The 2008 Temple Festival has been a remarkable success. We will all have our own favourite memories. Mine will certainly include the open weekend, Rowan Williams on Sharia law, Tom Bingham on “Doctor Johnson and the Law” and Theatre of Memory’s “Romeo and Juliet”. On many occasions in the past 12 months the Inns and the Church have resounded to great music and fine musicians, especially in the performances of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” in Middle Temple Hall. But for me it was a very special pleasure, in the final weeks of the festival, to hear the spoken word reasserting its primacy on two consecutive Tuesday evenings in the Temple Church.

Fitting acoustics

It is not the easiest space for theatrical events, but it enjoys a magnificent acoustic, and on each occasion it was especially valuable to be able to concentrate on the language without too many visual distractions. On Remembrance Day—which was of course the 90th anniversary of the Armistice—Dominic Hibberd, biographer of Wilfred Owen and co-editor of “The Winter of the World” an anthology of First World War poems, introduced a programme of readings from his anthology.

The poems were read in chronological order from Winifred Lett’s 1914 “The Call to Arms in our Streets”, to May Wedderburn Cannan’s 1918 “The Armistice”. They ranged from the youthful optimism of 1914, through the fears and despair of 1916 and 1917, to the relief and sadness of November 1918. Among all the well known names—Rupert Brooke, W.B. Yeats, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rudyard Kipling—in that very special place two unknown names stood out—Wilf and Frank Hastwell had both been members of the Temple Choir—and their poems had a very special poignancy. The readers—Philip Bartle, Tom Coulthard, David Eady, Anne Harvey and Graham Holliday—all allowed the poets’ words to tell their own story and to make their own case. We left the Church deep in thought—and in silence.

Skilful Pascoe

A week later it was time for Nigel Pascoe QC’s play about the court martial of Admiral John Byng in 1757. Entitled—very appropriately “To Encourage the Others”, it is essentially a piece for radio—and none the worse for that. Bearing in mind the rather limited sight lines for the Church audience, probably all the better for it. Using an effective framing device—a farewell retirement speech of a First Sea Lord to Dartmouth cadets—Pascoe skilfully provided his audience with both the basic political and historical background, and sufficient insight into the technicalities of 18th century naval tactics to enable us to follow the intricacies of the trial which followed Byng’s failure to relieve Majorca from the French.

There were powerful performances from both Pascoe himself as the First Sea Lord—essentially the narrator—and Anthony Arlidge as Admiral Byng. In his programme note, Pascoe conceded that he had permitted himself “some contemporary comparisons for those so inclined”. His picture of populist politicians running scared before a biased and ill informed public opinion showed how little has really changed. One can only imagine how much worse it would have been for the Admiral in a time of 24 hour rolling news channels, radio phone-ins, text messages and e-mails—to say nothing of the Sun the Mail and the Express.


Inter-temple cooperation

Over the past 12 months. literally hundreds of people have worked to make the festival such a success. As director, Kenneth Richardson (pictured right) has marshalled his forces with great skill. He has been rewarded with very many full houses. But for me the most lasting benefit of the festival has been the extent to which the two Temples have worked together. I have seen nothing like it since I joined Inner as a student in April 1958. We all owe a very real debt to Patrick Maddams, sub-treasurer at Inner Temple, to Peter Hilling, under treasurer at Middle—and above all to Anthony May and Michael Blair—the two treasurers. Thank you.

Martin Bowley Q