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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Trial of the last century

It is 45 years since the Lady Chatterley trial and the BBC is planning a dramatisation to go out in March. In today's Guardian Simon Hoggart reflects on the role played by his father, who was a witness in the trial:

The BBC is reprising the Lady Chatterley trial, 45 years after the event, with a drama written by Andrew Davies. It will be shown in March on BBC4, and probably repeated on BBC2. Lady Chatterley looks pretty tame stuff now, so Davies has added a fictional affair between two of the jurors, reflecting and expanding on the one between Constance and Mellors.

My father, Richard Hoggart, was one of the witnesses in the real trial and, I guess, helped sway the jury with his insistence that the book, and Lawrence himself, were "puritanical" - not in the sense of hating pleasure but in having respect for one's own conscience. There's a great scene in the new film in which the prosecuting counsel, Mervyn Griffiths-Jones, played by Pip Torrens, reads out some of the most explicit bits, and asks sarcastically if each is puritanical. Dad repeatedly replies: "Yes, puritanical - and poignant, and tender."

They invited some of the relatives to the filming this week at a disused court in south-west London (Dad couldn't make it). One guest was the son of Mr Griffiths-Jones, who was perhaps even more influential in obtaining the "not guilty" verdict when he asked the jury: "Is this a book you would want your wife or your servants to read?" Apparently, his opening speech had been going well and the line suddenly popped into his head. Even though he prepared his speeches meticulously, he ad-libbed that one, with possibly fatal results.

It is an insightful passage that brings history alive. Let us hope that the dramatisation can match it.
"Last Exit to Brooklyn", by Hubert Selby, was much more explicit.

The decision in that case effectively ended prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act against serious works of fiction.

It is very difficult to be more explcit than "Last Exit", though many subsequent authors have tried and probably succeeded.

John Mortimer actually had to argue that the scenes of homosexual prostitution are so disgusting that they are likely to put readers off becoming gay (ie, they would have the opposite effect of tending to corrupt and deprave).
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