Garrow’s Law — Killer TV No 30

GARROWS-LAW-TALES-FROM-TH-006

BBC, 2009-2012

‘You cannot insult your way to an acquittal!’ John Southouse

‘…The life of Elizabeth Jarvis is at stake, in solemn and polished injustice. I must be a ruffian to get at the truth.’ – William Garrow

Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong, Lyndsey Marshal, Rupert Graves, Aidan McArdle, Michael Culkin

Identikit: Legal drama based on the life and pioneering legal career of 18th-century Old Bailey barrister William Garrow.


logosAN INSPIRED idea – to use the forgotten trials of a radical Old Bailey lawyer during the late 1800s (based on digitised trial transcripts at Old Bailey Online) – gave us a fascinating and at times heartrending drama. William Garrow was a genuine maverick, a neglected hero from the archives until series co-creator Tony Marchant spotted his potential for this series. Here was a man who, like Atticus Finch, Horace Rumpole or Perry Mason, stood up for the underdog, except that Garrow really existed. One of the fascinations of this series is that in Garrow’s day the system was heavily tilted against defence counsel. Garrow, played by Andrew Buchan with the quiet fortitude that was once the speciality of James Stewart, defended the poor and desperate at whom other barristers turned up their noses. Moreover, he established the right of defence lawyers to argue the case for defendants and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Until then, whatever flimsy cross-examination was done came from the judge or jurors. The legal murder of slaves, infanticide, industrial sabotage, rape, homosexuality – Garrow challenged the barbaric contemporary attitudes to these and other issues. The BB228005-GARROW-27S-LAW-IIsubplot of Garrow’s affair with Lady Sarah Hill is heavily fictionalised, but it is the extraordinary legal brutalities of the age, and Garrow’s brilliant victories that helped to liberalise English courtrooms, that stick in the mind. Garrow’s Law ran for three series and was doing well in its primetime slot on Sunday nights – being watched by more than four million viewers when up against the likes of The X Factor and I’m a Celebrity…  – when it abruptly came to an end. Whether this was down to new-broom BBC TV boss Danny Cohen (who notoriously also axed Zen in its early days) or because Tony Marchant didn’t want to write it any more was not clear, but Garrow’s Law was a riveting drama and is sorely missed.
Classic episode: Series 2’s opener dealt with the extraordinary case of 133 slaves thrown overboard from a slave ship when drinking water ran low. Murder was not the charge because the slaves were considered cargo, but the case reached court because of a dispute with the insurance company, which did not want to pay out for the ‘cargo’. Garrow manages, nevertheless, to turn the trial into an indictment of the slave trade.
Watercooler fact: In a murder trial Garrow once questioned a witness who later became extraordinarily famous – Horatio Nelson. Garrow asked whether the accused – who served under Nelson and whom Nelson said was ‘struck with the sun’ and acknowledged that he had himself been ‘out of his senses’ with a ‘hurt brain’ on occasion – was likely to have committed murder. Nelson replied, ‘I should as soon suspect myself, because I am hasty, he is not.’ The case was not featured directly in the series, though the issue of insanity was used in the series 3 opener about John Hadfield, who was accused of attempting to assassinate King George III.

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017gcq9#supporting-content

http://www.garrowsociety.org/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5c2w

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