In summer 1935, Italy seemed to be on the brink of invading Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Evelyn Waugh was one of dozens of journalists who travelled to its capital, Addis Ababa. He and three London-based colleagues recorded in detail their time working 'together' in Africa: Evelyn Waugh (Daily Mail), Stuart Emeny (News Chronicle), Patrick Balfour (Evening Standard) and W.F. Deedes (Morning Star). As well as writing news for their papers, all four's accounts would eventually appear in essay or book form.

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 17.40.57atwarwithwaugh
Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

Evelyn Waugh, Stuart Emeny and Patrick Balfour published their accounts in 1936. W.F. Deedes only set out his recollections in book form in 2003, which is long after the Waugh biographies by Christopher Sykes, Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings were composed and published. However, by 2003, Deedes was eighty-nine and it seems from the short bibliography at the back of his slim volume that he didn't consult
Abyssinian Stop Press, the book edited by Ladislas Farago. Thus he didn't cross-check with the accounts of Emeny and Balfour. And he didn't use any of the 35 illustrations that appear in that valuable book. So for several reasons let the story be told again. Briefly, but also in a fuller way than before. And if I get the balance right it will shed light on something truly special: Scoop.


Evelyn took ten days getting to Dijbouti, on August 19, travelling from London to Dover to Calais to Paris to Marseille to Port Said and through the Suez Canal, a journey he'd made in 1930 en route to material for
The Times, Remote People and Black Mischief.

As on that earlier occasion, it then took several days more on the train from the coastal heat of Dijbouti (Jibuti on the map below) to the altitude of Addis Ababa in the rainy season. As you can see from the map, a single railway line boldly blasted its way 500 miles inland.

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

This time EW was travelling with five others, including the aforementioned Stuart Emeny. Throughout
Waugh in Abyssinia, Emeny is referred to as the 'Radical'. He's introduced unflatteringly as follows: 'I saw him constantly throughout the succeeding months and found his zeal and industry a standing reproach. I did not know it was possible for a human being to identify himself so precisely with the interests of his employers.' Sounds like Salter of The Beast in Scoop. But by cropping up in the outward journey, Emeny is in some ways the real-life equivalent for Scoop's Corker. To Laura Herbert, Waugh wrote of Emeny:

‘He is a married man and does not want much to be killed and has a gas mask and a helmet and a medicine chest twice the size of all my luggage and I have told him so often that he is going to certain death that I have begun to believe it myself.’

Also on the train was the mysterious Mr Rickett who would play a part in the real-life scoop which Waugh would transform, through the mediating efforts of Mr Baldwin, into William's great scoop in

Most of the journalists stayed at the crowded Imperial Hotel, but as it happens, the four that we're concerned with all lodged at a pension run by a German couple, Deutsches Haus, very much like the Frau Dressler's that William moves to from the Hotel Liberty once he is made to share a room with three colleagues. (Corker was bad enough, mistaking his toothbrush for his own, but the addition of two photographers made the situation intolerable.)

Below is a photo from the pages of
Abyssinian Stop Press. I guess it shows two journalists sharing a room at the Imperial Hotel: the smoker about to read, the other to write. In the middle of the night, each would use his own hat as a chamber pot. No, I just made that up. Sorry, boys. Sorry, readers.

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

On Saturday, August 24, Waugh wrote to Laura:
‘My name is mud all round with the journalists because I’m not really a journalist and its blackleg labour. Fortunately an old chum name of Balfour is here and that makes all the difference in the world.’

Patrick Balfour really was an old chum. Waugh had drunk to excess with him at Oxford, then when Balfour got a job writing a column for the
Daily Sketch he'd helped Waugh by mentioning his writing in a flattering way. Balfour was the inspiration behind Balcairn (Mr Chatterbox) in Vile Bodies. And it was Balfour that was living at the Easton Court Hotel, Chagford, Devon, when Waugh first went there in 1931 to write Black Mischief. They'd even Christmased at Madresfield together. Friends for life!

There are no pictures of Waugh and his mate together in Abyssinia, but here they are when holidaying together in 1930, as seen in the pages of
The Tatler:


Evelyn had been told by the mysterious Mr Rickett that he hoped to have some sensational news for him by Saturday August 24. But when that failed to materialise, and the day of revelation was shifted to the following Wednesday, Evelyn lost patience and he and Patrick took off on a trip on Monday, August 26.

This was a significant error of judgement, leading directly to Evelyn missing the biggest scoop of the campaign. And it can only be explained by impatience. Why not take a week to settle into Addis Ababa? After all, he would end up being based there for months. Why take off again so soon when Rickett had promised him a big story?

