JN 510 week 7 Scoop and late 30s fictions

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop
‘One of the only two novels about
journalism universally regarded as truly
great’ Andrew Marr, My Trade p39
Evelyn Waugh
• Born 1903, younger of two brothers, to a well to do upper middle
class family of writers, publishers, doctors etc.
• Was a precocious writer, started writing novels and the age of 7
‘The Curse of the Horse Race.’
• Published Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief
(1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), Scoop (1938) and Brideshead
Revisited (1945).
• His right-leaning tendencies and Catholicism made him instinctively
take the Italian side in the Abyssinian crisis of 1935-6. Letter to
Diana Cooper, September 1935: ‘I have got to hate the Ethiopians
more each day goodness they are lousy and I hope the organmen
gas them to buggery.’ (Italians bombed Ethiopian villages and oases
with mustard gas).
First experience of newspapers
• After University he was sacked from his job as a teacher at
a boys’ prep school, for drunkenness and for trying to
seduce the matron
• Via a contact, is given an interview for a trial on the Daily
Express in March 1927.
• (Diary entry April 1927): ‘I am in doubt at the moment
whether to go on the Express or write a biography (of
Rossetti)’ chooses newspapers.
• (Diary entry May 9 1927) ‘I find the work exhilarating tho’
much of it is just sitting about in the office’
• (Diary entry May 23 1927) ‘I have got the sack from the
Express and am looking forward to a holiday…papers are
full of lies’
Ambiguous attitude to papers
• As a struggling young novelist, writing for newspapers brought him
much needed extra income.
• Article in the Graphic, May 1930, ‘The books you read’: ‘The
average sophisticated novelist sits down to earn his [money] from
the penny daily in the mood of apology. He hopes that his friends
will not see his article, and he puts in several sly allusions to any
who do that his tongue is in his cheek. He tries to secure the
rewards to popular acclamation while remaining aloof from popular
• Diaries – drinks champagne to celebrate securing a weekly article
for the Daily Mail for £20 a time. Entry May 20 1930: ‘Peters made
Dixon [of the Daily Mail] pay £30. That brings my regular income
temporarily up to £2,500 a year. I feel rather elated about it.’
• Next week: ‘wrote Daily Mail article. Talked of lesbians and
Vile Bodies (1930)
• About the ‘Bright Young Things’ of London and
the gossip columnists who chart their doings
in the press:
• The social editress read… ‘Can’t have Kitty
Blackwater,’ she said. ‘Had her yesterday.
Others’ll do. Write ‘em down to a couple of
paragraphs…We’ve got to keep everything
down for Lady M’s party. I’ve cut out the D of
Devonshire altogether…’
• At Archie Schwert's party the fifteenth Marquess of
Vanburgh, Earl Vanburgh de Brendon, Baron Brendon,
Lord of the Five Isles and Hereditary Grand Falconer to
the Kingdom of Connaught, said to the eighth Earl of
Balcairn, Viscount Erdinge, Baron Cairn of Balcairn, Red
Knight of Lancaster, Count of the Holy Roman Empire
and Chenonceaux Herald of the Duchy of Aquitaine,
"Hullo," he said, "isn't this a repulsive party? What are
you going to say about it?" for they were both of them,
as it happened, gossip writers for the daily papers.
At the time, Lord Valentine Castlerosse was gossip
columnist for the Daily Express
Headlines in Vile Bodies
Sorry end of gossip columnist
• After a humiliating experience at a society
party, one of the columnists ends up putting
his head in an oven and committing suicide.
Haile Selassie’s coronation
• Covers the coronation, in 1930 for the Times and
the Express; records some of his views of
journalists at work in an early travel book,
Remote People: (handout)
• ‘Here I knew most of the facts and people
involved and in the light of this knowledge I
found the press reports shocking and depressing.
After all there really was something to report that
was quite new to the European public…Getting in
first with the news and Giving the public what it
wants are not always reconcilable.’
