Tuesday, August 21, 2007

WF Deedes 1913-2007

So farewell then (in the great Private Eye tradition) Dear Bill...

I'm not given to feeling sad when people I only know through the column of a newspaper die, but I have to confess to feeling terribly sad about the demise of the late great columnist, WF Deedes.


Long before I started reading WF Deedes in the Telegraph I knew all about him - or I thought I did. This is mainly because I like most of my contemporaries read Private Eye in the 80s and roared with laughter over the Dear Bill letters. It was only many years later when I started to read the Daily Telegraph that I discovered what a good egg he was.
(There I've admitted it, I read the Torygraph. I shall now have to go to therapy - to most of my more left wing pals admitting that is tantamount to saying you are somewhat to the right of Ghengist Khan. My natural inclination is actually to read both sides of the political spectrum, but Spouse reads the DT, and I never get round to buying the paper. Thanks to the internet and the very brilliant bloggers around and about like Dave Hill at Temperama and Political Umpire on Fora, I do get more then my required daily fix of both sides of the fence, which allows me to sit just where I belong, firmly in the middle, but that, as they say, is another story.)

Anyway, I am grateful to Spouse for introducing me to the Torygraph, because among other things for the past ten years or so I have regularly read and enjoyed WF Deedes column. He was amazingly a journalist for over 70 years. Until two years ago he regularly travelled the world covering stories in all sorts of war torn places most of us wouldn't dare to go to. He was a humane, just and compassionate man, who wrote with searing honesty of the evils he saw in the world, yet retained the most incredble optimism in the face of man's inhumanity to man. At times of great crisis, as for instance after 9/11, he was capable of raising the spirits by pointing to the simple things in life, frequently finding comfort in nature. I for one will mourn the coming of Spring without his wonderful descriptions of the flowers in the hedgerows et al.

His was a remarkable life. Not only did he start his journalistic life in Ethiopia in 1931, but he was also a war hero, an MP and minister and the editor of the Daily Telegraph to boot. It is a cliche, but, they really don't make em like that anymore. Though a decade older then my father and fil, he represents all that was truly great and noble about their generation.

And he was the inspiration not only for Dear Bill, but William Boot in Scoop (which I read long before I even knew who Bill Deedes was). That I think is a really neat trick. To be immortalised not just once, but twice in print.

He apparently carried on working till pretty much the end, filing his last copy two weeks before he died. It was a typically forthright piece on the evils of the conflict in Darfur, which he likened to Nazi Germany. Given that he saw the effects of both, I think he is better placed then most to make that judgement, and it is one I totally agree with. Darfur is indeed a stain on humanity's conscience. I wonder if we'd hear more about it if it was a war being waged by white supremacist religious bigots against almost anyone else?

If you want to read it in full you can here:


Remarkable last words, from a remarkable man, who led a remarkable life.
He will be much missed. Not least by me.

19 comments:

Dumdad said...

This is a touching tribute to a great man.

I worked for the Daily Telegraph for 13 years as a news sub-editor from 1979 to 1992 and Bill Deedes was the editor when I turned up. He was a lovely man and had time for all and sundry. (I shall be writing about my career at the DT in my occasional series A Journey in Journalism, which should be coming to a blog near you soon, and I'm sure Bill will be mentioned).

My friend Colin Randall, a former colleague on the DT, has written about Deedes on his blog:

http://www.francesalut.com/

You right - they don't make 'em like that any more.

Jane Henry said...

Oh Wow! (as my eleven year old would say). You KNEW him???? I'm glad to hear that he was as nice in person as he appeared to be in print. I know it is generally true that people speak well of the dead, but the tributes that I have read to him all attest to his personal charms.

One of the things I really valued him for was that given his great age he had such a wonderful perspective on things, which I think we perhaps in the middle of our very busy lives lose sight of.

That and his optimism. I think to have retained that with all that he must have seen to counteract it, is pretty impressive.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and many thanks for your kind remarks. Sorry I don't have time for much more at the moment. (sort of on holiday)

P-Ump

Cailleach said...

That was a good read, MM. I would't beat yourself up too much about the torygraph, it's a good paper in parts. I used to have to read it in UK when I worked as a press reader. I was on the broadsheets section, so we had a great choice of papers... although we also had the Daily Sport on our section. There's been quite a bit about Lord Deeded in the papers over here in Ireland too. Incredible age he lived to and such a capacity for work. I wish that I can be as active as him.
Barbara

Jane Henry said...

