In 1997, Lord Deedes (to give him his title) published Dear Bill, the autobiography he had said he would never write. It was widely, and justly, praised. Now he has re-issued the book with many changes and additions.
Bill has been a journalist since he joined the Morning Post (later merged with The Daily Telegraph) in 1931, and he was a Tory MP and, briefly, Cabinet minister. Dear Bill is a peerless first- hand account of those years from someone who knows how to write. As a minister, he was charged with trying to sort out the Profumo affair. As a young journalist he famously got to know Evelyn Waugh in Abyssinia and was the inspiration for the character of William Boot in Waugh's novel, Scoop.
Dear Bill illuminates many of the changes, good and bad, that have taken place over 50 years. Bill joined the Morning Post through a family connection, after his father lost money in the stock market and had to remove Bill from Harrow. Our young hero knew nothing about journalism, but quickly took to it. He was sent all over the country, and soon came to know what he calls "the condition of England".
It is difficult to imagine a young reporter these days getting out and talking to all manner of people as Bill did. Nowadays a young journalist is likely to be glued to his screen or stuck on the end of a telephone. When he was an editor, Bill's belief that one learnt best by getting out was of enormous benefit to his recruits. The Daily Telegraph of the late 1970s was as far removed from the current paper - and, indeed, from the whole of modern journalism - as it is possible to imagine.
It was still a world our Victorian forefathers would have easily recognised. Bill's writ ran only over the comment pages; the news machine was run by the abrasive and efficient figure of Peter Eastwood. The news was as straight as it is possible to be.
There were scarcely any features, and no regular columnists. Despite this, it seemed a paper more interested in politics than any modern titles. In its leader column, run on a loose, genial basis by Bill, the Telegraph pursued a loyally Conservative line. There were at least 10 writers, and none was required to show up until 3.45pm, when the editorial conference took place.
Even then, the chances were that you would not be asked to write. One leader writer went six months without putting pen to paper. Vast quantities of alcohol were consumed by most of the journalists, either at the King and Keys, a grotty pub in Fleet Street, or El Vino, a more salubrious establishment up the road. Both were academies for young journalists who listened to, and occasionally dared to take part in, spirited, and sometimes acrimonious, discussions.
But, for all its charm, the old Daily Telegraph, like the old Fleet Street, was doomed. The rapacious printers regularly stopped production. New computer equipment lay unused. Time was running out for Michael Hartwell and the Berry family, who owned the Telegraph titles. A new and rational world was waiting - accountants were sharpening their pencils and marketing men were preparing their plans.
Once the trade unions were broken, newspapers quickly became fatter. They were increasingly about entertainment as much they were about news. Politics became just a single ingredient in a much broader mix. So did foreign news.
The paradox is that while newspapers have moved into the entertainment business, they have become less entertaining to work for. Journalists spend far too much time gazing forlornly at their computer screens. Some of them never see a journalist from another newspaper, let alone talk to him (or her).
Bill Deedes is a reminder of an age when things were done differently, and I am grateful to him for creating such a delightful idyll at The Daily Telegraph, doomed though it undoubtedly was.
THE HOT NEWS is that the Guardian is expected to re-launch in its Berliner format on Monday 12 or Tuesday 13 September. This is a couple of weeks earlier than most people had expected. I fluctuate between thinking it will be a great success or a damp squib. Or might it be neither?
Newspapers split on police shooting of Brazilian
Twenty years ago, if the police killed a seemingly innocent civilian, the press divided in a rather predictable way. The general pattern was that the left-leaning titles assumed the police were in the wrong, while the right-leaning ones took the view that the police must have had their reasons for acting as they did.
With a Labour Government now behaving in a more authoritarian way than any of its Tory predecessors, the rules are changing, as we have seen after the young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was killed. Newspapers have not reacted on traditional right-left lines. The titles most critical of the Metropolitan Police have been The Guardian, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Last Wednesday all three papers splashed with ITV's scoop that Mr De Menezes had not behaved in the suspicious way alleged by the police, and the next day they came back to the story with still greater gusto.
By contrast, the supposedly right-wing Sun and Times relegated the story to the inside. So too did The Independent. The Daily Mirror was slow off the blocks but caught up on Thursday. The Daily Express, however, was adamant that the police could not be at fault. On Thursday its front page said: "Why the police should never face murder charges over that Brazilian".
As enthusiastic supporters of the so-called war against terror and the Iraq war, as well as good friends of New Labour, Rupert Murdoch's Times and Sun did not wish to make too much of the police's behaviour. The same explanation can hardly apply to The Independent, which I suspect simply underplayed the story.
But the Mail was fierce, perhaps partly out of dislike for the New Labour regime. Maybe it also doesn't like the idea of the police murdering innocent people. The Telegraph might have been expected to go down the path of The Sun and The Times, but to its credit it did not. Mr De Menezes has a surprisingly eclectic group of sympathisers.Reuse content