Basically, Evelyn wanted to revisit Harar, a Moslem town, which he had admired in 1930. So back down the line by train as far as Diredawa, where the pair met up with another Englishman, Charles G. and then off in two cars (I expect all three Englishmen had servants, certainly Evelyn and Patrick did) to Harar. Ultimately, they would end up in Jijiga, which is also marked in the highlighted box on the right of the map.


In Harar, Patrick and Evelyn both engaged spys. The cultured Englishmen enjoyed the walls and minarets of the Moslem town, its hotel too, with the exception of its horrific W.C.. Then they moved on to Jijiga where there were no inns and they had to sleep on the floor of a building. Patrick's spy proved useful though, and they learned that the French consul had been imprisoned along with his wife. Once they confirmed this story from local officials they sent it to their papers expecting praise. Scooperoo!

However, in the UK on Saturday, August 31, the headline in the
Daily Telegraph was 'Abyssinia's £10,000,000 deal with British and U.S. interests'. With Evelyn and Patrick not around in Addis Ababa, Rickett had told his story to Sir Percival Phillips of the Telegraph. The irony being that Phillips had used to work for Waugh's paper, the Daily Mail. So instead of being congratulated about the French consul story, the very much miffed Mail wrote to Waugh: ‘What do you know Anglo American oil concession?' and ‘Badly left oil concession suggest you return Addis immediately.’ The sense of disappointment and rancour never left Waugh, and was responsible for much of the text/subtext of Scoop.

On September 5, back in Addis Ababa, he wrote to Katherine Asquith:
‘The journalists are all lousy competitive hysterical lying. It makes me unhappy to be one of them but that will soon be OK as the Daily Mail don’t like the messages I send them and I don’t like what they send me. But I don’t want to chuck them on account of honour because they have given me this holiday at great expense and I would be left in soup if I stopped sending even my unsatisfactory messages; they don’t want to sack me for identical reason.’


By the beginning of September, Bill Deedes had arrived as part of a new consignment of journalists, so now all four of our special correspondents were staying at the Deutsches Haus in Addis Ababa. Deedes is significant because of the Abyssinian book he wrote in retrospect, in his wise old age. However, at the time he was a relatively naive 22-year-old. I mean look at the smirking youth!

Reproduced from At War with Waugh, by W.F. Deedes, published by MacMiillan.

Deedes knew Stuart Emeny from working on stories with him in England. To some extent they teamed up, with Patrick Balfour and Waugh making another pair. Waugh found Deedes and Emeny's remorseless hunt for non-existent stories faintly contemptible, but to an extent they all had to live together, so he passed it off as good-natured banter.

In another sense, it's Deedes and Waugh that make a pair, in that they chose to write intimately about what they found in Abyssinia. The essays of both Emeny and Balfour found in
Abyssinian Stop Press are much less personal, perhaps because of their remit. Balfour's essay 'Fiasco in Addis Ababa' omits mention of Evelyn Waugh altogether, while Emeny's mentions Waugh up-front but omits to mention him thereafter. About the ill-timed expedition they shared to Harar and Jijiga, Balfour confines himself to a historical and geographical overview, the only individual receiving a mention being his spy, Mata Hari. More about him in a bit.

The real contribution of
At War with Waugh, by W.F. Deedes, is the insight it gives into Waugh's character and behaviour in Abyssinia in 1935. Deedes observes that Waugh provoked a feeling of resentment against his more professional colleagues. However, Waugh was looked up to as a senior figure because of his travel experience and his books. Travel experience? He'd been to Africa in 1930, for Haille Selassie's coronation. Also, he'd got lost during his solo expedition in the Amazonian rainforest. Plus, he had nearly lost his life in the Arctic Circle. The latter two expeditions were daring in the extreme. Books? Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust in particular, had brought him a unique reputation. As Deedes says, authors in the news in those days had the sort of following that a pop star would later have. And old Oxford mates turned newspaper columnists - Tom Driberg and Patrick Balfour - had made sure Waugh's name was in the news from 1928 onwards.

By 1935, as Waugh explained to Deedes, there were three prongs to his ‘travel deal’. A daily newspaper paid for his trip and all expenses. And on the back of that he had contracts to write both a travel book (this time with Longmans) and a novel (as usual with Chapman and Hall). In many ways, Waugh had it made. Though he was still hoping to have his first marriage annulled so that he could marry Laura Herbert.