Problem with Telegrams
• The coronation happened on a Sunday when the Telegram
office was closed. Many journalists got round this problem
by filing their copy on Saturday (ie before the coronation).
Splendid and wildly inaccurate stories about four white
horses high stepping to the cathedral etc.
• Waugh paid the price for waiting until the Sunday
afternoon to send his copy via the Italian embassy .
• (Diary entry Tuesday November 4 1930) ‘Cable arrived from
Express: ‘Coronation hopelessly late beaten every paper
• Is snubbed by great foreign correspondent Sir Percival
Phillips, who turns up in Scoop as Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock.
Facts vs Fiction
• Waugh was the Daily Mail’s Addis Ababa
correspondent during the Italo-Ethiopian War
of 1935-6
• Although much of it fictionalised, the novel
was also a result of Waugh’s observations of
foreign correspondents at work – their
obsession with getting the ‘scoop’ and their
pack instincts.
• Although largely forgotten now, during the six months prior
to Italy’s invasion on October 3 1935, Abyssinia was the
focus of the world’s attention.
• 120 foreign correspondents descended on Addis Ababa,
after Benito Mussolini declared his intention to invade.
• Observers feared a second world war as England and
France had hinted they would step in to protect the country
– they had interests in Aden and French Somaliland
respectively. Italy’s colony was neighbouring Eritrea.
• Abyssinia was just about the only major region in Africa not
colonised by a European power.
• On November 2 1930, Ras tafari Makonnen was crowned
Emperor Haile Selassie I at Addis Ababa
From Waugh in Abyssinia, an account
of his war correspondence, published
• [1935]‘Abyssinia was news…Travel books whose first editions had
long since been remaindered were being reissued in startling
wrappers. Literary agents were busily peddling the second serial
rights of long forgotten articles…Files were being searched for
photographs of any inhospitable-looking people – Patagonian
Indians, Borneo headhunters, Australian aborigines – which could
be reproduced to illustrate Abyssinian culture. Two English
newspapers chose their special correspondents on the grounds that
they had been born in South Africa. In the circumstances anyone
who had actually spent a few weeks in Abyssinia itself, and had read
the dozen or so books of the subject, might claim to be an expert,
and in this unfamiliar but not uncongenial disguise I secured
employment with the only London newspaper which seemed to be
taking a realistic view of the situation as a ‘war correspondent’.
Waugh in Abyssinia contd
• ‘There followed ten inebriating days of preparation lived in an
attitude of subdued heroism before friends, of knowledgeable
discrimination at the tropical outfitters…. In the hall of my club a
growing pile of packing cases, branded for Djibouti, began to
constitute a serious inconvenience for the other members. There
are few pleasures more complete, or to me more rare, than that of
shopping extravagantly at someone else’s expense. Thought I had
treated myself with reasonable generosity until I saw the luggage of
my professional competitors – their rifles and telescopes and antproof trunks, medicine chests, gas-masks, pack saddles and vast
wardrobes of costume suitable for every conceivable social or
climatic emergency. Then I had an inkling of what later became
abundantly clear to all, that I did not know the first thing about
being a war correspondent.’ (p.50)
Compare this account to Boot’s
• ‘I want some cleft sticks, please,’ said William firmly.
• The General’s manner changed abruptly. His leg had been pulled before,
often…’What the devil for? He asked tartly.
• ‘Oh just for my despatches you know.’…Miss Barton was easier to deal
with. ‘We can have some cloven for you,’ she said brightly. ‘If you will
make a selection I will send them down to our cleaver.’
