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Bill Deedes MC, Journo, MP, War Hero, dies at 94


Book Reviewer
A D Tel Exclusive (as you would hope!):

Lord Deedes, regarded by many as a national institution and the longest serving Daily Telegraph journalist, died tonight aged 94. The man who was a witness to many of the 20th century’s most important events, who served as a Cabinet minister in the 1960s and edited The Daily Telegraph for 12 years, died at his home in Kent after a short illness. He had written his last column for the paper, comparing the horrors of Darfur to Nazi Germany, as recently as August 3. After editing the paper Bill Deedes, as he modestly preferred to be known, enjoyed an Indian summer as a reporter and journalist for another 30 years, long after most men would have retired.

An entertaining and gentle figure apparently from another age - Bill Deedes boasted not long ago that he had met Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts - he was frequently lampooned, but always affectionately.

Most famously, Bill Deedes inspired one of Evelyn Waugh’s most celebrated characters - the bumbling though resourceful William Boot - in his novel, Scoop.

Much later, his close friendship and frequent golfing excursions with the late Sir Denis Thatcher, husband of Baroness Thatcher, inspired the long-running Dear Bill letters in the satirical magazine Private Eye.

Born in 1913 into a political family - one forebear was a member of the Long Parliament and three 19th-century MPs were called William Deedes - he became a reporter on the Morning Post and by 1935 he had proved himself sufficiently competent to be despatched to cover Mussolini’s imminent invasion of Abyssinia.

Weighed down by luggage weighing a quarter of a ton, it was there that he ran into Waugh, who was covering the invasion for the Daily Mail, and the idea of Scoop was born.

Other assignments included covering the Jarrow hunger march in 1936 and, by then working for The Daily Telegraph, he was witness outside Downing Street to Chamberlain waving the agreement that he had just signed with Hitler guaranteeing “peace in our time”.

In the Second World War - he was the only officer to serve in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps from the start to the finish - he was awarded the Military Cross for saving his men who were pinned down while crossing a bridge in Holland.

After, he returned to The Daily Telegraph but grew increasingly interested in politics.

In 1950 he was elected the Tory MP for Ashford and four years later Winston Churchill gave him his first junior post at the Ministry of Housing.

A somewhat reluctant minister - he always had doubts about his ability to master his brief - he was promoted to the Cabinet in 1962 as Minister Without Portfolio in charge of Information Services by Macmillan after he had sacked seven ministers in a crisis.

Typically self-deprecating, Bill Deedes recorded: “My heart sank.”

Then he noted wryly: “a sinking ship is my spiritual home”.

His post propelled him to the centre of the Profumo scandal the next year and then when Macmillan resigned he was at the centre of the decision to pick Sir Alec Douglas-Home as the next Prime Minister.

Though the Conservatives lost power in 1964, he remained an MP until 1974 when Lord Hartwell, the proprietor, offered him the editorship of The Daily Telegraph.

All from theTorygraph at:

Now, there's a Man who has had a long and thoroughly interesting life, and who remained to the end, by all accounts, a complete Gent.

They don't make them like Him anymore, more's the pity...
With his long experience of war and peace, fine turn of phrase, wit and passion for our nation's cultural heritage, Bill Deedes fought for justice and decency to the last. Irreplacable and an extremely sad loss.
On top of everything else, a great newspaper columnist in his later years. The oldest guest (twice) on Have I Got News For You. Often assumed to be Denis Thatcher's friend in the Private Eye spoof feature Dear Bill, Bil Deedes made this the title of his own autobiography. Will be greatly missed. R.I.P.

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