The Pursuit of Laughter

The Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mitford (Mosley) Read Free Book Online

Book: The Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mitford (Mosley) Read Free Book Online
Authors: Diana Mitford (Mosley)
and killed a few people. The League of Nations was outraged; everybody was outraged.
    There are many parallels with the recent Iraq war; the UN was outraged, millions of people took to the streets in protest in England, France, Germany and Italy, but the Americans, like the Italians in 1935, paid no attention to public opinion and quickly and easily won the war.
    The Italians wanted Abyssinia for no particular reason. Unlike Iraq, it was not oil-rich, the Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, went into exile.
    I believe he lived at Bath. After the Second World War he was sent back to Addis Ababa, where he was murdered and buried in a deep hole under his bathroom.
    The hole was covered in concrete, but eventually his body was recovered, and who should go to his ceremonial-burial but Lord Deedes, who seems to love going to Abyssinia. We may be sure none of his visits was quite as enjoyable as his first.
    Among the journalists when Deedes was 22 was Evelyn Waugh, aged 32.
    He was, at that time, the most perfect companion imaginable. Lord Deedes says he was a real help, as an old Africa hand, and praises his efficiency, although he missed the one and only scoop by being away when it was achieved.
    He doesn’t mention the scintillating wit, the wonderfully original point of view of the Evelyn Waugh of those days. He detects the monster, but not, seemingly, the genius.
    If, however, his small book about the adversities of being a reporter with nothing much to report sends people back to Evelyn Waugh’s novel,
Scoop
, it will have been well worth writing, because
Scoop
is one of the best novels of the twentieth century.
    Deedes says he has been identified with Boot, the Candide-like hero of
Scoop
, but that all they had in common was mountains of luggage. He is surely right about this.
    At War with Waugh: The Real Story of Scoop,
Deedes, W.F.
Evening Standard
(2003)

Harold Acton as a Young Man
    When I met Harold Acton in 1928, I was 18 and he 24. His fame among our generation was already great; at Oxford he had been the undisputed leader of the cleverest undergraduates , a well-known apparition disapproved by many, with side-whiskers and huge trousers. A self-proclaimed aesthete, he defended his attitude with clever, malicious wit, as well as the exquisite courtesy which characterized him all his life.
    By 1928 there was no longer sartorial oddity, he was tall and dark and soberly dressed, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat. We were guests of John Sutro at a little restaurant near the Strand, Rules. John Sutro brought out the fantastic best in Harold, we talked and laughed for hours. Harold was the cleverest, wittiest, most outrageous person on earth in those days. His voice, his accent, never changed. They made even quite ordinary observations seem unusual, and his wicked malice irresistibly funny. We never stopped laughing when Harold was there, and perhaps such an appreciative audience encouraged him to perform.
    At that time he and his brother William had taken a large house in Lancaster Gate; William wanted to deal in furniture, and as his taste ran to vast rococo objects the house had to be big in order to display his wares. Harold was busy writing
The Last Medici
. He had also written a novel.
    William was a dreadful worry to Harold. At Christ Church, having swallowed some drug, he had fallen out of a window in Peckwater Quad, hurting himself badly. His parents ’ favourite, they ordered Harold to look after him, which he was quite unable to do. The Actons lived at La Pietra near Florence; very fond of his mother, Harold heartily disliked his father.
    My brother Tom loved Harold as much as I did; they had not coincided at Eton, but as they disliked games both had been wet-bobs there, which meant that a boy could spend his summer afternoons on the river, reading or flirting and pretending to row. Harold told us that his little boat had inadvertently been swept over the weir, ‘and my whiff was shattered to atoms’. Tom

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