• William, hesitating between polo sticks and hockey sticks, chose six of
each…By the time she had finished with him William had acquired a wellperhaps over-furnished tent, three months’ rations, a collapsible canoe, a
jointed flagstaff and Union Jack. A hand-pump and sterilising plant, an
astrolabe, six suits of tropical linen and a sou’wester, a camp operating
table and a set of surgical instruments, a portable humidor, guaranteed to
preserve cigars in condition in the Red Sea and a Christmas hamper
complete with Santa Claus costume and a tripod mistletoe stand, and a
cane for whacking snakes…At the last moment he added a coil of rope and
a sheet of tin; then he left under the baleful stare of General Cruttwell.’
Waugh and Boot
• Both share the characteristics of the ingenu
outsider, observing, rather than being part of,
the press pack.
• Boot lacks Waugh’s intelligence and spite
Frustration in Addis Ababa
• After Italian troops invaded Ethiopia, correspondents
were restricted to Addis, left kicking their heels
• During this time however, observing the other
reporters at close hands, the idea of writing a comic
novel occurred to him: ‘The telephone to the north is
cut and the only news we get comes on the wireless
from Europe via Eritrea [a neighbouring Italian colony].
No one is allowed to leave Addis so all those
adventures I came for will not happen. Sad. Still all this
will make a funny novel so it isn’t wasted.’ (letter to
Laura Herbert, October 1935, The Letters of Evelyn
His time cooped up with
correspondents he despised provides
• In a letter to Laura Herbert, described foreign
correspondence as ‘blackleg labour’.
• Scoop: ‘…Corker recounted the heroic legends of Fleet
Street; he told of the classic scoops and hoaxes; of the
confessions wrung from hysterical suspects; of the
innuendo and intricate misrepresentations, the luscious
detailed inventions that composed contemporary history;
of the positive, daring lies that got a chap a rise of screw;
how Wenlock Jakes, highest paid journalist of the United
States, scooped the world with an eye-witness story of the
sinking of the Lusitania four hours before she was hit; how
Hitchcock, the English Jakes, straddling over his desk in
London, had chronicled day by day the horrors of the
Messina earthquake…’(p.66)
Wenlock Jakes: H R Knickerbocker of
Hearst’s International News Service
• Knickerbocker was a respected authority in foreign
affairs throughout 20s and 30s. Invited by the Nazis to
cover the 1923 Hitler Rally; won a Pulitzer for his
coverage of Soviet purge trials in 1933; got a scoop by
interviewing Stalin’s mother; scooped other
correspondents in Ethiopia by being the first to report
Haile Selassie’s abdication in the last days of the war.
Although Waugh professed not to care, he was jealous
of Knickerbocker’s success.
• ‘I am a very bad journalist. Well only a shit could be
good at this particular job.’ (Letter to Penelope
Betjemamin, November 1935)
Wenlock Jakes in Scoop
• ‘Once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals.
He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn’t know any
different, got out, went straight to an hotel and cabled off a thousandword story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine
guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a
broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window –
you know
• ‘Well, they were pretty surprised at his office, getting a story like that from
the wrong country, but they trusted Jakes and splashed it in six national
newspapers. That day every special in Europe got orders to rush to the
new revolution. They arrived in shoals. Everything seemed quiet enough,
but it was as much as their jobs were worth to say so, with Jakes filing a
thousand words of blood and thunder a day. So they chimed in too.
Government stocks dropped, financial panic, state of emergency declared,
army mobilised, famine, mutiny and in less than a week there was an
honest to God revolution under way, just as Jakes had said. There’s the
power of the press for you.’
Waugh and Jakes/Knickerbocker
• Started out as being friends in Addis, playing
poker together to relieve the tedium. Used to
get drunk and fight each other. Knickerbocker
was fascinated by Waugh. His relationship
with Knickerbocker underlines the confused
role Waugh played in Addis: hard drinking,
pugnacious, experienced traveller; displaced
London clubman; a novelist paid to be a
journalist; the spoilt, moody, fractious child
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock: Sir Percival
Phillips of the Daily Telegraph
• Was the source of the real scoop in Scoop, the
discovery of the emperor’s secret deal with an
American business corporation
• Phillips and Associated Press correspondent
Jim Mills, working as a team, reported the
scoop of the sale of a 75-year oil and mineral
concession, known as the Rickett concession.
