How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
George Carman, QC
Analysis > George Carman, QC
When George Carman died in 2001, he was the most famous and most feared advocate in Britain, thus achieving his lifetime's goal.
A peculiar private life
He came from an ordinary background, unlike many other barristers who came from a private-schooled, privileged background.
The young George took his early inspiration from the Blackpool theatres, where he watched performers and stand-up comics holding their audiences in the palms of their hands.
He was married three times, and controlled life very carefully, including a meticulous inspection of hair and nails before going out.
He was very nervous, even blacking out in court. He relieved his tensions in rather seedy bars where he would fraternize with criminals and all sorts and it was said 'He would drink with anybody.' He would come home drunk and violently abuse his wife. He would never apologize later, being quite contrite about it.
He made a lot of money and lost it again at the casino tables. In one night, he would lose an amount equivalent to the value of his house. 'He was not a bit interested in money. When he lost the sixty thousand, he just shrugged.'
'He just didn't live outside of his head.'
'He had so much to give. Yet he was entirely self-destructive.'
Defending Jeremy Thorpe
In his first high-visibility case he defended Jeremy Thorpe, the political leader who was 'outed' in the 60s (when being gay was something shocking and only recently legalized) and who had apparently hired an assassin to kill a blackmailer who claimed he had had sex with Thorpe (although only his dog was hurt). He was 50, and just entering his prime.
For a very public client, he prevented them from taking the stand, speaking in his stead in the closing speech. He took 5 weeks to write the speech. He delivered it with aplomb, building it to a series of ever-escalating levels. He pointed at each of them as he told them they had the most important power: to find a fellow person guilty or not guilty.
Defending the libel brought by Jani Allen against a newspaper
Jani Allen was a South African 'liberated' journalist who purportedly had an affair with a neo-Nazi leader.
'If you are going to take a libel action, then you had better make sure your cupboard is free of skeletons.'
Defending against libel, he'd take the court by surprise, stage-managing the exposé, bringing in papers by motorcycle courier at the last minute.
'He would never hurry over these details. He would make one cringe at the detail.' He would approach emotionally charged evidence in a clinical detail, reading out a portion and asking if it was true or false, repeating this method time and again. His witnesses, he would ask them one step at a time, and then repeat what they said, slowly and carefully.
Defending against Jonathan Aitken's libel case
Failing in health from spreading cancer (which he concealed) he defended the Guardian against politician Jonathan Aitken who sued for libel about claims of international misdeeds, including pimping women for the Saudi royal family. It was tried by a judge, not a jury (who he always preferred).
He first built the high position of Aitken, and then knocked him off, talking about lack of probity. He established that he had lied (Aitken called it 'sharp editing') in other situations.
Aitken was his most accomplished adversary, who had a remarkable grasp of the language and could hold his ground very well (he was once considered as a future Prime Minister).
He annoyed the judge with his remorseless attention to detail and things looked bad. Then researchers found that Aitken's wife could not be in Paris when he had claimed she had paid a crucial bill for the Saudis.
Aitken later went to jail for perjury, for the lies that Carman had teased out of him.
Defending against Gillian Taylforth's libel case
He defended against the libel brought by soap star Gillian Taylforth, who had sued a newspaper (the Sun) which had claimed she had been giving oral sex in a Range Rover (she said she was stroking his stomach which was hurting).
He found a video from a party 6 years before, when she 'fooled about' with a bottle (and a sausage) and said 'I give good head.'
Other celebrity defences
He successfully defended a soap star against charges of indecent assault. The star later privately admitted being guilty.
He saved a comedian (Ken Dodd) and shamed newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell's sons from financial problems.
He helped Richard Branson win against G-Tech in a lottery scandal.
Comments from colleagues
' He was very good at appearing to rise above the fray.'
'He would gather his robes together. He seemed taller than he was.'
'He would just pause. He was a master of the pause.' said a colleague. 'Silence is a deadly weapon', he once said.
He would approach the witness 'softly, softly' and then destroy their personal credibility of prosecution witnesses. For example, playing on their past medical record.
As his fame rose, so did his fees. He charged well and for everything, including going to a client's house for a very social cup of coffee one evening.
When he got his teeth into something, he would be a terrier, never letting go. For others, it was the game, rather than the winning. For George, it was only about the winning.
'He would go round and round, hitting and hitting.'
Notes taken from a BBC2 biopic of George Carman, QC. April, 2002. These notes are the best that could be done by your note-taker, given the live and dynamic nature of the broadcast. So the words may not be exact, thought the sense should be correct.