P-Ump, hope you're enjoying your break.

Barbara, hello! Nice to see you here...

Don't take me TOOO seriously about the Torygraph thing. I'm just the only one in the family who reads it. Me ma read the Times (I was being principled and not reading it as I don't like Murdoch, but now I'm to be published by one of his companies I've rather lost that argument!) The rest of my siblings and nearly all my friends read the Grauniad. And I loathe it. I find it self satisfied, po faced and representing all that I hate about the chattering classes (Mad Twin is no doubt going to leap to its defence).

I used to buy the Independent but I lost interest in it after a bit and now never read it.

I do think papers become habitual as well, as you know where to find everything, so it feels comfy. I love the internet and places life CIF for taking me out of that comfort zone from time to time (even if I don't always agree with what I read.)

Mad Twin said...

Ah Jane, you falsely malign me. I am not going to jump up and down defending the Grauniad.Like anything it has it's good and bad points.

I like it for innovations like the Berliner format, novelty guest editors of G2, the wonderful wall charts. I like it for Society Today (source of all my best jobs)and Community Claire (the funniest cartoon going and proof that we Guardian readers can laugh at ourselves). I like it for standing up to bullies who threaten libel and winning more often than not. And I like their Women's page being about more than makeup and clothes

I don't think it smug, but I dislike the assumptions of many of its commentators that Christianity is the root of all evil. I find Polly Toynbee's pathetic defences of New Labour irritating in the extreme (& the way she jumped ship to Gordon when Tony was obviously going sickmaking). I don't think they criticise New Labour nearly enough, particularly over the Iraq war, and their recent regurgitation of US propaganda about Iran is worrying...

I used to read the Indy more, and they still have my favourite journalist, Robert Fisk, writing for them, but we have only room for one paper in the house and I can live with the Grauniad.

As for the Torygraph, well I'm never going to subscribe to its values but it too has its good points. I was cross with it for its treatment of our friend Norman Kember when he was released from Iraq, but they did allow him a significant right of reply some time later that put the record straight. And today they have a nice piece on another friend Milan Rai who has gone to jail for protesting outside Downing St. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/23/nprotest123.xml
The Telegraph is the only paper to have picked up the story, so well done to them for supporting the right to free speech.

I think you are right though, papers become a comfort thing, easiest to read the one with which you are most familiar!

Hope that clarifies it

Political Umpire said...

Cracking debate between the Manics. I feel rather like an intruder even attempting to contribute. But I do recall how Yes Minister described each of the UK's dailies:

"The Times is read by the people who run the country. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by the people who think they ought to run the country. The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country ought to be run by another country. The Independent is read by people who don't know who runs the country but are sure they're doing it wrong. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by the people who own the country. The Daily Express is read by the people who think the country ought to be run as it used to be run. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who still think it is their country. And the Sun's readers don't care who runs the country providing she has big tits."

Jane Henry said...

Hallo P-Ump...

Thanks for reminding me why I loved Yes Minister so much!

Do feel free to join in the debate. MT and I don't mind at all - I'd hate this blog to become exclusive to us. (Though bizarrely it is often a place we communicate when we're in a hurry. Thankfully the weekend has just been spent with her in the real world).

MT has reminded me that my pet Guardian hate is Polly Toynbee. I am possibly maligning the joylessness of it as it is a while since I dropped by, but I do remember reading it around the time of the Queen Mum's death and finding it's unrelenting republicanism tedious in the extreme. Whatever you think of the royals, I found it fascinating to read about her, purely from the pov of the times she lived in, and at the time it didn't seem to me the Grauniad leaders could even bear to acknowledge that so caught up with their anti royal bashing.

MT I do agree about the David and Goliath bit.

Actually - many moons ago when I was studying History O level I had to do a study of a political story using different newspapers to show bias changes the story. I chose the Labour Party split. Some days it was like reading two different stories. I'd read a speech in the Guardian by Michael Foot and he was a hero of the people, and go to the Torygraph and he was a bumbling fool. It was fascinating how polarised the two papers were. But then politics was then, and less so now, and I tend to think in the main that there is far less that separates them now then unites them.

Political Umpire said...

Thanks Jane, if I had time I would offer more substantive comments. I don't like Polly Pot either. I actually had some personal correspondence with her a while ago (reproduced on my blog). We didn't get on.

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