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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
GEORGE CARMAN QC SEPTEMBER 3RD, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST
The great defender took everyone by surprise this week. George Carman QC the world's most feared, or the country anyway, the most feared but also most admired Advocate announced his retirement on grounds of ill health. Over the years he developed a style and a reputation which made him the most sought after QC in the profession, I'll be speaking to George Carman in a moment but first our correspondent John Silverman looks back at some of his greatest court contests.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST
Simply the best and he's here right now, George Carman QC, good morning George.

GEORGE CARMAN
Morning David.

DAVID FROST
You're looking very well this morning and obviously you were using masterly English understatement, Macmillanesque understatement last week when all you said about the ill health was a little local difficulty was the phrase you said.

GEORGE CARMAN
Indeed.

DAVID FROST
But, but obviously unfortunately it's presumably a lot more serious than that?

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes I used that phrase at the time because I thought that an ill health problem was a personal matter but on reflection I feel it's important to say, to dispel rumour and for other reasons that in fact I've suffered from prostate cancer for over three years and I mention that now publicly for these reasons. First I don't want speculation and rumour to continue and so people know exactly what my little problem is. But much more importantly I want to send out a message to people who do suffer from cancer to tell them that you can work, you can help the doctors enormously by having a positive attitude and anybody who has the misfortune to get the disease it not at the end of the road. So that message I hope is some comfort to some people somewhere, is important. And finally and quite humbly I would like to mention the fact that having looked somewhat at the government figures for cancer research in this country we are way behind the major European countries and the United States and I think it is time that problem was addressed by all the political parties.

DAVID FROST
And as you say, the, it will be an encouragement to others because the fact that it was more than three years ago that you were diagnosed means that suffering from prostate cancer, you were, you still were able to do the Jonathan Aitken case and the Mohamed Al Fayed case, so you were really still able to work full out despite knowing, knowing that secret?

GEORGE CARMAN
I actually had medical treatment some times before I went to court.

DAVID FROST
Really¿in order to just be able to¿

GEORGE CARMAN
Half past eight in the hospital, 9.45 - Royal Courts of Justice.

DAVID FROST
Good Lord.

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes.

DAVID FROST
Well of course you nearly, you were nearly not a QC, a silk at all, you, you considered, shall we say, going into the Church, didn't you? And then you discovered girls? To a Catholic Church.

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes two different things, first as a boy I, I went away as a teenager for a short time to a Seminary, I found it interesting and challenging but realised the vocation wasn't for me. I don't think I discovered girls, perhaps I began to appreciate them.

DAVID FROST
Yes, yes. So that you considered that and you were even on a Conservative candidates list in your early 20s?

GEORGE CARMAN
As a young man, yes, yes.

DAVID FROST
But when I grew up I put aside foolish things or whatever, whatever the Bible said. Now you set off first of all up to the Northern circuit when you, when you started work in the law and you said once that you almost left the Bar three times because of the lack of funds?

GEORGE CARMAN
That is right, the earnings of the young men and women in those days were very, very meagre and I worked out my own earnings after five years I was earning as much as a Manchester bus driver without overtime but I'd been lecturing, washing up, teaching people how to read and write, and doing all the things one did to try and make some sort of money as a young man. I think times are easier, the young people at the Bar don't think so now but it was so then.

DAVID FROST
And so, so you did stick with it and then you started doing cases in London.

GEORGE CARMAN
Indeed.

DAVID FROST
You were spotted by David Napley and he, really a watershed in your career, asked you to defend Jeremy Thorpe?

GEORGE CARMAN
Indeed, that was in the late '70s.

DAVID FROST
And that was one of your most important closing speeches, wasn't it, I mean that you, you spent four weeks on it you said somewhere and you singled out the jury?

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes I did that I suppose, it's very hard to recall isn't it, as you know yourself as a vintage speaker, to recall exactly what you did and how long you spent on it but clearly it was an important case, clearly it was a professional watershed for me and attracted a lot of public interest by nature of the case.

DAVID FROST
Yes and you had one or two of the memorable quotes that we've seen in the papers this week but this one I haven't seen anywhere, but when you said of the person who was appearing for the prosecution, Peter Bessell this lay preacher must have regarded the Ten Commandments rather like an examination question, only seven out of ten need to be attempted?

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes I think I pinched that quote from a distinguished Catholic chaplain at Oxford, Ronnie Knox, Monsignor Ronald Knox who said that undergraduates regarded the Ten Commandments rather like examination questions, so there was a bit of pinching of the script there I think.

DAVID FROST
Now in fact one of the cases the verdict of which brought you a lot of satisfaction was the case of Dr Leonard Arthur the paediatrician who was accused of attempted murder and your closing speech there was one of your most serious and, and moving, are "Are we to condemn him as a criminal because he helped two people at the time of their greatest need, are we to condemn a doctor because he cared?" The ending of that case was victory, gave you a great satisfaction didn't it?

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes because the case went beyond the confines of a particular defendant. The law was set to an extent on a collision course with medicine and it raised the whole delicate, sensitive and important area of the ethics of treatment by doctors and how far the law should intervene and one was fearful and I heard messages from consultants that they were fearful that a collision course may occur. In fact it was resolved and the good sense of the jury normally prevails at these cases and did in that.

DAVID FROST
A very moving case and so on, the Ken Dodd case was a memorable one for you, wasn't it?