Waugh thought he owed his war correspondent status with the
Daily Mail to Diana Cooper, who had put in a good word for him with Lord Rothermere. So he kept her up to date with his relations with the Mail. On September 13 he wrote telling her that he'd chucked the Mail because they were sending him offensive cables twice a day. Thus he would be free to return to Harar in two weeks. He told her he'd sent the paper two scoops but hadn't been forgiven for missing the Rickett one. Moreover, his second scoop, given to him by the Italian Consul, Vinci, was that the Italians were simply waiting until the end of the rainy season to invade, and that the consulate was being withdrawn by early October. Waugh communicated this in Latin in order to preserve its exclusive nature. Alas, the staff receiving it at the Mail didn't know Latin and the scoop was lost.

Waugh's replacement at the
Mail wasn't given permission by the Abyssinians to travel inland to Addis Ababa, instead he was trapped in Dijbouti. Waugh wrote again to Diana Cooper: 'So now on account of my great honour I cant chuck the Mail and I shall die in harness'.

Literary talent apart, Waugh established a sort of leadership which drew respect. He paid close attention to people when he talked to them, and he wasn't afraid to get stuck in wherever and whenever there was any action. Evelyn Waugh was always looking for a fight and/or a laugh and/or a drink, sometimes all three at once. When an American journalist called Knickerbocker stated his opinion that Waugh was the greatest contemporary English novelist
apart from Aldous Huxley, he was challenged to a fist fight. According to Deedes, the fight did happen, though no serious blows were landed.

With it being the rainy season, and with there being so few made-up roads, Deedes realised his huge Chrysler car was not the way to get around. Step forward the Captain Hance-trained Evelyn Waugh to teach Deedes and Emeny how to ride a horse.

On one occasion they rode the several miles to the English legation. Then three hours more riding to a suitable venue for lunch. Egged on by Waugh, the military attaché poured a generous portion of gin into the fruit salad. Apparently, there was much falling off of horses on the ride home. A bit of banter too, I expect:

E.W.: "If I fall off what are you going to tell your papers?"

Bill Deedes:
"Handfulers author unsaddled."

Stuart Emeny: "
Huxleyesque inferior horsesthrown."

EW. "Boys, boys, you're adopting a high-risk strategy here. But I applaud you for it."

Meanwhile, Patrick Balfour was still around. Indeed, Waugh mentions him fondly in all letters to Laura Herbert and Diana Cooper. His spy, Mata Hari, was working hard on the scoop front, and a written note was published both in Balfour's essay and, with permission, in Waugh's book:


I guess that Evelyn Waugh and Patrick Balfour, Oxford-educated both, found aspects of this funny. But it was Mata Hari that could speak several languages, not them. When committing his findings to paper, in English, there were always going to be anomalies. It was an oral culture he contrived to thrive in, after all.

Patrick and Evelyn threw a dinner party in the honour of a Spanish journalist who was resuming his duties in Paris. This was clouded - for the Spaniard - by the loss of his sixpenny fountain pen. "Who of you has taken my pen?" he kept asking earnestly. "I cannot work without my feather."
Waugh in Abyssinia provides that anecdote.

On October 2, the Italians took some Abyssinian territory on the borders of French Somaliland. The press were invited to attend a ceremony the next day at the old Gibbi (palace). I'll quote at length here from
Waugh in Abyssinia since an illustration found in Abyssinian Stop Press fits the passage well.

'The drum was there [the great drum of Menelik which had not sounded since 1895]; we could hear it clearly. When eventually the doors were thrown open and we emerged on to the terrace, we saw the drum, a large ox-hide stretched over a wooden bowl. A flight of steps led from the terrace to the parade ground, where a large, but not very large, crowd had assembled. They were all men. Over his shoulder I watched an American journalist typing out a description of the women under their mushroom-like umbrellas. There were no women and no umbrellas; merely a lot of black fuzzy heads and white cotton clothes.'

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

'The drum stopped and the people were completely silent as the Grand Chamberlain read the decree. 'His Majesty has this morning received a telegram from Ras Seyoum in the Tigre. At dawn this morning four Italian war planes flew over Adowa and Adigrat. They dropped seventy-eight bombs, causing great loss of life among the civilian population.'

Is Evelyn Waugh in the above photograph? He permeates it in more ways than I can suggest in the detail below.

war drum - Untitled Page

It was claimed that the hospital at Adowa had been destroyed by the bombs. But had there been a hospital at Adowa? It seemed not. Though Patrick Balfour was given
'confidential but absolutely authentic information about a nurse who had been killed; she was of Swedish birth but American nationality; she had been blown to bits.'

Cables were soon arriving from London and New York:
'Require earliest name lifestory photograph American nurse upblown Adowa.' To which, Waugh tells us, the honest reply had to be (and was): 'Nurse unupblown'.

Waugh wrote to Laura:
‘They began their war last week and for a day or two things were quite gay with air raid scares and the Americans losing nerve and poor Mr Emeny. No one is allowed to leave Addis so all those adventures I came for will not happen. Sad. Still all this will make a funny novel so it isn’t wasted. The only trouble is there is no chance of making a serious war book as I hoped. It seems certain that all the journalists will be recalled pretty soon. I can’t decide if I should go too or not. Vinci the wop minister leaves tomorrow and then I shall have no friends and no sources of information.’

On October 23, our four journalists travelled east together from Addis Ababa. Patrick Balfour was on the way home (I'll be catching up with him later, the extremely close connection with Evelyn Waugh needs following through), but Waugh was going to take Bill Deedes to visit Harar, and Stuart Emeny had asked to go along for the ride. Deedes provides an image of the shopping list that he and Evelyn put together. I have a feeling that Evelyn dictated while Deedes typed, shopped and filed. True, Evelyn wasn't a good speller (vinigar?). But he was a bad typist and this is typed competently.

Reproduced from At War with Waugh, by W.F. Deedes, published by MacMiillan.

On leaving the group at Dire Dawa, Balfour left his servant with Deedes. The remaining three plus entourage got a lift with a film company that was going to Harar. The town was in the process of evacuating. So this illustration from
Abyssinian Stop Press again seems apt.

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

Waugh found rooms at the Central Hotel, but the others didn't. Instead, Deedes and Emeny found lodgings in a
pension outside town. Waugh acted as guide, but the others returned to Addis several days before he did. Waugh had taken on a translator, who he called James. James was fluent in Arabic and this allowed Waugh to talk to people. He had a conversation with a sheikh from the local mosque who seemed to think Evelyn had more authority than he did. 'He believed I was an emissary from the British Government and the purpose of his visit was to persuade me, in the name of numerous Moslem elders, to propose the conquest of Harar and its absorption into British Somaliland.'

A second meeting was arranged, whereby the sheikh brought along a cautious old landowner. Their main complaint was that their Abyssinian rulers overtaxed their hard-working businesses. Moreover,
'Moslem schools were being squeezed out; Moslem law was overruled by Abyssinian; drink was sold openly on the streets; the fasts were broken, ancient customs falling into decay; a Moslem who turned Christian was promoted, a Christian who turned Moslem flogged.' Waugh asked them politely why they wanted to be governed by England. They replied that they didn't see England as effectively Christian but as treating all religions equally. What they most wanted was a bloodthirsty defeat of the Abyssinians by the Italians, followed by a partition whereby Harar province was added to British Somaliland. 'It was a statesmanlike aspiration, but I was not able to give them much hope of its fulfilment.'

You can see why Waugh lingered in Harar. Plenty material for his 'serious book about war'.

I should say before passing on that Waugh doesn't mention Balfour, Deedes or Emeny in his account of the second trip to Harar. It's Bill Deedes in
At War with Waugh that gives an account of all their movements. As Waugh might have said. "Well done, Bill. You have your uses."


Waugh returned to Addas with the intention of collecting his gear and taking up quarters at the consulate in Harar. However, long awaited permission to go north to Dessye had been granted. That was where the emperor was going to make his base-camp for the war campaign. There had already been some trouble on the road to Dessye and Waugh hoped to travel before the road had been cleared of its traces.


Emeny was keen to go north, so Waugh and he agreed to travel together. They hired a lorry and suitable staff for the long journey. Translator James, the servants of Waugh and Emeny, a chauffeur, a cook, a cook's boy and a chauffeur's boy. Seems like anybody who was anybody had a personal servant plus specialist helpers.

Late on in preparations, BIll Deedes decided he'd come along as well. In the morning they set off, the lorry flying the Union Jack and with the names of their papers painted on it:
The Daily Mail, London News Chronicle and Morning Star.

Deedes puts it this way in his book:
'It is vain as one gets older to try and explain the mood which at the age of twenty-two leads you into foolhardiness. I remember the excitement of motoring unchecked out of Addis Ababa, of knowing that we were putting one across the intolerable press bureau. I felt confidence in Waugh's ability to bluff us out of a tight corner. His ability to intimidate friend or foe was impressive; his curt manner with our servants got far better results than the diffidence Emeny and I showed towards them. Waugh’s grand manner suggested that we would make any Abyssinian warrior who stood in our path look small. Without Waugh our modest adventure would probably not have taken place. Without his leadership neither Emeny nor I would have had the self-confidence to attempt the expedition.' I think there is a lot of insight in that overview.