The deal threatened to bring the US into the
conflict to defend its ‘economic interests’.
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock in Scoop
• Makes up the story of how he interviewed a fascist
leader in Laku, when he made it up in his hotel room
• Haughtily leaves Ishmaelia he bids farewell to Boot:
‘Goodbye Boot, remember me to them at the Beast. I
wonder how they are feeling now about having missed
the Laku story.’
• (Boot is told by an old school friend that Laku is
Ismaelian for ‘I don’t know’ and that there is no such
• After Sir Jocelyn leaves, Boot gets the real scoop, the
Fascist coup and the counter coup in Ishmaelia.
The Telegraph fights back
• Immediately recognised the satirisation of its
correspondent, who had since died. Reminded readers
that Waugh used literary license when he had
Hitchcock miss the scoop: ‘At this point Mr Waugh does
less than justice to his distinguished original. He makes
Hitchcock return early in the war. This leaves the
‘scoop’ of the title to be obtained by the novel’s
incompetent hero. Actually as will be remembered,
Phillips’ famous message from Addis Ababa to the
Daily Telegraph revealing the Rickett concession was
not only the war’s biggest scoop but one of the
greatest scoops in modern journalism.’ Daily Telegraph,
June 2 1938, p.17
Mr Pappenhacker: George Steer
• George Steer, a South African (educated in England)
had been hired by The Times. Although young an
relatively inexperienced, he did such a good job in
Abyssinia that The Times was able to sell his
despatches on to the New York Times, and pay Steer
£80 a month.
• Waugh resented Steer’s capacity for hard work, the
fact that Steer had been to a better public school than
him (Winchester vs Lancing) and disparaged him as a
‘colonial’. Steer’s non-fiction book, Caesar in Abyssinia
received far more critical acclaim that Waugh’s Waugh
in Abyssinia.
Mr Pappenhacker in Scoop
• ‘Mr Pappenhacker of the twopence was playing
with his toy train – a relic of college at
Winchester, with which he invariably travelled. In
his youth he had delighted to address it in Lain
alcaics and to derive Greek names for each part
of the mechanism. Now it acted as a sedative to
his restless mind.’
• Here Waugh is deriding Steer’s youth (25 to
Waugh’s 31) and his double first in Classics
(Waugh got a third in History).
Steer’s career
• Steer went from Abyssinia to the Spanish Civil
War where he distinguished himself
particularly in reporting the Guernica
bombing. It was he who discovered shell
remnants on the ground that clearly showed
they were of German origin. His reports
inspired the most famous anti-war image of
the day: Picasso’s Guernica
Other fact:fiction examples
• The hotel where the journalists stayed: ‘The Splendide at which we all
assumed we should stay…was completely full with journalists and
photographers living in hideous proximity, two or three to a room even in
the outbuildings…The less his guests ate the greater his profits, and from
his untidy little desk in the corner he watched with sardonic amusement
the crowds of dyspeptic journalists…furtively carrying into his dining room
paper bags of fresh bread, tins of tuck and pocketsful of oranges and
bananas, like little boys trooping in to tea at their private schools…Nothing
of the smallest value was endangered in the scenes of violence which
became increasingly frequent as the journalists made themselves at
home. When his guests threw their bedroom furniture out of the window,
he noted it in the weekly bill…Menageries of unclean pets were
introduced to the bedrooms…’ (Waugh in Abyssinia p.66)
• Waugh, like Boot decamps to a small German guesthouse
• However while Waugh was at the Splendide it was he who, to relive
boredom, bought a baboon
• ‘In the next room were four furious Frenchmen…They were
composing a memorandum of their wrongdoings…In the next room,
round a little table, sat Shumble, Whelper, Pigge and a gigantic
bemused Swede
• ‘…Corker and William sat down to luncheon. The menu did not vary
at the Liberty; sardine, beef and chicken for luncheon, soup, beef
and chicken for dinner; hard homogenous cubes of beef…fibrous
spindles of chicken with grey-green dented peas (p.105)
• ‘The bunch now overflowed the hotel. There were close on fifty of
them. All over the lounge and dining room they sat and stood and
leaned…There was not much sleep that night for anyone in
William’s room. The photographer who was dossing down found
the floor wet and draughty (pp107-8)
Waugh/Boot and telegrams
• Cabled the Daily Mail, to deny a report of an
American nurse being blown up: ‘Nurse
• Series of odd Telegrams sent by Boot such as
‘Unproceed Lakuward’
• Waugh did often feel like a fish out of water
amongst the real reporters. Once he got a real
scoop, so to avoid it getting stolen by any of his
rivals he cabled it in Latin. The Daily Mail subs,
unable to read it in London, binned it.
