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No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman

No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman

ISBN: 9780340820988
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Edition: 1st
Publication Date: 2002-01-24
Number of pages: 331
£128.49

It is quoted in No Ordinary Man that 10 days before he died of prostate cancer at the beginning of 2001, George Carman whispered quietly to his son, Dominic: "I'm not going to be able to do it," he said. "You'd better do it instead". After a lifetime at the Bar during which he had risen to become one of the highest profile barristers in British legal history, Carman's decision to ask his son to write his biography may just have proved to be the one of the few gambles he took that backfired. For sure we get plenty of details and insight into his celebrity trials, involving Jeremy Thorpe, Elton John, Tom Cruise, the Hamiltons, Jonathan Aitken et al, but what sticks in the mind is the portrait of Carman the private man. Dominic pulls no punches as his father emerges as a chain-smoking alcoholic with homosexual tendencies, who repeatedly beat all three of his wives. Some may view this as the ultimate in filial disloyalty, while others may see it as an abusive bully getting his just desserts. More importantly than either, perhaps, it's honest biography. Those who reckon that the great and the good should be exempt from close personal examination, and that they should stand and fall by their achievements, miss several tricks. Getting to the very top often involves a ruthless trampling over the feelings of colleagues, friends and families and it is to Dominic's credit that he is prepared to lay bare the price his father paid for his years in the limelight. It certainly helps to explain how barristers like Carman can live with the knowledge that their advocacy has kept a guilty person out of prison, or more worryingly, put an innocent one inside. We are told that Carman drew no pleasure from the fact that the Coronation Street star, Peter Adamson, admitted his guilt on charges of indecent assault five years after he was successfully defended, and yet Dominic goes on to say that "privately, many jokes were made about confessions emerging from other guilty people he had got off". Clearly, George was a man who liked to have things both ways. But Dominic's approach does leave just one last matter unsolved. Would his father be happy at the posthumous treatment he has received? On that one, the jury is likely to remain out.--John Crace

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