Scoop Evelyn Waugh (Penguin) In 1997 the late Bill Deedes, veteran British journalist and Conservative politician, visited Hong Kong and spoke to the Foreign Correspondents' Club. One question he clearly did not want to address was whether or not he was the model for William Boot, the hapless protagonist of Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's satire on journalism. The Times' Jonathan Mirsky asked him anyway. Deedes denied it, and it is likely that in common with most literary characters Boot is a composite drawn from a number of sources. Deedes did admit however, that the huge quantity of luggage he arrived with in Addis Ababa in 1936 might have given Waugh one of his comic ideas for the novel. Both men were posted there as foreign correspondents covering the Second Italo-Abyssinian war. Scoop's fictional country of Ishmaelia is more than a caricature of what is now Ethiopia, though. The world he makes for his maliciously sketched characters is hostile and absurd, but always unsettlingly believable. This classic comedy of errors recounts the rise to fame and willing descent to obscurity of Boot, a country life columnist for the Daily Beast, a newspaper modelled on Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express. Mistaken for another writer with the same surname, Boot is intimidated into accepting an assignment as a foreign correspondent. Spectacularly unsuited for his assignment, he accidentally uncovers the story of an overnight revolution and counter-revolution, and beats his more experienced but equally ineffectual press corps colleagues to the story - the 'scoop' of the title. There is something here for most readers with a sense of humour. Set in the 1930s, Scoop is inevitably something of a period piece, but its characters transcend their era. If the Daily Beast's proprietor, the dreadful Lord Copper, was inspired by Beaverbrook and the Daily Mail's Lord Northcliffe, he also anticipated Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. The quaking fear of Lord Copper felt by his employees gives rise to one of the most often quoted sentences of the book. 'Up to a point, Lord Copper', meaning 'You are wrong', is one of the 'expressions of assent' to which the Beast's foreign editor is limited when talking to his proprietor. The other famous line, 'Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole', comes from Boot's 'Lush Places' country life columns, and remains a popular example of excruciating purple prose. Unlike Brideshead Revisited, Scoop is somewhat neglected in the author's canon, despite a fairly effective film in 1987. The 2000 Penguin edition includes an illuminating introductory essay by Christopher Hitchens.