MANY years ago the missus and I decided that what the world needed was a book about George Carman, the brilliant defence barrister whose acquitted clients included Jeremy Thorpe, accused of conspiracy to murder, Ken Dodd (tax evasion), the Coronation Street actor Peter Adamson (indecent assault on eight-year-old girls) and the actress Maria Aitken (smuggling cocaine).
Carman also successfully defended Dr Leonard Arthur, who in 1981 was accused at Leicester Crown Court of murdering a Down’s Syndrome baby after prescribing nursing care only for the child. He reportedly had a bet with journalists covering the trial that he would make a member of the jury cry within ten minutes of starting his closing speech – he got his money with 30 seconds to spare after a woman juror wiped away a tear.
His memorable phrases included one about Tory minister David Mellor who ‘behaved like an ostrich and put his head in the sand, thereby exposing his thinking parts’, while he said of Ken Dodd: ‘Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants.’
Carman was said to charge £3,000 an hour for a consultation. He was only 5ft 3in but was a terrifying presence in court, where he won many libel cases after demolishing witnesses with devastating putdowns and was described as ‘Vinnie Jones in a horsehair wig’. He also had a dramatic personal life, married three times, while a colleague of mine who covered the Adamson case at Burnley Crown Court and stayed at the same hotel as Carman reported that he got drunk every night on pints of crème de menthe.
With all this promising material, preferably helped along by a few comments from the man himself, we thought we would have a sure-fire best seller. We wrote to him outlining our plans, promising that this would be no hatchet job and would merely add to his already stellar reputation. We also stressed our northern roots – Carman was born in Blackpool.
The book, we envisaged, would be called The Great Defender and would have his picture in the centre of the cover, surrounded by shots of his famous clients.
A few days later, at just after 9am, the phone rang. I stumbled out of bed and picked it up, to find myself caught on the hop speaking to the great George Carman himself. He thanked me for our interest but said he would not co-operate with our plans as he intended to write his own autobiography in due course. I said in that case, surely he would not object to a book based solely on material already in the public domain? ‘I’ll have to think about that,’ he said. ‘I’ll get back to you.’
A couple of weeks later we were stunned to find Carman’s picture on the cover of the Sunday Telegraph magazine, surrounded by pictures of Thorpe, Dodd, Adamson and Aitken. The headline: The Great Defender. Inside was a piece by Charles Nevin detailing Carman’s many victories.
At that point we realised we were up against the big boys and would be well advised not to cross someone so rich and powerful. A shame, though, because it would have been a good book.
George Carman died of cancer in 2001, aged 71. An obituary published in The Lawyer said he was ‘thought of by many as one of the most difficult men in the legal profession, with a somewhat brash and even obnoxious persona’. Carman’s son Dominic wrote a memoir published the following year in which he accused his father of being a wife-beating drunk. Looks like we were among a very few prepared to give the old blighter a bit of favourable publicity. More fool him.
OUR son and his girlfriend are in the habit of visiting an establishment in Bolton where you pay to throw axes (at targets, not each other). It has a smokehouse whose menu includes the ‘666 Hot Wings Challenge’ – eat six ‘insanely hot’ chicken wings within six minutes, wait a further 66 seconds before having a drink of milk, and you get the meal gratis plus an entry to the wall of fame. To anyone tempted to take on this challenge I would say one word: ‘Don’t.’
A clue to the mindblowing chilli heat of the wings comes when they are supplied with plastic gloves to prevent skin damage to the hands. One taste was enough for our son’s girlfriend – and her food yardstick is usually ‘the spicier the better’. She brought the wings home for a second opinion.
Now I consider myself something of a chilli-head and have been known to send vindaloos back for not being hot enough. But just dipping a finger into the sauce on the wings was enough to set my mouth on fire. I rinsed a couple of them under the tap and took a small bite but immediately succumbed to hiccups and tears. Seriously, any foolhardy souls who eat all six of these monsters risk ending up in hospital having their stomach pumped.
It reminds me of a time in my early 20s when I was on a two-week newspaper layout course in Newcastle upon Tyne. A couple of jovial blokes from Belfast and I went out drinking every evening before adjourning to a curry house. As my spice tolerance grew, I ordered ever hotter dishes until, on the final night, there was only one left to try. Chicken Bangalore Phall. ‘No, no, boss,’ the waiter protested. ‘That’s too much for anyone.’
I insisted and needless to say the curry was ridiculously hot, tasting of nothing but chilli powder. However I ploughed through it with the aid of copious pints of Cobra beer. For anyone who has read London Fields by Martin Amis, think Keith Talent with steam coming out of his ears at the Indian Mutiny restaurant.
The reckoning was swift and brutal. Before we got back to our hotel my stomach was boiling and I had to go straight to the loo. During that long night in a room with no en suite I counted 22 trips down the corridor to the bathroom. In the morning, a lecturer asked why I appeared to be constantly crying. It took me quite a while to regain my curry-eating habits and I vowed never again to chomp through the pain barrier. As, I suspect, will those who take on the 666 Hot Wings Challenge.
A PS from PG
‘I suppose you haven’t breakfasted?’
‘I have not yet breakfasted.’
‘Won’t you have an egg or something? Or a sausage or something? Or something?’
‘No, thank you.’
She spoke as if she belonged to an anti-sausage society or a league for the suppression of eggs.
PG Wodehouse: Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest