Leopards&spots? Expenses à la 1938

The other week Centre for Journalism shared ten must-reads for journalists, as selected by John Saunders. They were, he said, ‘unashamedly green and left-wing’: not surprising then, that Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop didn’t get a mention alongside Monbiot as inspiration for trainees. It is, however, a timely read, given recent expenses discussion…

(2009) Stephen Fry might possibly have alienated a few of his followers with his ‘venal and disgusting’ accusation when this whole Expenses marlarkey first started. Journalists, Fry claimed, have their snouts pretty buried in the troughs too. Fat chance, retorted some.

(1938) Waugh’s tale suggests it was just as bad when they all headed off to Ishamaelia… The Beast’s foreign editor, Mr Salter, is persuading young William Boot of the benefit of journalistic privileges (Book One, Chapter 2). 

… “And think what you can make on your expenses,” urged Mr Salter. “At least another twenty. I happened to see Hitchcock’s expense sheet when he was working for us in Shanghai. He charged three hundred pounds for camels alone.”

“But I don’t think I shall know what to do with a camel.”

Mr Salter saw he was not making his point clear. “Take a single example,” he said. “Supposing you want to have dinner. Well, you go to a restaurant and do yourself proud, best of everything. Bill perhaps may be two pounds. Well, you put down five pounds for entertainment on your expenses. You’ve had a slap-up dinner, you’re three pounds to the good, and everyone is satisfied.”

“But you see I don’t like restaurants and no one pays for dinner at home, anyway. The servants just bring it in.”

“Or supposing you want to send flowers to your girl. You just go to a shop, send a great spray of orchids and put them down as ‘Information’. 

“But I haven’t got a girl and there are heaps of flowers at home.”

Oh Boot… He soon learns.  

Waugh makes an appearance in a (more factual) book I’m reading now too: Daily Telegraph journalist Tim Butcher’s ‘Blood River – A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart’ (2007). Butcher is obsessively tracing H.M Stanley’s route through the Congo, and he peppers the narrative with references to all things colonial: Waugh’s experiences in 1930, used for a book called Remote People; African Queen; 1951 Travel Guide; George Simenon’s Talatala

Finally, check out the latest issue of the British Journalism Review (now in its 20th year) for Brian McNair’s piece on journalists’ favourite films (p7, in print only). I think I could be the only working journalist in the UK who has never seen All the President’s Men.


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