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Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 10:00 GMT
Bill Deedes: Mentioned in dispatches
Bill Deedes
The Grand Old Man of Fleet Street, Lord Bill Deedes, is recovering from a minor stroke he suffered while covering the Indian earthquake at the age of 86.

Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit, looks at the extraordinary life of the man whose speech impediment coined the legendary journalistic catchphrase, "Shurely shome mishtake."

"For someone of my generation, it's better to go down in action than to fall over on a golf course", Bill Deedes told a colleague on The Daily Telegraph from his hospital bed in India.

Ever the pro, he puts his stroke down to the stress caused by mechanical problems with his helicopter, that threatened a missed deadline.

Deedes in the Telegraph office
His columns are never malicious
In fact, despite being unable to use his left hand, he managed to polish up his copy and despatch it on time.

That, at the age of 86 he might have pushed things a little too far, is only grudgingly accepted. But it has confirmed his hero status among the journalistic fraternity.

Age has been the least of the obstacles he has had to encounter in his coverage of recent wars waged in Bosnia, Kosovo, Angola, Liberia and Sudan, to name but a few.

His columns poignantly reflect the plight of the innocent victims. He struck up a great friendship with Diana, Princess of Wales, not long before she died, when they campaigned together against landmines. "Before Diana, nobody cared", he has said.

His humanitarian work with international charity organisations often enables him to penetrate remote war-torn regions from which journalists are normally prohibited. Bill Deedes is an extraordinary man who has led an extraordinary life.

Deedes as editor of The Daily telegraph
The only person to be both Cabinet minister and national newspaper editor
The son of a wealthy landowner, he attended Harrow as a boy but had to leave after two years when the Wall Street crash wiped out the family fortune.

His father had to sell Saltwood Castle, the family home in Kent, later bought by the Conservative MP, Alan Clark.

Young Deedes joined the Morning Post, and his career as a war reporter began early when the paper sent him to Abyssinia in 1935, as the country faced invasion by Italy.

He arrived armed with a notebook and an inordinately large amount of luggage. This inspired fellow hack, Evelyn Waugh, to satirise Deedes in the guise of William Boot, the hero of his novel Scoop.

His work on the Daily Telegraph, which had absorbed the Morning Post in 1937, was cut short on the outbreak of the Second World War.

He spent the war commanding a company of the Queen's Westminsters and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery when he risked his life trying to take a bridge near Arnhem.

Speaking at the Tory Party Conference in the early 1960s
A Tory cabinet minister in the early 1960s
Falling back on a tradition that has seen a Deedes in the House of Commons for five centuries, he was elected as Conservative MP for Ashford in 1950.

Twelve years later, following a purge of his senior ministers, Prime Minister Harold MacMillan brought Bill Deedes into his cabinet as Information Minister where he remained for two years.

His passionate brand of Conservatism was evident even in the 1930s when he founded a fund to give Christmas presents to under-privileged children. He still receives letters from some of those recipients.

In 1974, Bill Deedes became editor of The Daily Telegraph, so becoming the first person ever to have been both a national newspaper editor and a Cabinet minister.

It gave him certain advantages. "Every now and again I can guess what's going to happen, being familiar with the machinery of Whitehall", he once said.

He remained as editor for 11 years. Mrs Thatcher regarded him as "one of us". He was great friends with Denis Thatcher with whom he played golf for more than 40 years.

Receiving a knighthood in 1999 for his services to journalism.
Receiving a knighthood in 1999 for his services to journalism.
Their relationship inspired the satirical Dear Bill letters published each week in Private Eye.

Deedes's editorials were strongly behind Mrs Thatcher's economic policies and her stand against the trade unions. Today, though, he says: "I don't think she made the country a happier place."

He ran a loose ship at a time when the Telegraph's finances were in peril, and he was eventually displaced as editor by Max Hastings. But, as Hastings subsequently remarked, "Bill entered a liberated phase, being able to do what he loves best - being a reporter."

Made a peer in 1986, his humanitarianism has endeared him to those across the political divide. And Deedesisms, his unique brand of mixed metaphor, often more expressive than the original, have become legendary.

"You can't make an omelette without frying eggs", he once observed. And again, "I've written this leader to tell the Tories to pull their trousers up."

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Shome mishtake?
Bill Deedes on his famous speech impediment

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