Barrister's best: William Clegg QC

Best books, top tracks, iconic inspirations and escape essentials: Counsel invites William Clegg QC to share his cultural influences


I always have a book by my bed. Reading being so much part of the working day, I look for something different in the evenings. Anything by John Le Carré or Graham Green; the more intrigue the better. A Maigret story by Georges Simenon lets me escape into 1950s France. If I really want to forget all about work then I re-read Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier or Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome.

I also, perhaps sadly, enjoy books about the profession. I recently read Tom Grant’s Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories. I remember Jeremy in the Bar Mess of the Old Bailey as one of the great advocates of his generation. Tom’s book brings alive cases that grabbed the front pages and filled the mess with gossip. Life was never dull when Sir Desmond de Silva was in court. His autobiography Madam, Where Are Your Mangoes? takes one through the career of, probably, the last barrister from this country to make a career in the emerging countries of the Commonwealth, acting in highly political trials against great odds. Sally Smith’s biography of Marshall Hall is another great read; a fascinating insight into the life of a successful silk before WW1 and the strain and responsibility that fell on counsel in capital cases. Each book, in a different way, has inspired, educated and informed.

I read little poetry but have been moved, on the centenary of the end of the Great War, by the poets from that conflict. The poems of Rupert Brook, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen and others reminded me of the horror and suffering.

On a more uplifting note, I have recently discovered the poetry of Ian McMillan and found myself laughing out loud at his Yorkshire humour.

As for podcasts the only one I have heard was one I had to make myself which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone!

I find it distracting to listen to music while I work and hence my time for music is limited. Born in 1949, music from the 1960s and 1970s will always live with me. My wife, Gay, and I recently went to a party where the music was almost entirely from our era (as were the hosts!). We found that we remembered the words to so many of the songs that have no equal in today’s charts.

When I was at school you were either a Beatles or a Stones fan and I was definitely in the Stones camp. Once, I played truant and queued all day for a ticket to see them at the Southend Odeon, never to hear a note for the screaming of the girls! So, anything by the Stones brings back memories of those days.

More recently, we have been to Memphis and New Orleans and Elvis remains The King. Great jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Mike Davis and Ella Fitzgerald will always find a place in my music library. At the moment, the CD in my car is a collection of songs written and performed by Peter Hepworth – I may be a little biased as he is my son!

I am married to an artist, so we have acquired a huge number of paintings, prints and sculptures over the years. Many are contemporary works by Gay’s fellow artists in East Anglia but perhaps my favourite artist (apart from my wife) is Barbara Rae, Scottish painter and printmaker, whose big, abstract oil landscapes are the first paintings I would buy if I won the lottery.

London has the best theatre in the world. Inevitably, it is the plays you have seen most recently that you remember most clearly. The recent production at the National Theatre of Anthony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo was stupendous, as was the Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre and the Lehman Trilogy also at the National. Productions that live in the memory include The History BoysThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, everything at the Donmar Theatre and anything written by James Graham.

As a child, my family lived in a flat above the flower shop they ran in Westcliff-on-Sea. A short walk from our flat took us to the beach where we spent our summer holidays. My parents would share the rental of a beach hut from the local council and it became our home from home. My memory, doubtless warped over time, is of endless sunny days and miles of mud to play in when tide was out.

The most important thing in the middle of a trial is to ‘switch off’ when the day is over, allowing you to return to the case refreshed and invigorated the next day. My escape is the Garrick Club where good company and stimulating conversation allows me to forget, for a couple of hours, the trials and tribulations of the courtroom. Sadly, at the moment, that is only in the company of male members but, hopefully soon, both sexes will be eligible for membership and a great club will become even greater.


A picture of the Bar through five decades to present day, Under the Wig: A Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence (Canbury Press, 2018) alternates the story of Clegg’s career with accounts of 14 of his most intriguing cases. From working-class roots in Essex to head of chambers in London, via a law degree, pupillage, tenancy (not easily obtained) and, ultimately, to QC and the bench – there’s lots of advice for young advocates.

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