1943-4 First year at Cambridge reading languages.
Joined University Air Squadron in order to become fighter pilot ace. Wrong end of war. Air Ministry tells us that our training will not be completed. Invites us to re-muster in whatever we wish. I opt for the coalmines. The Air Ministry takes me at my word.
1944-7 Linton Colliery in Northumberland.
First six months – coal face. Then joined night-shift (6.30 pm – 1.30 a.m.) in order to take course in philosophy at Newcastle University during the day. Night shift not very busy. Started unofficially teaching O Level English and Eng Lit to pit lads. Colliery management approve. Give me space in underground engine room to teach properly. Class grows to 16. (Philosophy course at Newcastle not a success. Didn’t understand the subject. Still don’t.)
1947-8 Back at Cambridge reading History.
1948-9 Various Theological Colleges and teaching at a Prep School.
1950 Began reading for the Bar.
1950 Started Articles with Messrs Batchelor Fry Coulson and Burder at the outer Temple.
The Firm paid me a salary, which, over the period of my Articles, exactly paid back the premium which my father had paid.
1953 Joined Messrs Ince Roscoe Wilson and Griggs as Assistant Solicitor at a salary of £400 per annum
1956 Became a Partner.
1956-87 Survived as a Partner in Ince and Co.
At University, with coal-dust still behind my ears, I announced that I wanted to go into the church. Well-meaning people took me seriously. So I found myself at Cuddesdon Theological College, north of Oxford. It was Broad Church, or what is known in the trade as Middle of the Candle. What I immediately sensed was that I was among The Dedicated. I can’t remember saying or doing anything very wrong, but after three weeks the Reverend Principal, a very shrewd man, called me up to his study. He said that, while he didn’t for a moment doubt my vocation, he thought that perhaps a different school of churchmanship would bring out my real gifts. Indeed, he had already spoken with his good friend, the Reverend Principal of Westcott House in Cambridge, who was prepared to take me the very next day.
Westcott House was pretty near the Top of the Candle. 16th rather than 19th Century music, but once more I was among The Dedicated. I did my best to keep my head down and not say or do or think anything very wrong, but after four weeks the Reverend Principal, a very shrewd man, called me up to his study.
His message was curiously similar to that of the Reverend Principal at Cuddesdon. Two days later I found myself at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, which was emphatically Bottom of the Candle. I did my best, but this time it took only two weeks for the Reverend Principal, another very shrewd man, to call me up to his study.
I went to see my Bishop. We had a difficult ten minutes until he suggested and I agreed that it might be best if, for say a year, I tried a more secular activity. Then he cheered up enormously and offered me an excellent sherry.
So I decided to become a schoolmaster. At short notice Gabbitas Thring couldn’t offer me a post at Eton or Westminster, but they did at that very moment have a job as history master at a small boarding prep school somewhere in Hampshire.
I don’t remember much dedication in the staff room (in fact I began to feel quite at home) but at the end of the term the Headmaster, a very shrewd man, called me up to his study. He would be delighted, he said, to welcome me back for another term, but what he looked for above all in junior masters was commitment.
I decided to become a Barrister. To pay my way I taught at a London Crammers for O Levels (practice in the coal mine came in handy) signed on at Lincoln’s Inn and entered for Part 1 of the Bar exam. I think I ate two dinners and they were enough to convince me that I didn’t fancy Barristers. In any case my Bank Manager was beginning to get very rude.
At this point I had a discussion with my long-suffering father. We covered a lot of ground, but boiling it down, he was asking whether it was time that I stopped buggering about. He suggested that I spend a week or two in the office of his solicitors, Messrs Batchelor Fry Coulson and Butler, to ‘see what I thought of it’.
So in due course I found myself articled to John Burder and I would like to honour him as a true and kindly master. I was immediately at home because, although he was a very efficient solicitor, what he had always wanted to be was either a clergyman or a schoolmaster. What a bishop he would have made! After office hours we would sit drinking in the Devereux, arguing not about the Rule Against Perpetuities, but, very hazily, about Aquinas and Duns Scotus and Newman. I cannot resist mentioning my first two weeks at the firm overlapped with the last two weeks of a ‘writer’. He was the man who for forty years had written wills and leases in lovely copperplate on parchment.
I can’t honestly say that Articles with John Burder were high-powered. But they must have had something. My fellow articled clerk was none other than Sir John Bayley, later Treasury Solicitor.
Towards the end of my Articles John Burder gave me a choice. I could either stay with the firm, in which case there would be an early offer of partnership – and if he had stopped there, I think I would have stayed with him – or he would introduce me to a friend of his, Jack Griggs, who was in a City firm that did something called Admiralty, and was looking for an assistant solicitor.
So, one Monday morning a few months later, I joined Messrs Ince Roscoe Wilson and Griggs in Lime Street EC3.
And by God, I immediately knew that once more I was among The Dedicated. Leaving aside Cyril Lewis (a conveyancer, like a Methodist among Jesuits) there were six of them.
First, Ernest Wilson, the nominal senior partner and full of deadly charm. Within three weeks of my joining the firm he had me, at two hours notice, on a plane to Algiers to take statements in French from Arab stevedores. Next, Jack Griggs who was clearly the acting Reverend Principal. Then the taciturn Bill Hawkins. There is a story about Bill – for which I cannot vouch – that he once sent instructions up to the equally taciturn John Megaw to advise in Con. He turned up at the Con and the two of them sat there silent for five minutes. After which Bill got up and said, ‘Well, I think that’s about it,’ and left.
Then John Chetwood, who had recently been appointed partner, and two Scottish acolytes, Bob Crawford and Donald O’may. In the corridors and cells and over frugal bowls of soup the talk was all of general average, constructive total loss, particular average, cross liability, the Hague Rules and inherent vice. It wasn’t clear how far up the Candle they were, but there was no doubt about the dedication.
I knew that if I was going to survive, I had not only to keep my head down and not do or say anything wrong, but in some way I had positively to affirm the faith. I doubted whether I could pull it off.
The months passed and I waited for the summons to the study of the Reverend Principal (a shrewd man if ever there was one). Sometimes as we passed each other in the corridor there was a strange look on his face as if he was about to say something. Perhaps he was distracted by more important things.
So in due course I, in turn, was anointed partner. In all this I got my come-uppance many years later in a meeting with a young lady solicitor about her difficulties in the firm. I was trying to explain things when she suddenly burst out with, ‘You’re all so dedicated, you and all the others!’ When she’d swept out, I looked at the wall for a long time. What, over the years, had I done right? How on earth had I survived? Had I become a believer, and if so, in what?
Looking back, I think I became a believer in excellence. I had the luck to join a great team which itself had the luck to be in the right place at the right time. London was growing fast as the centre of maritime law and litigation. So were the fleets of tycoons who demanded immediate service from their lawyers. So also was the scope of the insurance market which, in those days, was equipped with a formidable band of knowledgeable and demanding claims managers.
An alternative way of putting it is that there was no time to wonder whether you were a believer or not. It was more than possible that with three partners abroad, one away sick, one on holiday and one in a meeting, you were the one who took the urgent and hair-raising instructions on a new case involving expert knowledge in an area of law about which you knew nothing.
It’s been fun.