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.