Books, Law


How is one to give evidence of literary merit in a court of law?” asks Sybille Bedford in her short account of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial (re-published this month by Daunt Books).

The story of the trial is well known. Penguin Books, the publishers of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, were charged with publishing an obscene book under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and tried at the Old Bailey in November 1960. Despite the condescending patrician grandstanding of the prosecutor Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones “is this a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read”, “members of the jury for those of you who have forgotten your Greek, ‘phallus’ means the image of a man’s penis” and the moralising judge Mr Justice Byrne (and his scowling wife sitting daily with him on the bench) the jury acquitted.

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Absurdism, Books, Law

A second year in blogging, a retrospective

A love of irony is a sign of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Language is an urgent political affair.
This year I have written posts from the battle lines of the language frontier:

  • Eminent speakers were silenced by self-righteous university student moralists;
  • Cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were shot for writing satire;
  • Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play The Witch of Walkern was pulled because its language offended;
  • Petitions to Parliament tried to make various human behaviour (and speech) criminal acts;
  • The Holocaust was asserted to be too reverent a subject for the language of comedy.
  • Writings of the sociologist Emile Durkheim were excluded from the A-level syllabus for fear it could trigger harmful reactions in student readers; Continue reading
Film, Law

Bomb the ban

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic black comedy Dr Strangelove (1964) a US General is so upset about the fluoridation of water he starts a nuclear war and destroys the entire human race. It is on one view an excessive reaction. He could instead have petitioned the lawmakers to oblige suppliers to purify water. I see that Stop the Fluoridation of UK water supplies is one of the 4079 petitions currently open on the website. The justification given is: “a study has revealed the dark relationship between lower IQ levels and sodium fluoride consumption”. There is no mention of General Jack D. Ripper so I have assumed that the petition is not ironic. At the time of writing it has 452 signatures. Continue reading

Books, Law, Rhetoric

Free speech is so last century


News from the campus barricades.

The results of the Free Speech University Rankings are in: 80% of British universities censor free speech. Using a traffic light grading system forty-seven universities were marked red* (including Oxford, Warwick and the LSE) forty-five were marked amber (including Cambridge and Imperial) and a mere twenty-five were marked green. What is going on? Here are some examples, alas there are many others. Continue reading

Books, Law

To Kill A Mockingbird

A black man, Tom Robinson, is wrongly charged with raping a white girl in a southern racist state in 1930s America. The town is convinced of his guilt purely because of the colour of his skin. A (white) lawyer, Atticus Finch, and a model of integrity, defends him whilst confronting injustice and prejudice. He exposes the girl at the trial as a liar, put up to perjure herself by her father. The all-male all-white racist jury, nevertheless, convict Tom of rape. The members of the black community observing the trial (corralled into the “coloured-only” seats on a balcony) stand as Atticus wearily leaves court to show their respect and gratitude. Tom is shot before his appeal is heard. Continue reading

Books, Law

Lady Chatterley’s Lawyer

Jeremy Hutchinson QC was the leading criminal defence barrister of the 1960s and 1970s. I have just finished reading a  book about fourteen of his famous cases by Tom Grant*. The book reveals a Zelig-like Hutchinson popping up throughout the twentieth century. Here he is representing at trial Penguin Books (for Lady Chatterley’s Lover) and Christine Keeler during the Profumo affair; here he is defending the spy George Blake and the Great Train robber Charlie Wilson; here he is battling Mary Whitehouse over the distribution of Last Tango in Paris; here he is representing a defendant charged with the theft of the World Cup in 1966. Here he is playing games on holiday with T.S.Eliot; here he is mentioned in Virginia Woolf’s and John Gielgud’s diaries; here he is married to the daughter of Coco Chanel’s lover ‘Boy’ Capel; here he is clinging to the wreckage with Lord Louis Mountbatten of H.M.S. Kelly after it was sunk by the Luftwaffe off Crete in May 1941; here he is in Los Angeles with Aldous Huxley; here he is building a brick wall with Churchill in the garden at Chartwell; here he is married to Dame Peggy Ashcroft; here he is being taught how to tie a bow tie by Lytton Strachey; here he is lunching with Charlie Chaplin. It is a remarkable fact that Hutchinson is still alive and well and living in Sussex, aged 100. Continue reading

Art, Books, Law


The prototype of French comedic excess is François Rabelais with his gross, bawdy, scatalogical, jesting, fantastical narratives that pushed back the frontiers of decency. His two classics texts Pantegruel and Gargantua (both 1530s) reveal him to be a moralist in the French sense, inclined to paint folly than inveigh against it. Knowing that humans are not at ease with their condition or sexuality, bodily functions or death he asserted that laughter was the “property of Man”. In doing so he gave us the term Rabelaisian, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “an exuberance of imagination and language, combined with extravagance and coarseness of humour and satire”. Continue reading