Life led in the Black

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - MEM­OIR MICHAEL FREED­LAND

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

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