Such success as I had as a criminal defence lawyer can be attributed to my inspired decision to instruct Wilfrid Fordham.
Before then, my principal, Simpson, had relied for criminal cases on John Averill, a small, curly haired man who became increasingly eccentric and involved with Gladys Spearman-Cook of the School of Universal Philosophy and Healing, later changing his name to hers.
As the years went by, Averill would drink only honey and lemon and refused to stand when the judge entered court, something which he masked by searching for his drink under the table or bench. It did not endear him to the judiciary. I qualified in the year of the Great Train Robbery and, on seeing that Fordham had obtained an acquittal for one of the defendants, I determined my clients should have the best. When the first case of mine - a minor housebreaking or something like it - was sent to Quarter Sessions, I rang up Fordham’s clerk to brief him. The clerk was nothing if not frank. The case (pace the cab-rank rules) was certainly not worthy of Mr Fordham. I could have one of the more junior members and, if I sent a few more cases, ‘well then we’d see…’
It was only a few more weeks before I was allowed to ‘see’ Wilfrid. He was then in late middle-age and, for one reason or another, had not fared as well at the bar as some of his less talented colleagues. He closely resembled (although he was not as fat) Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. I don’t think I ever saw him in anything but the black coat and spongebag trousers which were de rigeur at the time.
What Wilfrid had was great charm with a jury. He delighted in teasing senior, pompous police officers, calling them ‘policeman’. ‘I’m chief constable.’ ‘Does that mean you are not a policeman?’ ‘Of course I am.’ ‘Are you ashamed of being one then?’ And ‘I suppose if I go on saying you are wrong you’ll deny it until you’re blue in the face’. ‘Yes.’ ‘Very well then,’ and down he would sit. And the jury would nod.
In the first six months in which I instructed him he either won the case or kept the man out of prison. People began coming to me saying ‘I want to have that Mr Fordham’. I was happy to oblige, and at the end of this time I had a practice.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor