A comic novel by Evelyn Waugh
, published in 1938. It tells the story of a young nature reporter
from the country, William Boot
, who is mistaken for another, much more adventurous Boot and sent to cover the brewing civil war in Ishmaelia
, a fictional country based closely on Abyssinia
. It is a classic satire
on the chaos and uncertainty of war reporting
The story draws a lot on Waugh's own inglorious experiences (or inexperiences) as a reporter in Abyssinia in 1935, in the press corps waiting for the Italian invasion. He was fooled by more senior reporters, missed scoops and went on wild-goose chases, and when he did get a scoop, the fact that the Italian minister was leaving Addis Ababa and that therefore the invasion was imminent, for secrecy he cabled it back to the Daily Mail in Latin. So they threw it away.
Among the memorable characters is Lord Copper, the press baron and owner of the The Daily Beast, and based on the real-life Lord Rothermere. His rival was Lord Zinc of the Brute. The staff had a rule for how to tell him things: you said "Definitely, Lord Copper" for yes, and "Up to a point, Lord Copper" when you wanted to say no. This catchphrase is still widely used, at least by journalists who like to refer to one of the classics of their field.
Lord Copper wants nothing but the simple, unadulterated news that the great British reading public expect. Plus victory for the Patriots, which Boot with his stellar record is expected to arrange. The Beast stands for "strong, mutually antagonistic governments everywhere". As it is explained to Boot, after they have left Lord Copper's office:
"I gather it’s between the Reds and the Blacks."
"Yes, but it’s not quite as easy as that. You see they are all Negroes. And the Fascists won’t be called Black because of their racial pride, so they are called White after the White Russians. And the Bolshevists want to be called Black because of their racial pride. So when you say Black you mean Red, and when you mean Red you say White, and when the party who call themselves Blacks say Traitors they mean what we call Blacks, but what we mean when we say Traitors I really couldn’t tell you. But from your point of view it will be quite simple. Lord Copper only wants Patriot victories and both sides call themselves Patriots. And of course both sides will claim all the victories. But of course it’s really a war between Russia and Germany and Italy and Japan who are all against one another on the Patriotic side. I hope I make myself plain?"
"Up to a point," said William, falling easily into the habit.
Waugh was sacked by the Daily Mail
in December 1935. At first as a Roman Catholic
he had been sympathetic to the Italians, but he returned to Abyssinia in 1936 and saw what they were doing to the country. He began the novel in October of that year.
Sample page of it: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/print.asp?page=story_15-11-2003_pg3_8
How Evelyn Waugh's life shaped his work: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1069758,00.html
I haven't seen it, but there was a 1987 film of Scoop, with Michael Maloney as William Boot, Sir Michael Hordern as his Uncle Theodore, Denholm Elliott as the Beast's Foreign Editor Mr Salter, Donald Pleasence as Lord Copper, and Nicola Pagett and Herbert Lom.