BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 19:04 GMT
George Carman: The Bar's 'silver fox'
George Carman
George Carman became Britain's best-known lawyer with a series of criminal and civil cases involving a veritable Who's Who of famous clients including Jeremy Thorpe, Ken Dodd, Elton John and Richard Branson.

His handling of juries and relentless cross-examinations brought comparisons with the great 19th century advocates.

Born in Blackpool, the son of a furniture salesman, George Carman entered a seminary at the age of 14 with the idea of becoming a priest.

But he took up a scholarship to Oxford after national service in the Army, gained a First and was called to the Bar in 1953: the church's loss was to be the legal profession's gain.

He initially practiced on the northern circuit before moving south and coming to prominence when he defended the Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, at the Old Bailey in 1979.

Jeremy Thorpe at his trial in 1979
Jeremy Thorpe at his trial in 1979
Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder in a trial which made Carman as famous as his client.

Showbusiness figured prominently on his list of clients - he successfully defended Ken Dodd on charges of income tax fraud and Peter Adamson of Coronation Street, accused of indecent assault.

Carman also appeared on both sides in libel cases - he won damages for Elton John and Norman Tebbit, and successfully represented Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan when he was sued by Ian Botham and Allan Lamb.

His services were also in demand by newspapers including The Guardian.

'Get Carman'

His mastery of detail was evident when cross-examining the former Conservative minister Jonathan Aitken, who had sued the newspaper for libel.

Aitken's perjury brought him an 18-month jail sentence.

Upon receiving the writ from Aitken, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger reputedly said: "We'd better get Carman - before Aitken gets him."

In 1999 the QC successfully appeared against former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton on behalf of Mohamed al-Fayed.

Jonathan Aitken
He cross-examined Jonathan Aitken
Carman's shrewd handling of juries and relentless cross-examinations was renowned.

The secret of his success was simple: sheer hard work studying every facet of the case.

After a gruelling session in the witness box one plaintiff said to him: "Whatever award is given for libel, being cross-examined by you would not make it enough money."

Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants

George Carman defending Kenn Dodd

He represented The Sun newspaper after EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth sued it for claiming she and her partner had performed sexual acts on a sliproad off the A1. Once again he was successful.

His style in court verged on the theatrical, but he could never be called a ham. His memorable descriptions include one of David Mellor who "behaved like an ostrich and put his head in the sand, thereby exposing his thinking parts".

And of Ken Dodd he said: "Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants."

But he rejected the view that barristers are purely actors. "In the theatre," he said, "the actor holds the audience but when the curtain comes down, everyone goes home and knows it's a play.

A smiling George Carman
He retired from the bar in August 2000
"In the courtroom, there's no rehearsal and it determines, possibly conclusively, the happiness or misery of the people involved in the case."

He retired from the Bar in August 2000 when it was discovered that he had prostate cancer or, as he initially described it, "a little local difficulty."

George Carman was a master of his brief, a towering figure in recent legal history and one of Britain's finest advocates.

Beyond this, he was a unique character who made an indelible mark on the legal profession.

George Carman was married - and divorced - three times. He had a son.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

29 Aug 00 | UK
Victims of the 'silver fox'
29 Aug 00 | UK
Libel lawyer Carman retires
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories