I loved Albert Finney. Saturday Night, Sunday Morning hit the cinemas in 1960. I went to see it in our local flea pit and there on the silver screen was a world I was familiar with. Streets of terraced houses, men and women who worked in mills and looked forward to the weekends as the days when they really lived. Until then films were about elegant people who floated around enchanted gardens worrying about trivia or could agonise over getting to some lighthouse. Albert Finney portrayed a life that was raw and hard.
Tom Jones spoke to a newly liberated me as I moved from pupil to university student. The age of Aquarius — sexual freedom, uninhibited music, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
His stage presence left me mesmerised – Hamlet at the newly opened National Theatre, the full text, all three hours of it. Finney commanded the stage, striding around and constantly touching his codpiece, his voice resonating around the modern auditorium. Then his last stage appearance in 1996 in Art, that witty piece about the nature of art.
His life a reminder that it was possible to change from working class child to a sophisticated man. We should celebrate that life.
I suppose George Carman was one of the more colourful members of the Bar and my first meeting with him was a little strange to say the least. I was still an articled clerk and I was sent to Blackpool Quarter Sessions to sit behind him in a case of causing death by dangerous driving. He was a small rather busy man, always dressed in pinstripe trousers with a black jacket and the silk waistcoat worn by QC’s. The client was pleading guilty to the charge and after a rather tedious conference, with him George went off to do some work in the robing room. I was left sitting with the client until, about half an hour before the midday adjournment, I was summoned to see George.
‘Go and find out if there is any chance of our case coming on before lunch,’ he said. I did as I was told and scurried off to find the court usher. My enquiries revealed that we were unlikely to be called before the court rose. I returned with the news to the robing room. When I told George he snorted and said, ‘Damn, well I suppose we’d better make the best of it. Do you know where Robert’s Oyster Shop is on the promenade?’
It was a silly question; everyone living in Blackpool knew where to get oysters. I told him I did.
‘Good. Go and tell Robert I want a dozen oysters and a pint of Guinness and tell him I’ll pop in and pay later.’
I was to meet George on many occasions; there were a few other cases while I was still an articled clerk and then when I was living in London and had become a barrister, we frequented the same drinking holes, but I was never in the same case as him again until much later on in my career.
In early 1981 I was instructed to represent a solicitor who was charged with defrauding the Legal Aid Fund of many thousands of pounds. The case was tried in Manchester and I was being led by the leader of the Northern Circuit Mick Mcguire and George was prosecuting. As George called the various witnesses, court clerks, law society staff we began to undermine the prosecution case, which was based on a number of false premises, one of which was that a bail application would only take ten minutes of court time. That was torpedoed when a bail application was interposed in our trial; the judge said it would only take fifteen minutes at the most. It took over an hour as Mick Mcguire pointed out. George was clearly getting rattled as we scored again and again, until one lunch time we heard him on the telephone to the Director of Public Prosecutions. ‘I can take a few bullet holes below the waterline but a bombshell is too much.’
No oysters for George that day.