Barrister’s best…

Best books, favourite films, top tracks and an essential: Counsel invites barristers to share their cultural influences. In this issue, we talk to Nigel Poole QC, Head of Chambers at Kings Chambers, who also blogs as Learned Friend

Tell us about any books that have inspired you?

A Dance to the Music of Time, a 12 novel series by Anthony Powell has made the most lasting impression on me. The prose is beautiful but it is the characters that have stayed with me since I first read it about 30 years ago: Widmerpool, Stringham, Flitton and an array of other extraordinary people float in and out of the narrator’s life. A barrister’s career is similarly cast with colourful characters with whom you dance for a while and then do not see for perhaps 20 years. The diligent student at Bar school re-appears as a stern High Court judge, a pompous fellow pupil is later mired in scandal. I am planning the right time to read the whole sequence one more time.

My wife and I have recently discovered Simenon’s superbly written Maigret novels. She is pulling ahead of me, having read about 30 now, whilst I am at 25. Penguin is re-publishing the whole series – 75 in total I think – so we have plenty more to enjoy. I am afraid that Rowan Atkinson is woefully miscast in the recent TV adaptations: Maigret is built like a docker.

What music do you listen to again and again?

Goin’ Up Yonder by Walter Hawkins. My musical life took an unexpected turn about seven years ago when I came across, and joined, a community gospel choir, Manchester Inspirational Voices. I am a Unitarian – my regular chapel’s congregation would never been confused with that of a pentacostal church. However, I have found the experience of singing in a gospel choir to be incredibly uplifting and enjoyable. Choral singing of any kind connects with something deep inside. Songs like Goin’ Up Yonder (to be played at my funeral, please) have the capacity to lift you away from the day to day cares of the world. It has been a great antidote to the pressures of life at the Bar. In 2016 we won the BBC1 Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year competition and this Christmas I sang in front of an orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall – an experience I think I enjoyed more than the audience.

Malcolm Archer: Requiem. Several years ago, on one of my very many annual holidays to the Isles of Scilly, I attended a concert at the tiny church on the island of St Martin’s (population 90). It had been arranged by two visiting families who, together with a handful of others, formed a small choir. The father of one of the families had died some months earlier and the choir sang this Requiem. The standard of performance was amazing. Co-incidentally, several years later I recognised one of the tenors, a teenager at the time of the Requiem, when he sang the lead at the Clonter Opera in Cheshire. The performance of the Requiem was so unexpectedly beautiful that it took my breath away. Archer was formerly director of music at Wells and then St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Chic, Le Freak: All I am willing to say is that this is my ‘dad dancing’ number.

Do any works of art stand out as seminal?

One weekend when at Bar school in London, a friend took me to what was then simply The Tate. I entered the room where Mark Rothko’s murals for the Four Seasons were hung. It was a visceral experience being surrounded by these hypnotic, disturbing paintings. I think I sat there for about an hour, utterly absorbed.

What films have you found life-changing?

Being the first to contribute to this series gives me the chance to make an early claim for the film (of the play) Twelve Angry Men. Along with the Rumpole books and TV series, this film inspired me to become a barrister. There is no lawyer in the film, but the process by which Henry Fonda’s character methodically picks apart the seemingly strong evidence of the defendant’s guilt is brilliantly done – the kind of work of which any lawyer would be proud. The best portrayal of a trial lawyer in film is Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill and Mockingbird. I ‘made’ my children watch it recently and it has lost none of its power. One film I hesitate to re-watch because it leaves me emotionally wrung out is Shadowlands, with superb performances by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Finally, if you were stranded in the middle of a trial in Nowheresville, what’s the one piece of kit, luxury or comfort you can’t do without?

I always take a book of stamps because I like to send a postcard home to my children from wherever I am staying. They have received postcards from all sorts of glamorous locations, from Carlisle to Skegness. I suppose I should stop now that they are teenagers.

Nigel writes the Learned Friend blog, dedicated to reporting developments affecting clinical negligence litigation. The blog has had over 350,000 page views and is read not just by lawyers but also by medical professionals, academics and the general public. Posts have been re-published by the Royal College of Surgeons, the Criminal Bar Association and a number of legal magazines and journals. It has even been quoted in Parliament. A series of posts concerning Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill led to the formation of a successful national campaign to defeat the Bill’s attempt to circumvent the common law of negligence.