When I first met Michael Beckman QC (he refused to call himself a KC), who died aged 91 last month, he was in a small chambers in Hare Court. Later he established his own set in Lincoln’s Inn. I only once instructed him – many years later in a civil case – but he invited me for dinner at his home near Hertford. 

Morton landscape

James Morton

I was to meet him in the tea interval at the village cricket ground, where he was running a side which from time to time included a Sri Lankan test player.

Then it was back to his house for several sets of tennis. He was a fine player who represented the bar for many years. It was 11pm before tennis was over and dinner was served. And by 1am it was table tennis time. If he thought you were not good enough he would play left-handed.

The handsome dinners he gave at his house came with orders for his guests. If they lived in London they might be expected to collect, say, oysters from Colchester. Guests were an eclectic mix. They might include several silks, solicitors’ clerks, the local folk group and a bagpipe-playing policeman. For a time they also included a three-legged goat which was allowed the run of the house.

A great Francophile – he later had a house near Annecy – Beckman was a man of rare chutzpah. I recall him once approaching a man in Calais and asking him in French, which he spoke well, where would the man take his ‘mistress’ – ‘Not your wife, M’sieu’ – for lunch. Amazingly the man did not hit him – instead recommending the long gone Sauvage.

Beckman was a great believer in the jury system, blaming judges and their inability to explain the law for wrong acquittals rather than jurors. Although he sat for a short time on the bench his heart was not in it and he never took up a full-time appointment.

Never one to climb down before a judge, he will be best remembered for his brilliant riposte to the not always pro-Semitic Mr Justice Melford Stevenson, who knew him well but still referred to him as Bechstein.

‘My Lord, I may be Jewish but I am not a grand piano,’ replied Beckman, who received a note of apology which he treasured.


James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor