He and Hilary had married in , but over six decades, according to Robinson, he had never shown his wife a fraction of the romance that came to him quite naturally with the young Victoria. He had largely been an absentee husband, always going to work after Sunday school, even when he wasn't needed, and never being demonstrative with his five children, one of whom died at 23 from a degenerative illness.
It was almost as though his family didn't matter. When Deedes handed in the manuscript of his memoir, Dear Bill, his editor at publishers Macmillan said to him: "Lovely piece of work, Lord Deedes, but do tell me, did you ever marry?
But when Bill was with Victoria he was, as Robinson notes, "like a teenager". For her part, Victoria loved the attention and adored his company. Robinson points out that before star columnist Bill Deedes and hopeful reporter Victoria Combe were brought together professionally, she was fearful the paper would not give her a staff job. However, teamed up with the influential figure, her career was assured.
Sometimes they would walk about the office arm-in-arm. In July, , when he was 83 and she 30, he allowed Victoria to see just how much she meant to him by sending her a poem by an obscure poet, A. When Deedes's daughter, Juliet, returned with a fever from a gruelling trip to Nicaragua, a family party was arranged at New Hayters, Deedes's family home in Aldington, Kent. But Bill wasn't there. He remained in London, keeping "an appointment" with Victoria. Juliet was "wounded", Hilary "apoplectic". In her mounting sense of grievance, Hilary, who had never shown much interest in Bill's work and was happiest with her pets and domestic matters, contemptuously referred to Victoria Combe as "the girlfriend".
She was satisfied that the relationship was not physical, but she could hardly escape her husband's obsession with Victoria. How ironic that this should come upon him in his 80s, when he had never before been a ladies' man. What made it worse was the way he would "return from his trips with Victoria so fired up by their joint experiences that he would regale his wife over the kitchen table with every detail of what they had done - a ritual she came to dread". When Jill, their middle daughter, was visiting from Australia, she and Hilary used to make signs and private gestures to each other every time Victoria's name was mentioned.
Jeremy observed the widening rift between his parents with dismay and blamed it on his father's relationship with Victoria, whom he referred to as "this incursion into the marital home". Victoria then met and became engaged to an Army officer of whom Deedes said he approved , but matters worsened in when Hilary was diagnosed with cancer and had an emergency hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy. The final humiliation was the run-up to Victoria's wedding on the day of Princess Diana's funeral. One night, Hilary felt she particularly needed her husband to be with her in Kent, but he didn't go home.
Hilary could take no more. She left the marital home and moved miles north to live close to their daughter, Lucy, in the Scottish Borders, leaving with such angry haste that she had to arrange for her animals and chickens to be transported up to her later. Bill, the much-loved character, ever courteous and thoughtful, was startled and upset by the turn of events, but explained it away to village neighbours as a necessary move for practical reasons so Lucy could be close to her mother and be a help to her during her illness.
The marriage had its problems long before Victoria, of course, and Victoria does not accept that she was responsible for Hilary leaving the marital home. She may have been the proverbial "old man's darling" but she insists there was no affair nor was she ever even flirtatious with Bill Deedes. With her husband, John, a former colonel, now out of the Army and happily living in West London near Hampton Court with their two children, she said last night: "Why is it not possible for two journalists with a year gap in their ages to be chaste friends?
I greatly admired his journalism and he was such a lovely chap. Bill's daughter, Lucy, was very polite when we met at his memorial service. It certainly wasn't polite, however, at Bill Deedes's funeral. The funeral notice had emphasised that the service was to be strictly private, with no flowers, but Victoria arrived at the church with a pansy in a pot which she said was from her son, Gabriel, to whom Deedes had become godfather. A single wreath from the family lay by the coffin and, before most of the family had arrived, Victoria put her pot alongside it on a chair.
Lucy's daughter, Sophia Money-Coutts, referred to the "infamous pansy incident" in an extraordinary article about her grandfather in the London Evening Standard this week. But we were held up by Victoria insisting that her pansy be placed on the coffin, next to the family's wreath.
Robinson records: "George Deedes, Jeremy's son, remonstrated with her, concerned that his father Victoria, herself, tells a somewhat different story. I know this was slightly out of the ordinary but the funeral director said it was OK. And it didn't delay the funeral.
Gabriel - "the sainted Gabriel" as the Deedes family sarcastically referred to him - was another flashpoint. Deedes used to send commentary notes to him about world events for him to read when he was old enough. When one of his daughters complained he didn't do that for his own grandchildren, she received an envelope with one of his commentaries in it - a copy of one he had given to Gabriel.
Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Description In a career that spanned seven decades, WF Deedes proved more than 'pretty good' in a spectacular range of professions. A confident and ambitious journalist at twenty-two, Deedes began a life-long relationship with the Daily Telegraph when reporting from Abyssinia alongside Evelyn Waugh in the s. Review quote ' Robinson must be applauded for unearthing so much new information.
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