Jacket of the first UK edition
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||A Handful of Dust|
|Followed by||Put Out More Flags|
Scoop is a 1938 novel by English writer Evelyn Waugh, a satire of sensationalist journalism and foreign correspondence.
William Boot, a young man who lives in genteel poverty far from the iniquities of London, is contributor of nature notes to Lord Copper's Daily Beast, a national newspaper. He is dragooned into becoming a foreign correspondent when the editors mistake him for a novelist who shares his surname, John Courtney Boot. He is sent to the fictional African state of Ishmaelia where a civil war threatens to break out. There, despite his total ineptitude, he accidentally manages to get the "scoop" of the title. When he returns, however, credit is diverted to the other Boot, and he is left to return to his bucolic pursuits, much to his relief.
The novel is partly based on Waugh's own experience working for the Daily Mail, when he was sent to cover Benito Mussolini's expected invasion of Abyssinia—what was later known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. When he got his own scoop on the invasion he telegraphed the story back in Latin for secrecy, but they discarded it. Waugh wrote up his travels more factually in Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), which complements Scoop.
Lord Copper, the newspaper magnate, has been said to be based on an amalgam of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook: a character so fearsome that his obsequious foreign editor, Mr Salter, can never openly disagree with any statement he makes, answering "Definitely, Lord Copper" and 'Up to a point, Lord Copper" in place of "yes" or "no". Lord Copper's idea of the lowliest of his employees is a book reviewer. The historian A.J.P. Taylor, however, writes: "I have Evelyn Waugh's authority for stating that Lord Beaverbrook was not the original of Lord Copper." Bill Deedes thought the portrait of Copper exhibited the folie de grandeur of both Rothermere and Beaverbrook and included "the ghost of Rothermere's elder brother, Lord Northcliffe. Before he died tragically, mentally deranged and attended by nurses, Northcliffe was already exhibiting some of Copper's eccentricities—his megalomania, his habit of giving ridiculous orders to underlings."
It is widely believed that Waugh based his hapless protagonist, William Boot, on Bill Deedes, a junior reporter who arrived in Addis Ababa aged 22 with "quarter of a ton of baggage". In his memoir At War with Waugh, Deedes wrote that; "Waugh like most good novelists drew on more than one person for each of his characters. He drew on me for my excessive baggage—and perhaps for my naivety..." He further observed that Waugh was reluctant to acknowledge real life models, so that with Black Mischief's portrait of a young ruler, "Waugh insisted, as he usually did, that his portrait of Seth, Emperor of Azania, was not drawn from any real person such as Haile Selassie." According to Peter Stothard, a more direct model for Boot may have been William Beach Thomas, "a quietly successful countryside columnist and literary gent who became a calamitous Daily Mail war correspondent".
The novel is full of all but identical opposites: Lord Copper of the Daily Beast, Lord Zinc of the Daily Brute (the Daily Mail and Daily Express); the CumReds and the White Shirts, parodies of Communists (comrades) and Black Shirts (fascists) etc.
Other real-life models for characters (again, according to Deedes): "Jakes is drawn from John Gunther of the Chicago Daily News – In [one] excerpt, Jakes is found writing, 'The Archbishop of Canterbury who, it is well known, is behind Imperial Chemicals..' Authentic Gunther." The most recognisable figure from Fleet Street is Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock, Waugh's portrait of Sir Percival Phillips, working then for the Daily Telegraph.
"Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole", a line from one of Boot's countryside columns, has become a famous comic example of overblown prose style. It inspired the name of the environmentalist magazine Vole, which was originally titled The Questing Vole.
One of the points of the novel is that even if there is little news happening, the world's media descending upon a place requires that something happen to please their editors and owners back home, and so they will create news.
Christopher Hitchens, introducing the 2000 Penguin Classics edition of Scoop, said "[i]n the pages of Scoop we encounter Waugh at the mid-season point of his perfect pitch; youthful and limber and light as a feather", and noted: "The manners and mores of the press, are the recurrent motif of the book and the chief reason for its enduring magic...this world of callousness and vulgarity and philistinism...Scoop endures because it is a novel of pitiless realism; the mirror of satire held up to catch the Caliban of the press corps, as no other narrative has ever done save Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page."
Scoop was included in The Observer's list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Scoop No. 75 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
In 2009 the novel was serialised and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Notes and references
- A.J.P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972), p. 678.
- Deedes, p104
- Deedes, p.102
- At War with Waugh, 2003, W.F.Deedes, p,44, 72,
- "Hay, we got it wrong". The Times. 29 May 2007.
- Deedes, p.104
- Deedes, p.112
- Deedes, p.113
- Hitchens, C; Introduction to Scoop; Pengiun Classics, 2000, ISBN 978-0-14-118402-9 London
- Robert McCrum (12 October 2003). "The 100 greatest novels of all time: The list". The Observer.
- "The 100 Best Novels, in English, of the 20th Century". The Modern Library Association.
- "Tina Brown Launches Much-Awaited News Site". Financial Times. The Huffington Post. 6 October 2008.