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British journalism icon Bill Deedes dies at 94

Politicians and colleagues pay tribute to the journalist, who was the only Briton to have been a Cabinet minister and editor of a national newspaper.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2007 13:24 IST

Politicians and colleagues paid tribute on Saturday to Lord Deedes, an institution of British journalism and the only Briton to have been a Cabinet minister and editor of a national newspaper, who has died aged 94.

Veteran reporter Bill Deedes, who was still writing for the Daily Telegraph up until his death on Friday, was described by the paper's chairman as a "towering figure in journalism".

"Britain owes a huge debt of gratitude to the patriotism and public service given by Bill Deedes," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

"Few have served journalism and the British public for so long at such a high level of distinction, and with such a popular following."

Deedes career began in 1931 on the now defunct Morning Post newspaper.

In 1935 he was sent to Abyssinia to cover the invasion by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and became the inspiration for author Evelyn Waugh's reporter William Boot in his novel "Scoop".

Deedes had arrived with a huge amount of luggage which he admitted might have given Waugh, who he met in Abyssinia, the idea for the young, naive character.

"I suppose it could have occurred to Waugh there was a slight naivety about my reporting of the first war I had encountered up to then, therefore to that extent William Boot might represent me," Deedes once said.

He won the Military Cross medal for valour during World War II and became a member of parliament in 1950, serving as a Cabinet minister under prime minister Harold Macmillan in 1962.

In 1974 he became editor of the Daily Telegraph, a post he held until 1986.

His close friendship with former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's husband Denis saw him parodied again, this time in the long-running "Dear Bill" letters in Britain's satirical magazine Private Eye.

"Bill was a dear friend who will be greatly missed," Margaret Thatcher told the Telegraph. "He had a uniquely distinguished career in politics and journalism."

After being replaced as editor, Deedes continued to write for the Telegraph, penning his last column on August 3 when he compared the situation in Sudan's Darfur to Nazi Germany.

"Bill Deedes was a giant among men -- a towering figure in journalism, an icon in British politics, and a humanitarian to his very core," said Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Telegraph Media Group.

"We will not see his like again."

First Published: Aug 18, 2007 13:17 IST