The three white men kept out of sight in the back of the lorry until the expedition had got clear of Addis. They drove for five or six hours without stopping. There were a lot of soldiers around but they bowed to the motor vehicle which they had led to associate exclusively with authority. The lorry did have to stop eventually, at the first provincial telephone post encountered.

A message had been sent to all northern stations to hold up the vehicle, by force if necessary. However, Waugh wasn't accepting this without a fight. He pointed out that their permit to travel to Dessye was in order, plus their personal papers, and that they were in one lorry not the two mentioned in the radio message. The telephone man didn't want to let them pass, but he was forced to refer the matter to the local chief. The latter put more trust in the printed material than the oral message and told them that they could carry on.

And so they did. How amazing was that? Here was an independent black nation threatened by a white European nation. And here was a lorryfull of white Europeans trying to penetrate the country. Why give them the benefit of the doubt? There is no question that Waugh was well endowed with the three Bs of journalism: Bluff, Bravado and Bollocks.

Before darkness fell at six o'clock, they pitched camp. A cold howling wind drove across the plain and penetrated everything. Deedes tells us:
'Waugh and Emeny decided we would attempt to play three-handed bridge. At the best of times this is not a satisfactory game; when one of the trio has never played bridge, it affords no satisfaction at all. Seldom in my life have I felt more miserable. I fumbled my cards with frozen fingers and Waugh and Emeny, both good players, became impatient. Waugh grew irascible. All thoughts of our precarious situation, of being hunted by furious officials from Addis Ababa, were banished by my panic over this barmy card game.'

Next morning they were off early, but progress was again slow on the non-roads. After three hours they were still just eighty miles from Addis Ababa, at Debra Birhan. James tried to drive straight through the village with Waugh, Emeny and Deedes again hiding, but the lorry was ordered to halt and there was a fierce altercation between James and the locals.

The enforced appearance of the white men caused guns to be raised, but the soldiers were calmed by their one-eyed chief or mayor. So began a long day of two-handed poker.

The lorry was halted in the centre of the large village, with a church and the mayor's residence nearby. The journalists were asked to display papers and permits. It looked as if they were going to get through, but the chief wanted to make out a further note of permission. This seemed fine, but James discreetly added to his translation his opinion that they were dealing with a 'liar-man'.

They were invited along to Government House where they met a telephone operator and a chief of police, The three Abyssinians talked about the visitors for some time. James surmised: "They do not want to let us go, but they are a little afraid. You must pretend to be angry." So Waugh pretended to be angry. (I can't imagine he got much help from Deedes or Emeny.) "They are
very afraid," said James. But Waugh couldn't see much sign of it.

The mayor eventually agreed they had permission to go to Dessye but pointed out they hadn't received permission to leave Addis Ababa. So they had better go back and get this permission. When Waugh suggested that they do this by telephone, the suggestion was welcomed. However, that would take time. The mayor suggested that in the meantime they pitch a tent and rest. Waugh reckons that if they'd kept up their angry bluff they might have got through, but they 'weakly assented'. They pitched a tent and had a smoke.

After an hour, Waugh sent James to find out what was happening. He reported that no attempt was being made to phone Addis. Waugh must come back and be angry again. When they returned to Goverment House, the chief was holding a court.
'He was not at all pleased at being disturbed. He was a great man, he said. We said we were great men too. He said that the telephone operator was far from well, that the line was engaged, that the Gibbi was empty, that it was a fast day, that it was dinner-time, that it was late, that it was early, that he was in the middle of important public business, that James was offensive and untruthful and was not translating what he said and what we said and was trying to make a quarrel of a simple matter which admitted of only one solution, that we should wait until the afternoon and then come and see him again.'

Back at the tent, they found that the entire labour force of the village had built a barricade of tree trunks and stones some distance in front of the lorry, blocking the road. Walking further back down the road they came across another barrier. They weren't going anywhere as things stood.

No progress was made that afternoon, the chief refusing or unable to send any messages. So they pitched their other tents, accepting that they were stuck at least until the next day. This sudden docility disconcerted the chief who for the first time showed the fear that James had attributed to him. He thought the plan might be to make a sortie by night. So he tried to separate the visitors from the lorry by suggesting they camp further along the road to Dessye where there was better camping ground.

Later, they were told that the Emperor himself was on the telephone; he had rung up to say that ten lorry loads of journalist were on their way, would they mind waiting until morning so that they could all travel together? This was understood to be a complete lie.

Finally, to make sure, a guard was set around the visitors. Not just a guard but the whole village. Everybody. Including chief of police, mayor, village idiot and leper. It was another cold night.

