Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: Rich Ticks by Robert Seymour, Author of Wig Begone

Today's special guest is Robert Seymour, who wrote the humorous novel, Wig Begone, under the pen name of Charles Courtley.

Charles, a newly qualified lawyer without a penny to his name, plunges into the archaic world of the Bar as it was thirty-five years ago. After a stroke of beginners’ luck – and a taste of good living – he soon becomes established in practice battling away in the criminal courts, conducting court-martials in Germany and on one horrifying occasion actually appearing in a commercial court, “winding up ” companies of which he knows nothing! He encounters a wide range of clients including an Italian motorist charged with assault, who claims to have been savagely attacked by an elderly lollipop man wielding his road sign. On top of that, there are instructing solicitors who never pay him and even one who has departed this world altogether yet still manages to operate on a shadowy basis from the vicinity of Bow Road in East London. Court-martials take Charles abroad where he encounters a German policeman’s dog whose canine expertise is deemed to be perfectly sound evidence and samples a night out on the other side of the infamous Berlin wall just making it back to the safety of the West. Wig Begone is an exhilarating tale of Charles’ early career with disaster often lurking round the corner and culminating in his own appearance in front of England’s most notorious judge!

Rich Ticks by Robert Seymour

“What is the difference between a tick and a lawyer?”

“A tick falls off when you die.”

Not very flattering, but probably an accurate assessment of most people’s attitude to lawyers. For they are popularly perceived to be rich and parasitical - never associated, like writers and artists, with living from hand to mouth or on the verge of poverty.

But that was exactly what life was like when I first began to practise as a barrister in the 1970s. My wife, Jane and I, lived in a damp-ridden basement flat so ill-equipped that we needed a hammer to turn up the gas taps on the cooker, used a one-bar electric fire which might burn your toes but warmed little else, and gazed at an ancient TV set which only worked if you encouraged it with a hefty swipe.

Not only were my earnings minimal in those early days, but , as a matter of course, solicitors delayed payment for months if not years - choosing to believe that we barristers all subsisted on private incomes.

Of course, as part of the ethos of being a barrister, I had to give the impression that I was successful, so outwardly at least, I dressed well. However, my one tailor-made pin-striped suit (bought second-hand from a clothes-hire shop) soon developed a large hole in the crutch of the trousers and fraying cuffs on the jacket. This latter item did survive in a patched-up state for some years, but the trousers soon became a source of embarrassment, requiring me to purchase another reasonably similar pair of trousers without delay. My shoes too, might be highly polished but the soles were riddled with holes which I blocked, as best I could, with plastic padding on the inside.

All this was very different from the dreams I’d enjoyed on passing the exams.

The barristers I met then, during a period of training, drove swanky cars to their chambers in the Inns of Court, lunched in venerable dining halls rich in splendour and after a modest day’s work drafting pleadings, enjoyed a quiet drink in one of the area’s many wine bars. The courts, frequented by these legal luminaries, were generally civilised ones like the Supreme Court of Judicature and House of Lords nearby. If they were ever forced to undertake criminal work, it would be at the Central Criminal Court situated in the Old Bailey only a short distance away.

Instead, after tedious Underground journeys, I trudged wearily to a variety of run-down police courts, built in Victorian times, which stank of sweat or worse, to find myself representing the very dregs of criminal low-life. My best advocacy was really reserved for the bank manager in persuading him to increase my overdraft limit time and time again.

I suppose, I was still a tick, but hardly one over-bloated by pecuniary gain or marked by any sort of glamour!

Robert Seymour, (under the pseudonym of Charles Courtley) is a retired judge who lives on the English coast with his wife, Jane, of 38 years, and a small dog called Phoebe.

He is the author of Wig Begone, a tale of a young barrister’s triumphs and tragedies. As well as adapting his novel into a screenplay and writing a sequel, he contributes to legal newsletters and blogs.

Find him online at

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