November 08, 2010
A Golden Anniversary
Geoffrey Robertson recounts the history of the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial:
In 1960, in the interests of keeping wives dutiful and servants touching their forelocks, Lady Constance Chatterley's affair with a gamekeeper was unmentionable. The prosecutors were complacent: they would have the judge on their side, and a jury comprised of people of property, predominantly male, middle aged, middle minded and middle class. And they had four-letter words galore: the prosecuting counsel's first request was that a clerk in the DPP's office should count them carefully. In his opening speech to the jury, he played them as if they were trump cards: "The word 'fuck' or 'fucking' appears no less than 30 times . . . 'Cunt' 14 times; 'balls' 13 times; 'shit' and 'arse' six times apiece; 'cock' four times; 'piss' three times, and so on.""And so on"?
I think Mr Robertson somewhat overeggs the pudding as to the class-war aspect of the prosecution, and on the social impact of the "Not Guilty" verdict, but his railing against "the striped-trousered ones who rule" (quoting Orwell) is half the fun of the article.
Strange then that he only alludes to but does not quote the notorious and greatly mocked passage from the prosecutor's opening address that did so much to cement the notion that censorship is the process whereby the better class of person decides what the lower orders may read. The London Telegraph's commemorative piece has the glorious words:
'Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters - because girls can read as well as boys - reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?'Brilliant in its way; a timeless classic.