History, both political and literary, was made when W. F. Deedes met Evelyn Waugh in 1935. Both
were in Abyssinia to cover a war which many in England regarded with bewildered indifference but which
profoundly influenced an impending global conflict. Whilst Deedes was principally concerned with filing
copy to London, the author of Brideshead Revisited had another agenda and another novel in mind, Scoop.
As Waugh drank, played poker and observed hacks in seedy hotel bars in Addis Ababa, he focussed on one
young reporter. W. F. Deedes has always denied his association with Scoop's Boot, the innocent abroad
and nature-notes writer who is accidentally dispatched to a war-zone. However, he acknowledges some
similarities - particularly the tonnage of kit he shipped from London.
Bill Deedes considers that 'little' war and its importance with the hindsight of a further sixty-odd
years of impeccably thoughtful reporting from other battlefields, whilst offering unique memories of his
difficult contemporary - arguably the finest English novelist of his time. Written with characteristic
wit, insight and affection, At War With Waugh is a small classic.
According to many sources, Deedes was the journalist used by Evelyn Waugh as the model and inspiration
for the hapless William Boot, protagonist of the satirical novel Scoop. Deedes himself said he "spent
part of my life brushing aside the charge," but admitted "that my inexperience and naivety as a reporter
in Africa might have contributed a few bricks to the building of Boot.". The two had reported together
in 1936, trying to cover the Second Italo-Abyssinian War; Deedes arrived in Addis Ababa aged 22 with
almost 600 pounds of luggage. Berhanu Kebele, Ethiopian ambassador, to London, pointed out that Deedes's
sharp journalistic instincts ensured Italian excesses were kept in the public eye. Barring the question
of age, a more appropriate model for Boot is William Beach Thomas who, according to Peter Stothard,
"was a quietly successful countryside columnist and literary gent who became a calamitous Daily Mail
war correspondent" in World War I.
The author and reader
William Francis Deedes, Baron Deedes, KBE, MC, PC, DL (1 June 1913 . 17 August 2007) was a British
Conservative Party politician, soldier and journalist; he is to date the only person in Britain to have
been both a member of the Cabinet and the editor of a major daily newspaper.
Brought up in the family home of Saltwood Castle and educated at Harrow, he was denied a university
career after his father suffered heavy financial losses from the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Deedes began
his career as a reporter on the Morning Post in 1931, joining the Daily Telegraph when it took over the
Post in 1937. Between 1931 and the beginning of the war in 1939, he shared a home in Bethnal Green, with
his uncle Wyndham Deedes.
Deedes fought in the Second World War as an officer in the 2nd Battalion of The Queen's Westminsters,
one of the territorial units of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, gaining the Military Cross near Hengelo,
The Netherlands in April 1945. He was also the only officer to serve in the King's Royal Rifle Corps for
the whole duration of the war.
He was married to Evelyn Branfort, who died in May 2004, by whom he had two sons (one of whom died young)
and three daughters; Deedes' son, Jeremy Deedes, is a director of the Telegraph Group of companies. His
daughter, Lucy Deedes, is a former Master of Foxhounds and was the first wife of Crispin Money-Coutts,
the 9th Baron Latymer.
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