the Great War, in its ruthless pursuit of frivolity and the meaningless, as anything attempted by the actual um real Surrealists (who anyway raided the newspapers for much of their material).

“1923: On New Year’s Day, it was revealed that the young Marchioness of Queensbury was driving herself to Rome in a two-seater sports car. During the journey, the car lost its horn and left mudguard and the Marchioness, a former Gaiety girl, ran out of money and had to live on buns.”