GEORGE CARMAN
Indeed, yes, yes.

DAVID FROST
And you made the great quote, what was your quote about accountants?

GEORGE CARMAN
What is it, "Some accountants are comedians but no comedians are chartered accountants".

DAVID FROST
That's right, how true, how true that is. And going through these things, we mentioned the jury just now, everybody has said that one of your most vital techniques was your way of watching and knowing from body language and so on, each member of a jury, was that true?

GEORGE CARMAN
As best you can, the Advocate is there, you have limited knowledge, you only know their names, you only hear them take the oath and no more do you know so it is worthwhile to study them as the case goes on, see who's following, see who's bored, see if your arguments are going down or people aren't interested so that you learn to switch as you move along. It is rather like television presenting I think.

DAVID FROST
It sounds like it yes, with an audience.

GEORGE CARMAN
With an audience.

DAVID FROST
Do you think with all these memorable quotes do you think George, that you were ever cruel in court?

GEORGE CARMAN
I think it's a fair question, I hope not ever unnecessarily cruel, if cruel necessarily so to get to the truth and to give the court the full picture and to prevent anybody sailing under false colours.

DAVID FROST
And one of the most troubling things obviously which you've mentioned apparently once happened to you is where you got somebody off and then this particular paedophile committed more such crimes and you found that, you said, very difficult to take?

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes he, he disclosed that he was guilty a few years down the line to a national newspaper and of course that was very sad to learn, to think one had been unwittingly, I emphasise, participating in that situation.

DAVID FROST
But I suppose that's one of the problems, everybody asks you, I'm sure, the thing that's fascinating, do you ever take on, did you ever take on someone you knew was guilty or someone you didn't like?

GEORGE CARMAN
Taking the first part first.

DAVID FROST
Yes.

GEORGE CARMAN
Lawyers are often asked this question, the answer to that is simple, lawyers don't know they're guilty, if they did they shouldn't act for them on a plea of not guilty. As to whether you like or dislike, you haven't got the luxury of deciding whether you like or dislike a client, it helps if you do but it's not in any way a hindrance if you don't.

DAVID FROST
I see, and in terms of, in terms of the clients do they become friends?

GEORGE CARMAN
Some do David, some don't, but some are kind enough to send you a Christmas card occasionally. So the situation varies, it depends how long you spend with them and the intensity with which you're involved with them.

DAVID FROST
Some of the people have been quite generous this week who you were on the other side to, like Neil Hamilton earlier this week was surprisingly¿

GEORGE CARMAN
Yes I don't think he was as kind as he was earlier in the week in the Mail today.

DAVID FROST
No I don't think he was. A malign squid squirting inkjets of half truths, that isn't quite as nice is it?

GEORGE CARMAN
No that's not¿

DAVID FROST
Quite as nice?

GEORGE CARMAN
Not wholly complimentary, not wholly.

DAVID FROST
Are you worried about the law now, the reforms that are coming in, your beloved Bar, do you worry, you do worry don't you about some of these reforms?

GEORGE CARMAN
I do I'm, having spent so long in it and it having been such an intimate part of one's life and one speaks at a time of a great climate of change in the law where the public I think are expecting more, they're expecting a legal system that gives them what they want and what they need. So all these problems interest me greatly and if and insofar as I can make any contribution people may say no, go quietly and keep quiet but insofar as I can make a contribution, I shall.

DAVID FROST
And looking indeed at the quotes, one of the things you can do is make your contribution by, by your memoirs which you're planning, do you have a title for them yet?

GEORGE CARMAN
No, no, no, I've got to get a publisher to take the book yet, I gather one or two feelers out but let's see.

DAVID FROST
What could we do about prostate cancer, what could the government do?

GEORGE CARMAN
Well I can't pretend of course to be any kind of authority on it, I think research lies at the heart of advances in cancer. I think highly trained oncologists and nurses also lies at the heart of it. This country's behind others, significantly behind others and the message I would send to the Prime Minister this morning, is in between your scrambled egg think about that one.

DAVID FROST
Think about that one, and what would you say has been the secret of your success, some have said preparation, some have said surprise, some have said the charm of gorgeous George and so on, what would you say is the secret of your 47 years?

GEORGE CARMAN
I'd start with an enormous amount of good luck, without that many people don't go very far and I've had more than my fair share. I'd add to it enormous support from other members of the profession from Junior Counsel when I became a Silk, from solicitors and I'd add to that enormous tolerance by Her Majesty's Judges at my occasional irritation or taking a course they didn't particularly care for at the time.

DAVID FROST
Well there were always people who said get Carman first, we've got to get Carman first in various cases and in terms of television that's precisely what we felt this morning and we're delighted you've been here.

GEORGE CARMAN
David can I say one quick word about that.

DAVID FROST
Yes.

GEORGE CARMAN
That the Bar of course is composed of many, many talented people who don't get this sort of publicity because they're not in those sort of cases, it so happens I've been in high profile cases that attracted but it mustn't be overlooked that there are many starts at the Bar quietly performing enormously valuable tasks.

DAVID FROST
Yes, a shipping lawyer doesn't necessarily get the publicity.

GEORGE CARMAN
That's absolutely so.

DAVID FROST
George thank you so much.

GEORGE CARMAN
Thank you David.

DAVID FROST
George Carman.

END

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