Life led in the Black
Barrington Black was a successful solicitor who became a county court judge and was then called back from retirement to be a justice of the Supreme Court — at the age of 80 — in Gibraltar. It seems this (and the presidency of Western Marble Arch Synagogue) was not enough. For he has written his autobiography ( Both Sides of the Bench, Waterside Press, £17.50) — and it’s a joy. Maybe one should expect nothing less from a man who seems to spend most of his retirement years writing letters to the JC or the Times.
Writing an autobiography is not as easy as it seems. Too often, it turns out to be a little more than a diary that the author thinks will interest others as much as it excites him- or herself and just as often doesn’t. But Black succeeds.
For example, he brings to life the horrors of National Service, even making them sound like fun, but then he was an officer and never left a War Office desk. And I have to reveal a personal interest here: I met him when we were both in the Royal Army Service Corps. While he was determined to get a commission, I was equally hoping for a medical discharge.
We both got our wishes, but not before an experience that could surely only happen to a couple of Jewish lads flung into a, shall we say, foreign environment. He tells this tale graphically. There we were at Blenheim Barracks near Aldershot on our first march. We recognised we had something in common (well, every face does tell a story).
“I’ve just had a letter from my mother,” he said as I tried to stifle a yawn and straighten my back after the early-morning start away from a lessthan-comfortable, army- issue bed. He took the note from his top pocket and read: “I do hope they have given you a nice room, darling. If not, ask to see someone in charge.”
He gave an instant judgment — he would not ask to see someone in charge.
Naturally, Black writes a lot about the law. Yet I wanted more. A man who had literally been both sides of the bench as both solicitor and senior judge, surely has reasons to believe all is not perfect in administering British justice. He should have said so.
Also, there could have been a few more details about the exceptionally important cases in which he was closely involved. Like trying to save Donald Neilson, the “Black Panther” serial killer, from what turned out to be 36 years in prison (where he died).
It is precisely because such episodes are so gripping that one is left wanting more. When a writer can make you shiver telling a story like the “Panther” episode, he has generally done a pretty good job.
When a writer can make you shiver when telling a story, he has generally done a good job