Waugh’s criticism of contemporary
• Although Scoop is humorous, it contains a deeper
criticism of how foreign correspondents
operated, as he described it in Waugh in
• ‘To the hordes of competing journalists the
government communiques were of negligible
value. They were transmitted instantly in full by
Reuters and gave no material for the special news
which the editors were demanding…An exclusive
lie was more valuable than a truth which was
shared by others. ..’
Were these criticisms justified?
• The Rickett episode did actually happen and illustrated the
febrile atmosphere in which journalists worked when
covering foreign stories
• There were also real examples of journalists not following
up tip offs carefully enough so they could not confirm the
veracity of stories
• However, much of the darker side of this satire can be
attributed to Waugh’s jealousy of the correspondents, his
inability to file stories quickly enough, the memory of the
reprimand of his previous tour of duty in Abyssinia and a
general snobbish attitude to the majority of journalists who
he felt were of an inferior class to him – Corker, Shumble,
Pigge and Whelper are given deliberately lowly saxon
names to emphasise their social inferiority.
Despite the searing satire, Scoop is
perennially popular amongst
• ‘Some correspondents still study Scoop regularly for
such skills as wastebasekt rifling, expense account
padding and mythweaving’ (Mort Rosenblum, Coups
and Earthquakes, Reporting the World for America,
• ‘the best book ever written about the press and the
only one to capture the quintessential absurdity of our
calling.’ (Edward Behr, Bearings: A Foreign
Correspondent’s life behind the lines, 1978)
• ‘Waugh at the mid-season point of his perfect pitch’
(Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to Penguin Classics
edition of Scoop, 2000)
The character of William Boot
• Widely accepted as being a caricature of W F
Deedes, the long-serving journalist and recently
late, of the Daily Telegraph. When Waugh met
him in Abyssinia he was the gawky yet charming
new young recruit to the very upmarket Morning
Post, which was absorbed into the Daily
Telegraph in 1937. Deedes has always been coy
about the association
• He is the classic ‘idiot savant’ whose inability to
understand the inner workings of journalism
expose them as absurd.
Is Boot a journalist?
• Edits ‘Lush Places’ on a freelance basis for the Daily Beast, from his home
in Boot Magna.
• The lines: ‘Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing
vole…’ have passed into folk history as one of the best intros ever crafted.
• He submits to the Ishmaelia trip mainly because he has always wanted to
fly in an aeroplane, not for any interest in the story.
• Submits his ‘scoop’ after the Beast has sacked him
• His famous despatch displays a chronic lack of journalistic skills: ‘Nothing
much has happened except to the president who has been imprisoned in
his own palace by revolutionary junta headed by superior black called
Benito and Russian Jew who Bannister says is up to no good they say he is
drunk when his children try to see him but governess says most unusual
lovely spring weather bubonic plague raging sack received safely thought I
might as well send this all the same.’ (p.146)
Lord Copper
• Lord Copper has lost all grip on reality and his newspapers – and
those of his rivals – though full of lies, are all that the reading public
have to rely on. Both Waugh from the right and Jameson from the
left (In the Second Year) are warning that without access to the
truth, the nation is sleep walking towards war.
