Book review: Chance, Cheek and Some Heroics

Chance, Cheek and Some Heroics
Author: Frederic Reynold QC
Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill (February 2018)
ISBN: 9780854902446

Frederic Reynold QC – ‘Freddy’ to his friends, of whom there are many – has written a memoir of his life as a barrister. Now past 80, but undimmed by the years, Reynold is something of a legend at the Bar, renowned for his warmth, wit and forensic prowess.

His career started in the early 1960s and the variety of his work over the ensuing decades is remarkable to the contemporary barrister. In the first 20 years of his practice he was combining commercial, landlord and tenant, compulsory purchase, and common law work in a whirligig of activity. Still, Reynold’s pre-eminence at the Bar was eventually to be founded on his work in the fields of trade union, employment and discrimination law.

In any memoir by a non-criminal barrister there is always the lurking danger of abstruseness. Accounts of criminal cases have universal appeal and a ready readership; not necessarily so stories from the Queen’s Bench Division. Nonetheless, here is a book which is genuinely fascinating in its account of life at the Bar as well as its recreation of the legal battlegrounds of the past. Reynold is endowed with a natural narrative ability, assisted by humour, crispness and elegance.

His life has not been that of the typical post-war barrister. He was born in Danzig and was fortunately brought to England in August 1939. Without the usual connections, through determination and hard work he read law at Magdalen College in the mid-fifties. One feels that his mother, who shepherded him on his way, was a force to be reckoned with. His account of childhood and development into adulthood is both affecting and historically perceptive. Life at Magdalen during its golden age is dwelt on at some length, and rightly so: Reynold’s account of his friendships there is a compendium of many of the great names of the last 50 years. In fact one feels that an even longer account would be merited – a sort of 1950s equivalent to Acton’s Memoirs of an Aesthete – and one hopes that Reynold could be persuaded to pick up his pen again.

Reynold’s search for a pupillage (much of it spent working on Rookes v Barnard) and establishment in practice details the vast gulf that separates the haphazard past from the rules-based present. His survey of life at the Bar is punctuated by insightful pen portraits of the judges and barristers he has encountered. Lord Denning is vividly delineated; as is a young Cherie Booth. The passages devoted to his experience as a junior to a drunk and distracted George Carman are both nerve-wracking and priceless.

It is a commonplace that legal memoirs have more of self-adulation than perceptiveness about them. Yet this book stands out from the crowd. Reynold’s charm and sensitivity of description provide a delightful account of a life vigorously lived.

Reviewer Thomas Grant QC is a barrister at Maitland Chambers.

Category: 
Author details: 
Thomas Grant QC

Barrister at Maitland Chambers.