In the morning, the visitors breakfasted, struck camp and loaded the lorry. At eight o'clock the chief came and said they must go back and the barrier behind the lorry was removed. He had in his hand a telegram from the palace.

Even then the chief feared a dash for Dessye and drew his men across the road in front with their rifles ready. Waugh:
'The chief of police spoiled the gravity of the defence by trotting forward and asking us to take his photograph. Then, in a cheerful mood, we drove back to Addis Ababa.'

I wonder what happened to those photographs taken by members of the party. I'm still using the evocative ones from Abyssinian Stop Press:

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

Deedes got his account in the Morning Post under the headline 'Up the Line with the Abyssinians'. I'll see if I can access a Morning Post archive at some stage. Not now, though, cos there's too much excellent material to hand.


Two days after their return to Addis, general permission to go to Dessye was again given, this time in earnest. Rumours of an Italian advance in the south tempted some journalists, including Bill Deedes, to go back to Harar. However, Stuart Emeny, Evelyn Waugh, the
Daily Express correspondent, and a few non-journalists, decided to go to Dessye together.

Both Waugh and Emeny include accounts of the trip, accounts which deviate from each other in telling ways. However, Emeny omits Waugh's presence altogether. I wonder why. Perhaps the answer will become clear. Anyway, here he is setting the scene in his
Abyssinian Stop Press essay, 'Under Fire with the Emperor', a title that I interpret ironically. Why may become clear when you get to the main action of this section.

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

See what I mean? No Evelyn Waugh. But Waugh was there all right. No show without Punch.

The trip out was on November 19, and they made good progress along the road they had passed with some difficulty a few days before. Emeny is a reliable enough guide at this point:

IMG_1561 - Version 2
Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

Waugh adds another dimension.
'Our Harari driver gave a sigh of despair. Straight down the face of the cliff transecting the road at each turn led a precipitous footpath. Nominally to lighten the truck, actually because we were thoroughly scared, the Radical and I decided to go down on foot.'

Both accounts agree that after they'd made camp a few miles from the foot of the escarpment, they'd been visited by heralds from the local governor, Dedjasmach Matafara, asking what there business was. James was sent to explain, and came back bearing a present of
tedj - the local alcoholic drink, bread and a lamb. He also brought back an invitation to breakfast with the Dedjasmach the next morning. Emeny's account is a variation on this:

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

Over to Evelyn who also describes their host: '
The Dedjasmach was a very old man, a veteran of the first battle of Adowa, corpulent, ponderous in his movements, with unusually dark skin and a fine white beard. He bore a marked resemblance to the portraits of the Emperor Menelik. His normal residence was some way off in Ankober; he was here on duty patrolling the road.'

Waugh confirms that a low wicker table was laid with piles of native bread.
'The Radical and I, the Dedjasmach and two priests, sat down at little stools. James stood beside us. Two women slaves stood with horsehair whisks, fanning away the flies. Abyssinian bread is made in thin spongy discs. It is used very conveniently as both plate and spoon. The curry - a fiery but rather delicious dish which forms the staple food of those who can afford it - is ladled out into the centre of the bread; morsels are then wrapped up in pieces torn from the edge and put in the mouth. The Dejasmach courteously helped us to tit-bits from his own pile. Other slaves brought us horn mugs of tedj - a heavy drink at eight o'clock in the morning.'

Waugh is more matter of fact about all this than his colleague:

IMG_1562 - Version 3
Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

According to Waugh's account it was two guards. Also, it seems that Evelyn was in a better state to take part in the breakfast discussion. He reports:
'Conversation was intermittent and rather laborious; it consisted chiefly of questions addressed to us by our hosts and the priests. They asked us our ages, whether we were married, how many children. One of the priests recorded the information in a little exercise book. The Dedjasmach said he loved the English because he knew that they too hated the Italians. The Italians were a poor sort of people, he said; one of his friends had killed forty of them, one after the other, with his sword. He asked us if we knew General Harrington; he had been a good man; was he still alive? Then he returned to the question of the Italians. They did not like the smell of blood, he said; when they smelled blood they were afraid; when an Abyssinian smelled blood he became doubly brave; that was why the sword was better than the gun.'

One is reminded of Bill Deedes opinion that Waugh was a good journalist because he listened to people. And that morning in the Dedjasmach's company, he seems to have been the only journalist in listening mode.

'Besides, he said, the Italians disliked fighting so much they had to be given food free before they would do it; he knew this for a fact; he had seen it himself forty years ago; they had great carts loaded with food and wine to persuade the men to fight; Abyssinians scorned that; each man brought his own rations and, if he had one, his own mule. He asked us when the Emperor was going to the war; that was where he should be, with his soldiers. That Abyssinians fought better if the Emperor were looking on; each strove to attract his attention with deeds of valour.'

