Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, dramatized by Jeremy Front

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BBC Radio 4, 15-22 February 2009
Evelyn Waugh's satirical 1938 novel seems ideal material for dramatization. The story of an innocent, William Boot (based on the young William Deedes), pitchforked into a civil war about which he knows nothing as a journalist working for a leading daily newspaper, gives Waugh the opportunity to make some trenchant points about the role of the media in reporting armed conflict, as journalists look for (or, better still, manufacture) something to write about. We might say that the novel has become even more significant today, as wars are increasingly played out in front of the television cameras, and sometimes deliberately prolonged (or even conjured up) by power-hungry media barons anxious to manipulate public opinion. Ex-President George W.Bush's reputation was both gained and lost by his obsession with the co-called 'War on Terror.'
If Scoop possesses such potential, then why did I find myself becoming more and more irritated as Sally Avens' production unfolded? Perhaps because Waugh is a snob at heart, who satirizes the aristocracy or the media yet refrains from offering any alternatives. He resembles one of today's celebrities who pretend to despite the media yet realize they cannot do without it. I remember watching him being interviewed on the classic 1960s programme 'Face to Face,' and marvelling at the way he affected to despise John Freeman's patient questioning, while simultaneously revelling in the spotlight as he puffed arrogantly on a big cigar.
In terms of theme, Scoop seems entirely appropriate for such a personality. Moreover, I believe that Waugh despises the middle and working classes, particularly those who are unfortunate enough to work in journalism. Salter (Nicholas Woodeson) was portrayed as a slimeball, whose capacity to ferret out a story was only matched by a cynical disregard for more permanent qualities such as friendship. Throughout all this satirical mayhem Boot (Rory Kinnear) remained a Candide-like figure - an innocent trying to survive in a world of sharks. I believe that Waugh actually likes him; for all his brainlessness, he remains fundamentally good-willing, a quality to be prized in a media-obsessed world.
Avens' production unfolded at a brisk pace, with short interludes linked by Evelyn Waugh's (Tim McInnerny's) narration. This classic serial was designed to amuse as well as prompt reflection on journalism as a profession. I'm only sorry that I didn't enjoy it more.