Archive for November, 2011

“Garrow’s Law”, Series 3, Episode 2: “Luddites and Liars”

Smell that? Lovely, isn’t it. I’m cooking chicken soup for Mr. Southouse (Alun Armstrong), you see. I also put the poker in the fire; the man looks like he could do with some mulled wine.

But more about that later. Ghastly goings-on in Spitalfields! Rioters are raiding their local Comet for the latest iPhone, Nike sneakers and flat screen TVs!

Ah, no, wait, wrong era. It’s the end of the 18th century, and the rioters actually have a reason for rioting and wrecking down the place, breaking looms and cutting silk. They are weavers, seeing their livelyhoods threatened by those newfangled looms and greedy masters.  Here’s one of those fine specimen, Mr. Matthew Bambridge (Derek Riddell), experiencing the 18th century version of head -> desk.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Mr. Garrow (Andrew Buchan). He has to deal with a fine seleciton of rapists, thieves and some suitably embarrassed looking gentleman who tried to get up and friendly with a cow. Obviously, he wasn’t her type, though, so the whole affair didn’t go anywhere but the Old Bailey.

Boy, his mother must be proud.

Cutpurses and strumpets – one can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, Mr. Garrow is getting a tiiiny bit fed up with the daily routine.


24 November, 2011 at 8:47 pm 4 comments

Garrowites vs Erskiners: This Time, it’s not about the Gavels.

Last year, many of us followed with great interest and amusement the heated debate on “did they have gavels or not in the 18th century” in the Guardian, followed by the Great Hanged or Hung Controversy of 2010.

This year, however, the gloves are off. Thomas Erskine’s honour is at stake.

Letter in The Guardian, 16th November, 2011:

This series has not only stolen his [Erskine’s] achievements and given them to a man who was, in truth, a nasty piece of work, but has presumably made it impossible for television to make a programme celebrating Erskine as he deserves. The BBCshould be ashamed.

Professor John Barrell
Centre for eighteenth century studies, University of York

Letter in The Guardian, 15th November, 2011:

It was a travesty. The heroic defender who secured Hadfield’s acquittal was not Garrow, but Thomas Erskine. (…)

The BBC’s charter and its producers’ guidelines say all programmes should be “fair and show a respect for truth”. The producers of Garrow’s Law should look at it.

Professor JR Spencer QC
University of Cambridge

I can understand the outraged gentlemen to a point; at times (means: every single time) I’m very tempted to write letters whenever papers celebrate Nelson’s single-handed (no pun intended) victory at Trafalgar without even mentioning Collingwood.

But a fictional drama is not a biopic. “Merlin” and the artistic license taken by its authors could keep a whole army of Arthurian experts busy. There was no Rose DeWitt Bukater aboard the Titanic, they flew the wrong Union Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Elves never fought at Helm’s Deep. (The Gods only know how many angry letters, essays and meta the latter fact caused…)

I think that the overwhelming majority of the people who watch “Garrow’s Law” are aware of that difference. We know that Mr. Southouse is not real, that Sir Arthur Hill wasn’t the moron the series makes him out to be, and that the William Garrow of the series is also a fictional character. Through his eyes, we see law and justice – or lack thereof – in 18th century Britain.

I know that many of us here have read William Garrow’s biography, which doesn’t try to deny the fact that he moved over to the “dark side” later in his life. If I had to choose between having tea with Garrow or tea with Erskine, the latter would win hands down. Erskine was a navy man (remember the case of Captain Baillie? That was Erskine’s), and we also have to thank him for laying the foundation for the laws protecting animal rights. All things considered, I find him far more likeable than William Garrow.

So, why is it “Garrow’s Law” and not “Erskine’s Law” then? Certainly not because his life would have been less interesting or his lovelife less scandalous. There was his relationship with Sarah, his second wife, mother of two children he’d fathered before the marriage. Lots of drama there! In my opinion, the reason to put the Garrow in the Law was a technical one: it’s easier to paint on a blank canvas than paint over a picture.

When the series started, hardly anybody had ever heard of William Garrow before. He was one of those historical figures who had fallen through the big sieve of time; that made him a perfect canvas. Or a paper to write on, if you wish.

Thomas Erskine, on the other hand, certainly wasn’t a “nobody”, and his achievements impressive. A series about him would have to be more of a documentary than a fictional drama, closer to the facts and under more scrutinity. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to see a movie about Thomas Erskine, preferably with Sam West reprising the role, but I think that the same gentlemen and ladies who are now so harshly criticising “Garrow’s Law” for “hijacking” Thomas Erskine’s achievements would be the first in line to write angry letters about the disrespect of the BBC by “abusing” the life of such a great man for TV drama.

“Garrow’s Law” does have its faults, no doubt, but still, it’s solid, very entertaining drama. And as for “fair and show a respect for truth”: it’s right there, on top of the BBC’s website: “Legal drama inspired by the life of pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow” – inspired. And credit is given where credit is due. Mark Pallis,  consultant on legal and historical matters of the series, writes very clearly that

Hadfield was defended by Thomas Erskine, and Garrow was one of the barristers for the prosecution – this is because, later in his career, Garrow moved away from the defence work that we focus on in this series and undertook more cases for the crown.

If it should help to smoothe ruffled feathers: I love fictional William Garrow as played by Andrew Buchan in 2011, and I’m a great admirer of the real Thomas Erskine as played by Thomas Erskine in 1778. If it was up to me, they’d both get a BAFTA.

Edited to add: the co-directors of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online weigh in (looks like we’re on the same page…)

17 November, 2011 at 5:40 pm 10 comments

Review: “Garrow’s Law”, Series 3, Episode 1: “Not the Madness of King George”

Ah, what a fine, yet ordinary morning… Dobby the house elf has removed all garbage, swept the streets and polished the doorknobs, so the good people of London are going about their business in a remarkably clean 18th century Britain. Merchants are hawking their goods, housemaids are looking for a bargain, and Mr. James Hadfield (Mark Letheren) buys a pistol to shoot King George III.

Well. Maybe it’s not that ordinary a morning, after all.


15 November, 2011 at 12:17 am 16 comments

Garrow’s Law to return on 13th November!

I’m sick, so I’ll keep it short and sweet:


Ahhh, now he’s smiling again (and so am I!)

Programme information (needless to say, thar be spoilers):

Episode 1: High Treason! Insanity! Scandal!

Episode 2: Sabotage! King’s Evidence! Gaol’s fever!

2 November, 2011 at 9:39 pm 1 comment


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