A fitting memorial for Dear Bill

So, it was off to the Guards’ Chapel, in Wellington Barracks at noon on Monday for the memorial service of the veteran soldier, politician, editor and journalist, Bill Deedes ‒ the man immortalised by Private Eye in the Dear Bill letters for his pink gins and his golfing partner, Dennis Thatcher; the man who so famously mixed his metaphors and who was quoted almost weekly in Private Eye as having said “shh-urely shhome misshhtake”.

Former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore delivered the eulogy and started by saying that one couldn’t think of Bill without having a smile on one’s face.

Moore recalled that when he went to see Bill last summer he was clearly in the departure lounge of life and the two talked about a memorial service at the Guards’ Chapel. As Moore left, Bill shouted out: “There will be refreshments!” Indeed, true to his word, Bill made provision in his will for drinks to be served immediately after the service.

As Moore said, Bill was the reader’s “best friend” and his qualities were, among others, that he could write with “plainness and charm” ‒ he never showed off, but with his writing he managed to delight. He went on to describe Bill’s accent as Mayfair Cockney ‒ “this enabled him to turn the word ‘no’ into three syllables”.

David Cameron, the Tory leader sat in the front row, with Baroness Thatcher sitting somewhere behind, accompanied by her daughter, Carol. One conversation overheard between mother and daughter went like this: “Look, Mummy, there’s David Cameron, the leader of the Tories.”

Mother: “Who?”

Among the giants of journalism present were Max Hastings, Andreas Whittam-Smith, co-founder of the Independent who once worked at the Telegraph, Sarah Sands, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, plus dozens and dozens of ex-Telegraph types. The names are too numerous to mention, but among those that Axegrinder spotted were Tom Utley (Daily Mail); Ben Fenton (FT); Anton la Guardia (Economist); Neil Darbyshire (Daily Mail); Rachel Simhon (Daily Mail); George Jones (PA); Quentin Letts (Daily Mail); Stephen Robinson and Alan Philps (biographers); Harry Mount (author); Charlie Methven (public relations supremo); Francis Harris (Bloomberg)… and so the list goes on and on.

Were Princess Diana still alive she would certainly have been at the service, as she and Bill often traveled to Africa and beyond in their campaign to rid the world of land mines. Africa and its people were always in Bill’s mind and his prayers, so it was fitting that the family chose God Bless Africa ‒ Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika ‒ as the music to be played as the hundreds of guests left the Chapel.

As a final touch, Lucy Deedes, the daughter who cared so beautifully for Bill in his last years, arranged for some of the close family members to have lunch at El Paradiso on the Strand. This was Dear Bill’s favourite Italian haunt. As they arrived, one family member told me, the staff unveiled a plaque in the restaurant above the table that Bill had occupied for more than 30 years.

What a fitting tribute and a truly memorable day to a great journalist.

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