In March 1941 the upper-crust English communist Decca Mitford sent her youngest sister a telegram congratulating her on an “excellent season’s duking”. Decca’s words were premature. Debo, a comparative moderate among notable extremes, had indeed bagged the dashing Andrew Cavendish, but the Devonshire title and the family seat at Chatsworth were destined for his eldest brother William, or Billy Hartington as he was known to friends.

“Duking” was what the London season was all about, although polite girls would deny it. In Hons and Rebels (1960) Decca recalled the “endless successions of flower-banked ballrooms filled with very young men and women, resembling uniformly processed market produce at its approximate peak, with here and there an overripe or under-ripe exception,

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