• A theme of Waugh in Abyssinia and Robbery Under Law – that
public opinion is based on falsehood spun by journalists and
intellectual commentators – is summed up in Lord Copper’s
instructions to his newest war correspondent:
• ‘The British public has no interest in a war which drags on
indecisively. A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of
personal bravery on the Patriot side and a colourful entry into the
capital…We shall expect the first victory about the middle of July.’
• What does this quote tell you about Copper, considering his
position as a newspaper baron?
Structure of the Press as seen by
• In Scoop the whole system of newspapers is
shown to be rotten and completely divorced from
reality exemplified in Mr Salter, the foreign editor
seen early in the novel poring over an atlas trying
to find Reykjavik and ‘ace’ reporter Sir Jocelyn
Hitchcock manufacturing his stories from a hotel
bedroom. At the apex of this structure is Lord
Copper, ignorant – ‘Let me see, what’s the name
of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama,
isn’t it?’ and absurdly impulsive: ‘Memo for
tomorrow. “Sack Salter”’ .
• Corker and Pigge
• What is he saying about the journalists in
these extracts?
Corker, Pigge etc
• When the press pack sets off for Laku, Corker and Pigge end up as literally
and metaphorically lost souls in the scrubland of Ishmaelia, their plight an
evident echo of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno: ‘When, in the middle of
my life I found myself in a dark forest, where the right path was obscured’:
• Presently the track had lost all semblance of unity and split into a dozen
diverging and converging camel paths, winding at the caprice of the beasts
who had made them, among thorn and rock and anthills…’ (Waugh, 1938,
• But whereas Dante the poet and artist finds redemption in being led out
of the trackless forest by the classical poet Virgil, the ‘earth-bound
journalists’ (Waugh, 1938, p 147) find no salvation:
• It was a morning of ethereal splendour – such a morning as Noah knew as
he gazed from his patchy bulwarks over limitless sunlit waters while the
dove circled and mounted and became lost in the shining heavens…Corker
and Pigge here in the mud, stiff and unshaven and disconsolate.’ (Waugh,
1938, p147)
Journalists are the damned
• Like the damned souls of Inferno, they suffer multiple punishments
of several of Dante’s circles: soaked by rain, vainly rolling boulders
for miles, lashing out at each other in fury and becoming entombed
in the mud. When the weather improves they cannot appreciate it:
• ‘Look at the flowers,’ said Pigge.
• ‘Yes. Like a bloody cemetery,’ said Corker. (Waugh, 1938, p147)
• Waugh is not just making a point about the lack of any spiritual
dimension in popular journalism, but he is also making a political
point: The Divine Comedy was a diatribe against political corruption
in medieval Florence. The excesses of the popular press, Waugh is
saying, have a corrosive effect on public opinion and therefore
society itself. Those who write for it are the damned
A happy ending?
• Although Scoop was written at a time when Waugh
professes to have been at his happiest – had just got
married and writes in his diary how lovely his life, house
and wife are at them moment, Scoop has a dark underbelly.
• Boot, back in the countryside returns to his column: ‘the
wagons lumber in the lane under their golden glory of
harvested sheaves, maternal rodents pilot their furry brood
through the stubble…’ He laid down his pen.
• Outside the owls hunted maternal rodents and their furry
• The corrupt journalists and newspaper are not just a
comment on the press, but on the whole absurd rationalist
view of society that papers represent.
Other late 30s fictions
• Scoop was written in 1938 when war with
Hitler’s Germany was inevitable.
• Rising fear that just as in WW1 newspapers
would not report the truth of what was
• Also – newspapers, still the dominant medium
became an image of people’s fear for what
was about to happen.
Louis Macneice: Autumn Journal
• (handout)