MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

Chapter Two Part Two:  The Search for Pupillage

‘Good, good,’ he nodded, clasping his small, chubby hands over his ample stomach. ‘If you’d like to start on Monday, phone the clerks and they’ll tell you where to find me.’ He stood up and consulted his watch, rather like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. ‘Now I must be on my way or I’ll be late for court.’ And so saying, he gathered his wits and papers, not necessarily in that order, and scurried off.

The interview was over; in those few short minutes, I had wed myself to a complete stranger for the next six months.

In reflective mood, I made my way slowly up Chancery Lane to Ede & Ravenscroft, Robemakers to the profession since 1683. Like a Matador donning his Suit of Lights, I was transformed from head to toe by an unctuous assistant smelling strongly of mothballs.

The list of apparel, like the bill, was enormous. Two pairs of pinstriped trousers, two black jackets with matching waistcoats, six white collarless shirts, six white starched day collars, six white, starched wing-collars for court, six white pairs of bands to wear around my neck when appearing in court, two sets of collar studs, one barrister’s gown and, finally, one snowy white wig with personalised box which had to be specially ordered and would take at least three weeks to arrive.

One last stop before returning home to prepare my father for the shock of paying for all of this was Butterworth’s Law Bookshop in Bell Yard, where I purchased the latest edition of Archbold, the criminal practitioner’s bible and an indispensable tool for the successful advocate. Booted, kitted and spurred, I was ready to do battle.

Unfortunately, I was at home when the bills hit the door mat, and my father hit the roof.

‘Good God, Boy!’ he spluttered, doing the mental arithmetic as a man of numbers does. ‘This is more than I earned in the whole of my first year as an accountant!’

‘Well, that was a long time ago, father,’ I replied lamely. ‘And besides, as a barrister, I must look the part.’ He looked thoroughly unconvinced, not to say fuming, so I added hastily, ‘I’ll pay you back, of course, once I’m established. Perhaps you can look on it as an investment in my future.’

‘Future what, is more to the point!’ he said. ‘If only you’d taken my advice and become a solicitor. Look at this!’ He stabbed his finger at the bill from Ede & Ravenscroft. ‘Two hundred guineas for a wig, and a further one hundred guineas for a box to keep it in! Why on earth do you need a wig box? To stop it escaping I suppose!’

‘Well…’

‘And one hundred and fifty guineas for a gown! So by my calculations’ – he was seldom wrong in these matters – ‘your fancy dress is costing me five hundred guineas, and all for the privilege of talking the hind leg off a donkey. And that’s assuming,’ he added, witheringly, ‘you get the chance!’

‘It’ll all come right, I assure you, so…’

‘And from what you tell me, for the first six months, you won’t earn a penny! It beggars belief!’

Mercifully, my mother came to my rescue, as mothers are wont to do.

‘Don’t be so mean, George,’ she said. ‘Toby has to look the part, and I’m sure he’ll look an absolute poppet in his wig and gown.’ She smiled encouragingly. ‘I can’t wait to see you in action. We’ll both be so proud!’

‘Don’t hold your breath, dear,’ said my father, though he was a beaten man. ‘You’ll have to wait a good six months, if not longer, and, who knows, by that time poppet here may want a whole new outfit!’

As somebody said, and it wasn’t my father, you can’t put a price on success.

AT THE BAILEY

THAT FRIDAY EVENING, as instructed, I phoned Berger’s Chambers.

‘Mr Berger will be at the Bailey on Monday,’ garbled the senior clerk, in between mouthfuls of tea and ginger nut crunchies. ‘So if you care to meet him in Chambers at nine o’clock sharp, he’ll walk down with you.’

I put down the phone with a frisson of excitement as I contemplated my first day in pupillage – and at the Bailey, no less. I had obviously underestimated my learned pupil master.

Berger of the Bailey! What a thrill!

According to my frequently boring lectures on the history of the English legal system, the Bailey – or, more precisely, the Old Bailey – was the highest criminal court in the land, and had been since 1673. It was where murderers, rapists, and other felons were prosecuted, convicted and then taken to a place of execution to be hanged by the neck until dead, and may God have mercy on their souls. Man, woman and child, guilty and innocent alike, were charged, condemned and dispatched to their Maker by Judges who had only a passing acquaintance with the law, and who went about the more pleasurable business of eating and drinking and fornicating without a moment’s reflection on the plight of those less fortunate than themselves.

Juries fared no better. They were threatened, cajoled and suborned into returning guilty verdicts regardless of the evidence, and those who had the temerity to kick against the prick were kept without food, drink, heat, or other creature comfort, until they saw the error of their ways.

I was as nervous as a kitten all weekend, and greatly relieved when the momentous day dawned. I was awake to greet it, which was just as well as it took me the best part of an hour to strap myself into the starched white collar, which was as stiff as a board and totally unyielding. I reflected that a dry run might have been a good idea, as the collar and I fought each other, neither willing to yield. But if I were to become a successful barrister I had to meet adversity head on. No good falling at the first hurdle. Vires in adversum, and all that.

Once locked into place, it felt like a medieval tourniquet. To make matters worse, I found it nigh on impossible to turn my head independently of my body, attracting a number of very strange looks and a helping hand across the road from an elderly lady as I made my way to the Underground.