Waugh tells us how the meeting was wound up: 'Water was brought for us to bathe our hands; then little cups of bitter coffee. Finally, we made our adieux.'

And how did that leave Emeny feeling?

IMG_1562 - Version 2
Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

It's alright, Stuart, I would have been on my hands and knees in that stream too, my head all over the place. However, this is in contrast to Waugh's composed thoughts after the meeting:

'It had been more than a pleasant interlude; it had been a glimpse of the age-old, traditional order that still survived, gracious and sturdy, out of sight beyond the brass bands and bunting, the topees and humane humbug of Tafari's regime; of an order doomed to destruction. Whatever the outcome of the present war: mandate or conquest or internationally promoted native reform - whatever resulted at Geneva or Rome or Addis Ababa, Dedjasmach Matafara and all he stood for was bound to disappear. But we were pleased to have seen it and touched hands across the centuries with the court of Prester John.'

Let us now join Evelyn Waugh and Stuart Emeny, the one standing reflectively by the edge of the stream, the other on his hands and knees in the middle of it's running waters.

E.W.: "We have just experienced at first hand the court of Prester John, eh Emeny? Ruler of a medieval kingdom full of riches, marvels and strange creatures. Leader of a Christian tribe lost amid the Muslims and pagans of a dark continent."

S.E./me: "Just give me a minute will you, Waugh? Just need to cool down a bit, don't you know."

On the fourth day of their intrepid journey, they reached Dessye. A week then passed in idleness as they waited for the Emperor. A happy time? I suspect not. Waugh wrote to Penelope Betjeman:
'I am in a bitterly cold mountain with a boring hypochondriac socialist, God I could kill him. The telegraph very sensibly refuses to accept press cables any more. I am a very bad journalist, well only a shit could be good on this particular job.'

Waugh received a dismissal cable from the
Daily Mail just a day after Haille Selassie arrived. But after such a 'disappointing' three months, Evelyn was ready for a change. He fancied spending Christmas in Jerusalem. So Evelyn took one servant, rations for the road and left everything else with the Radical. James cried. Well, of course James cried. He'd been by Waugh's side, an essential part of his bold operation, and together they'd given as good as they'd got from the Abyssinian bigwigs. LIfe would never be as exciting again.

To be fair to him, left to his own devices, Stuart Emeny was able to make valuable observations on the Emperor's daily routine, his disciplined character and his stamina. A sentence which you may say is merely an excuse for me to include the following stunning photo that might belong (without the guns) in an Enid Blyton book, Say
Five Go Adventuring Again or The Mystery of the Vanished Prince. (Real books, real genius.)

Reproduced from Abyssinian Stop Press with the forbearance, I hope, of any copyright holder.

As far as I'm concerned, it should be Evelyn Waugh sitting on that horse. But the international journalists of Abyssinia, circa 1935, seem to have suffered from a collective failure of imagination on that score. The biggest scoop of all was entirely missed by them. A photo of Evelyn Waugh getting down and dirty with colleagues and locals alike. A photo of Evelyn Waugh drinking deep from the human cup.
Tedj, Evelyn.

There is one photo in existence of Waugh in Africa, but it was taken in December by which time he'd travelled to Palestine. However, in it he is wearing a coat that he picked up in Abyssinia, for it is in his Dessye letter to Penelope Betjeman that he wrote:
'I have a lion skin coat, it smells like a corpse.'


Actually, I'm not sure I believe the caption relating to this photo where it first appears in
Evelyn Waugh and His World, edited by David Pryce-Jones: 'In Palestine, Christmas 1935'. Because is that not the Union Jack that flew proudly on the lorry that took Waugh's party up the long and winding road to Dessye? I like to think so.


So that is the interweaving story of four British journailsts. Not a bad story in itself, I reckon. But where does the telling of it get us in respect of the deservedly famous story,

First, we can now say something about the relationship between brave and intrepid author, Evelyn Waugh, and naive, innocent protagonist, William Boot. To some extent, in coming up with Boot, Waugh was taking the piss out of Bill Deedes. Deedes was only 22, and looks over-dressed and innocent in contemporary pictures. Also he had far too much luggage. Though it seems that Stuart Emeny was overburdened with the stuff too.

Reproduced from At War with Waugh, by W.F. Deedes, published by MacMiillan.

Second, Evelyn never forgot the real scoop - the oil concession obtained from the Emperor by Mr Rickett - which he missed by travelling to Harar when he needn't have. In
Scoop itself, the big scoop is that the emperor has been locked up (relating to Waugh's small scoop of discovering that the French consul had been imprisoned) but not before Mr Baldwin has obtained a gold concession from the Emperor. It's William who gets these scoops, not through his own insight, but, on the one hand, through the networking of his girlfriend, Katchen, and, on the other, through the generous friendship of Mr Baldwin. The triumph of the fictional scoop is very much based on the disaster of missing out on the real scoop. Evelyn deserved so much more kudos than he got for his gung-ho Abyssinian initiatives. William directly benefitted from the deficiency. In a parallel universe, for 'Boot of the Beast' read 'Waugh of the Mail'.

Waugh never stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Addis Ababa, not for a single night. Indeed, he, Patrick Balfour, Bill Deedes and Stuart Emeny all stayed in the German pension. However, in
Scoop, William does stay in the central Jacksonburg hotel to begin with, so that Waugh can introduce the pack of journalists, but then moves him out on his own to Frau Dressler's pension, a lush place in comparison. This gives him a better 'us and them' set up. William in his own space as opposed to the rest of the press pack who are holed up in their hellish hotel. Hell being other journalists.

Waugh in Abyssinia says all he has to say (a little too much, which I've basically avoided) about the politics and morality of a European nation invading an African country. By the time Waugh got to writing Scoop he'd tired of all that and made it into a civil war.

Waugh in Abyssinia, the travel memoir, concentrates on forays out of Addis Ababa. But in Scoop, the comic novel, William stays in Jacksonburg, at Frau Dressler's, and allows the rest of the journalists to go off to Laku (a place that doesn't exist) on a wild scoop chase. And the real scoop comes to him as if by magic. But actually, from the author's own hard-won experience.

Look what clever old Evelyn did once he got back to England with the lion coat that stank like a corpse. He came up with a little masterpiece.


Brogue on the Beast. Boot of the
Beast. I choose to laugh. Laugh along with Evelyn Waugh. Laughing at William Boot and the rest of the crazy old world of press pack and bullshit warmongering.

But hang on, I've missed out the best bit. The funniest passages in
Scoop are concerned with Salter travelling to Boot Magna Hall in order to persuade William to turn up at the 'Boot of the Beast' feast that Lord Copper has lined up in London. Salter turns down the offer of a lift in the back of a slag lorry after a long discussion with a local reveals how dangerous that would be. Salter trying to understand what the youth is saying, surely parallel's Waugh's own efforts to understand what was being said to him in Addis Ababa or Harar. Salter trying to decide whether or not to get into a road-unworthy vehicle with a road-unworthy driver, must echo Waugh's self-same predicaments in Africa.

And when Salter finally arrives at the house, dishevelled and exhausted, after walking through miles of countryside, he is assumed to be tipsy. He is allowed only water throughout dinner and is spoken of constantly in the third person. His bewilderment surely has some relation - including ironic reversals - to Waugh being hand-fed tit-bits of curried meat washed down with glasses of
tejk when breakfasting with a local chief on the way to Dessye.

"Mr Salter is having Annabel to sleep with him," said Mrs Boot.
"Mr Salter is very fond of her," said Lady Trilby.
"He doesn't know her," said Uncle Bernard.
"He's very fond of all dogs," said Mrs Boot.

In my Penguin edition of
Scoop from the 1970s, from Salter alighting at Boot Magna Halt on page 196, to Salter being woken cold and stiff the next day by William's sister looking for a lost tie on page 213, is 17 pages of sustained comic mastery. A bright-smiling laugh-fest born of intrepid experience.

1) Addis Ababa 1935 was not the only time Evelyn Waugh found himself in a situation where he was one of four writers/artists in a closed situation. Think Dorset, 1928 (Evelyn Gardner, Henry Lamb and Pansy Pakenham); Paris, 1930 (Bryan Guinness, Nancy Mitford and Diana Guinness); and Jamaica, 1955 (Peter Quennell, Anne Fleming and Ian Fleming).

2) Martin Stannard spoke to Patrick Balfour when researching his biography of Evelyn Waugh. I will try and talk to Martin about this interview when I see him at the Chipping Campden Literary Festival (May 10, 2019,) where we are both presenting on Scoop. Or if not then, soon after.

3) I've quoted fairly extensively from Waugh In Abyssinia in order to bring out certain attributes of Waugh the man and Waugh the writer. Nevertheless I am indebted to the forbearance ( I hope) of the copyright holder. I hope too that the essay helps create an interest in the forthcoming volume 23 of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, to be published by OUP, and the currently available Penguin volume. The latter has a cover that reverberates with the end of the above essay:

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