Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 29/12/09

"That Is Entirely A Matter For You"

I've referred to this before, but couldn't find an embeddable clip of it.

Just to set the scene: in 1979, Jeremy Thorpe, former leader of the UK's Liberal Party, went on trial for attempted murder. It was claimed that he had arranged for one Andrew 'Gino' Newton - an airline pilot - to shoot his (Thorpe's) alleged former lover Norman Scott. Newton shot the Great Dane which Scott was walking on the moors, but the gun apparently jammed before he could follow up on the intended target.

There were other matters involved as well, particularly involving financial donations from wealthy businessmen.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the court case was the summing-up by the trial judge, Joseph Cantley. It was so obviously dismissive - contemptuous, even - of the testimony given by the prosecution witnesses, and so obviously partial to Thorpe that an acquittal was almost a foregone conclusion. Despite this, the jury initially deadlocked at 6-6 before finally coming down on Thorpe's side. Thorpe's career was, however, ruined (he had lost his parliamentary seat a matter of days before the trial opened), and he never held public office again.

The evening of the acquittal, the first of Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball productions was being staged in London. The reviews for the first night were less than effusive, with more than one citing a lack of new satirical material in the show. This prompted Peter Cook (whose fortunes were at quite a low ebb by that time) to compose a one-man sketch for the second night's performance based on Cantley's extraordinary performance the day before.

Bear in mind that the sketch was written in scarcely twenty four hours, and was still being amended right up to the time that Cook took to the stage in wig and gown to deliver it.

What followed was almost certainly the zenith of Peter Cook's career as a satirist, and one of British comedy's greatest moments. There is scarcely a superfluous word in its seven and a half minutes, and almost every line contains a veritable dagger.

Below the clip, there is a short explanation of the names Cook uses.

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