Simon Parry writing in the South China Morning Post offers a retelling of Waugh’s parody of journalists reset in the jungles of today’s Papua New Guinea. He is hired by an unnamed London Sunday paper to cover the story of the missing British explorer Benedict Allen (see earlier post) who has disappeared while looking for a lost tribe:
For inspiration, I turned to Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop (1938), whose hero, William Boot, sets off for Africa with a collapsible canoe, a camp operating table, a portable humidor, a jointed flagstaff and Union flag, a cane for whacking snakes and a cleft stick to send his dispatches. An assistant at the hardware shop in Sai Kung, informed me, rather curtly, that they had none of the above in stock. So I threw my pocket penknife into my into my overnight bag and headed to the airport, imagining the moment I would burst into a jungle clearing and wittily exclaim: “Mr Allen, I presume?”
When he arrives in Port Moresby, Parry finds himself booked onto a flight into the remote outpost at Mount Hagen with two other reporters from a London daily paper (also unnamed) who are also covering the story and have written authorizations from Allen’s family for an exclusive interview. These he calls Corker and Shumble who last appeared in Abyssinia with William Boot, covering the Italian invasion in the 1930s as described in Waugh’s novel. Things get even more Wavian when all three try to book helicopter passage from Mount Hagen to the village where Allen is supposed to be located.
Parry tells the story in the same satirical spirit as Waugh, and it is available in full online in the magazine section of the SCMP. As it turns out, although Parry misses the actual rescue mission flight, he scoops the other two reporters when he interviews their helicopter pilot, Craig Rose, after they have left for London:
“It wasn’t like he really needed rescuing,” Rose said. “It wasn’t as if he was in mortal danger. It was just that his travel plans were stuck. He wouldn’t have been starving. There was water there. He was well looked after.”
Clearly this didn’t quite fit the Boy’s Own narrative. And the more Rose spoke, the better it got, at least from my jaded viewpoint. He had been surprised to see Allen use a video camera to alternately film himself and the helicopter as it circled the airstrip where he was waiting to be picked up.
“As soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘Yep, he’s a filmmaker,’” said Rose, adding that he was baffled at how the explorer had kept his batteries charged out in the jungle. (It now dawned on me why the pilot hadn’t received so much as a mention in the account of Allen’s rescue that morning.)
Corker and/or Shumble seem to have been working for the Daily Mail which was first to report the rescue mission on 17 November in a story written by Sam Greenhill, and the Mail is reported by the Guardian to have sponsored the helicopter flight. While Parry doesn’t mention the name of his Sunday paper employer, his story about the pilot’s interview appeared in the Mail on Sunday for 19 November. All this provides an added Wavian dimension to the story since the Mail was Waugh’s employer on his 1935-36 Abyssinian journalistic venture.