| Perfect Gentleman: Bill Deedes with Victoria Coombe
Good Deedes but mainly in public life
Patrick Frenchs book on Naipaul is not the only fascinating biography to have been published recently in Britain. I have also been reading the biography of Bill Deedes, who died last year, aged 94, still very much an active journalist for The Daily Telegraph.
Bill Deedes — almost no one referred to him as Lord Deedes, though he was elevated to Life Peer in 1986, when he stepped down after 12 years as editor of The Daily Telegraph — was an important brand name for the paper.
He was born into a landed family in Kent, had a good war, became a Tory MP and briefly a Cabinet minister and was a Telegraph journalist for what seemed like ever.
His biography, The Remarkable Lives of Bill Deedes (Little, Brown; £20), has been written by Stephen Robinson, a former foreign editor of the paper. Unlike Naipaul, Deedes decreed that the book was to be published posthumously.
Although not as hard hitting as the Naipaul biography, Robinsons book is far from being a hagiography, either. Reviewing it for The Spectator, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne wrote that Deedes was so busy pursuing his career that he was incapable, until the very end of his life, of forming any close personal relationships, not even with his wife and children, whom he neglected cruelly.
I especially enjoyed the bit about Deedes being in Gujarat — he ended up in hospital after suffering a heart attack in February, 2001, while covering the earthquake. As foreign editor then, Robinson had to rush to the patients bedside where he discovered Deedes receiving royal treatment from the nurses who called him Uncle.
I am not surprised. Deedes had the courtesy characteristic of old England.
It was not Deedess fault he was assigned a stunningly beautiful young reporter, Victoria Coombe, to travel with him and do joint bylined stories from all over the world. This upset Deedess family and especially his wife, Hilary, who finally left her husband.
However, the suggestion in some papers that Deedess relationship with Coombe was anything other than professional is simply untrue — I would have known because both Bill and Victoria, a devoted wife and mother, were my colleagues on the paper and she sat opposite me for years.
I dont know if pirated editions have hit the pavements yet but this book, along with the Naipaul biography, should be read by every journalist in India, if only because it may give them ideas about suitable subjects. We dont need to copy entirely the British model but we must encourage the art of biography writing in India.
| End of the road: Indira Swann (bottom left) with her friends before the crash
Made in India
India is not the only country in the world where buses are involved in accidents, usually with avoidable loss of life, although it seems to want to claim a monopoly in this direction.
Earlier this month, five bright young English women on a gap year trip in Ecuador were killed and 12 others injured when a truck slammed into a coach carrying 21 passengers on a 10-hour journey from the capital, Quito, to the beaches of Puerto Lopez.
The five, who were only 30 minutes from the end of a 300-mile plus trans-Andean journey to a fishing village where they were scheduled to do volunteer work, included four 19-year-olds, Indira Swann, Rebecca Logie, Lizzie Pincock and Emily Sadler, and their tour guide Sarah Howard, 26.
Indira was due to read Classics and English at Kings College, London, in autumn this year after taking her A level exams at Henley College, in which she obtained 3 A grades and a B, her headmaster, Tom Espley, told me.
This seemed a trivial question but since both Indiras parents were English, why was she called Indira — Indie to her friends?
No idea, replied Espley. Indira was Indira.
Indiras parents, Gregory Swann, 54, a sales and marketing manager, and his wife, Louise, 53, a primary school teacher, flew back from holiday in Italy to their home in Maidenhead, Berkshire, to join their elder daughter, Elizabeth, 22.
At 4 am, they opened Indiras final heartbreakingly poignant email message to her parents, sent four days before the accident: Thanks to you and dad for being so great and for both giving me the opportunity and confidence to do this, but also for giving me such a lovely home, that nothing could stop me wanting to come home. Hope you are looking forward to having your bilingual, wholly-tanned hippified (ethnic trousers galore) and cultured daughter back. Love you.
And the mystery behind her name?
The Swanns were on holiday in India, her father recalled fondly: We named her Indira because it reflected the fact that she was conceived in India.
| The Enchanter? Andrew Wylie
Patrick French is swapping literary agents — Naipauls biographer is leaving David Godwin, the Mr Big of London, to join Andrew Wylie, the Mr Bigger of New York.
I know Godwin, who represents Arundhati Roy, to be an affable Englishman.
I have also had a long session in New York with Andrew Wylie, and lived to tell the tale. Known as The Jackal, he has been accused, fairly or unfairly, by other literary agents of enticing away their most successful authors (including Salman Rushdie).
At this rate, when French goes to India, he should be able to afford to buy a Taj dinner for every journalist who comes to interview him.
Love thine enemy
Priyanka Gandhis meeting with Nalini Sriharan, said to be part of the gang behind the 1991 assassination of her father, Rajiv Gandhi, is not without precedent.
In the UK, Jo Berry, the daughter of a Tory MP, Sir Anthony Berry, one of five people killed when the Irish Republican Army blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton at 2.54am on October 12, 1984, has done much the same.
She met Patrick Magee, who got 35 years for planting the device but was released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement after serving only 13 years.
Patrick opened up and became a real human being, said Berry, now 51 and the mother of three, who set up an organisation, Building Bridges for Peace. My seven-year-old daughter got me to ask him why he killed her grandad, and he was shaken. In blaming and dehumanising the enemy, our hearts shut down, we lose some of our own humanity, and we become part of the problem.
Personally, I wouldnt be too upset if Priyanka were one day to become Prime Minister of India.
| Not worth enough: Michael Vaughan
England players, led by skipper Michael Vaughan, are pressing the England and Wales Cricket Board to reverse its decision to refuse English players permission to join the IPL.
Vaughan says it is naïve to think that the ECB can hold the line for ever: We shouldnt see it as a threat, we should see it as an opportunity for cricket.
Meanwhile, the ECB is planning a spoiler by trying to organise a rival Twenty20 in the Caribbean with the Texan billionaire Allen Stanford.
The only problem for Vaughan is that his batting, once sublime, will now fetch probably no more than a thousand dollars, payable, alas, in dollars.