A belatedly blogged encomium to Bill Deedes…

I’m blogging this article by Peter Preston quite a bit after time, but I am blogging it for the same reason I started Slugger (and no, it was not to gain friends or to influence people): to save myself from tangling with inscrutable newspaper archives in re-finding the good journalism that I pick up along the way. This is my top pick of the obits for the late Bill Deeds, and as such it bears even such a tardy mention on Slugger:

So why, dead at last at 94, so many eulogies? Greatness has nothing to do with it. Bill Deedes had two things that could not be matched in the Fleet Street he served inexhaustibly: life force and wisdom. He wasn’t just nice, he was wise in an unpompous, forgiving way. He was a journalist you could trust – and respect – because his real personality came through. There aren’t too many of them around. Treasure them when you can.


It wasn’t merely the energy of a nonagenarian that inspired a kind of awe, though. It was what he wrote and the way he wrote it that counted. Take his last column, only a couple of weeks ago, penned from his bed.

‘It is time the world was shaken awake to the infamy of what is going on in Darfur,’ he wrote.

‘In terms of man’s inhumanity to man, what has been going on there for four years is now comparable to the death camps for which Germany’s Nazis were found guilty. That statement may provoke cries of outrage from some: surely the Holocaust stands alone?

‘Not to me it doesn’t, and as a soldier I had to enter one of those camps and went to the trial of its commandant. I have also been to Darfur.’

He finishes:

Perhaps he sometimes played the flannelled fool, perhaps his love for the old, wet Conservative party of Supermac sometimes blurred the line where journalism began. But nothing he did in his long, long life was malevolent or crooked or even unkind.

Dear Bill. You made your own luck in the end, and with a humanity that will linger in the memory of those who knew and followed you, long after the anecdotes are worn out by repetition and the obituarists have moved on. Journalists can be human beings, too.


  • Rory

    (and no, it was not to gain friends or to influence people):

    Good job too – it would never have worked. But never mind, we like you anyway.

  • Rory

    But..it is a beautiful obituary. A man who inspired such affection, esteem and respect from among his own has lived well; the genius of Deedes’ life was that, even among those who despised the society he stood for, myself included, it was difficult, if not impossible to dislike the man.

    Perhaps to live well, true to one’s own lights, yet with generousity towards all is the best that can be expected of any man.

  • I noticed one of the better Deedes’ stories came late to the party (I think it was in the Sunday Times gossip column).

    Deedes was shown round Saltwood Castle by Alan Clark. Clark was the most ineffable snob, always credited with putting down Michael Heseltine by saying he “bought his own furniture” (in fact the line originally came from Michael Jopling).

    Clark insisted on reciting to Deedes the history of the Castle, back to the hatching of the plot to murder Thomas Becket. Deedes listened patiently, and didn’t mention that the castle had been his own family home until the Wall Street Crash, and didn’t point out his own family crest in the Great Hall, above the fireplace.

    Can we also have a brief cheer for Deedes’s near contemporary, Denis Healey, 90 on Thursday?

    Have we stopped producing such people as Deedes and Healey, capable of achieving multiple roles (in these two cases, writing, soldiering and politicking) in one lifetime?

  • joeCanuck

    Hear Hear Rory.
    My sentiments exactly.
    I always felt good about him as a person watching him on TV.