Boot of the Beast, RIP

Bill Deedes, the wonderful old bird who was the model for William Boot, the hapless war correspondent in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, has passed away at the grand age of 94. There’s a nice obit in — not surprisingly — the Telegraph. Excerpt:

As editor of the Telegraph he would wear a cardigan with garish luminous socks, smoke from a cigarette holder and address the most insignificant sub-editor as “My lord” or “Shquire”.

His mangled metaphors were legendary: “You can’t make an omelette without frying eggs”; “one swallow doesn’t make an impression”; “we should nail our matchbox to the mast”; “the Tories should pull their trousers up”.

Once or twice a day he would be found enjoying a pint at the King and Keys, next door to the paper’s premises in Fleet Street. It would have been difficult to imagine anyone less afflicted by the strains, frustrations and insecurities which so often haunt the seats of power.

Evidently life had treated Bill Deedes very well, and he was perfectly willing to acknowledge the fact.

Indeed, with his shushing articulation and somewhat distrait manner, Bill Deedes might appear as hardly more than an amiable buffer – a distant cousin, perhaps, of Bertie Wooster, certainly an eminently suitable golf partner for Sir Denis Thatcher, Bt.

This image was reinforced by his caricature in Private Eye as Dear Bill, the recipient of Denis Thatcher’s fictitious epistolary confidences. Deedes played up to this gentle mockery.

When he wrote to Private Eye to correct them on some point, he relished the opportunity to use the formula which the magazine imputed to his editorial corrections: “shome mishtake shurely.”

Even amidst the troubles that enveloped his editorship he appeared to some to be benignly disengaged. “The snapshot I carry of Bill in my head,” noted the paper’s cartoonist Nicholas Garland, “is of him tilted back in his chair with one foot on his desk; smoke is curling from his cigarette; his tie is loosened, and he is grinning.”

But this supposed exponent of the easy option had won the Military Cross during the war. This seeming flaneur found his content in unremitting work.

This apparent bumbler was one of the best journalists of his time, always eager for travel and adventure, fertile in shrewd perceptions, and blessed with the ability to convey them with a clarity and simplicity none but the best writers attain…