Reviewed by: David Pickup

Author: Henry Cecil

Publisher: House of Stratus

Some readers no doubt went into law inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird, or at least Rumpole. Or was it Judge John Deed or the recent TV programme Silks that enticed you in to the legal profession? For others of a certain generation it was Brothers in Law and the other books written by Henry Cecil.

On re-reading one of these recently, the following sentence stood out: ‘There is a shortage of good men at the bar.’ That sentiment was correct in the 1950s when the book was written, but it is anachronistic now for two fairly obvious reasons. These humorous legal tales are products of their period. A time of dock briefs, when a prisoner in the cells could instruct counsel direct without a solicitor if he had a small amount of money on him. Villains were identifiable as they either looked like Terry-Thomas and were basically charming rotters, or else they were dim thugs who always had a gentle side. Policemen were honest and detectives wore hats. Solicitors were normally wealthy men (men again, mostly, but some women) and had managing clerks to do the work.

Cecil was born in 1902 and his eldest brother, who was destined for a legal career, died in the first world war. Henry Cecil, or Henry Cecil Leon, to give him his full name, was called to the bar in 1923. He had a successful practice which he left to fight in the second world war, winning a Military Cross. His wife became ill with cancer and he applied to become a judge to spend more time with her. He wrote articles to occupy himself when first at the bar and later entertained fellow officers with stories to keep their minds off alcohol. He later wrote the books to supplement his income, as judges were not well paid. I wonder how many judges need to get a second job now?

Cecil’s books were successful and Brothers in Law was made into a Boulting Brothers film. Apart from his stories he wrote an autobiography and a book of advice to lawyers starting out called Brief to Counsel, which is dated but still useful. His 24 books are still in print and now published by the House of Stratus. They are amusing in a slightly dated way, but the gentle humour is timeless.

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scot