July 25th, 2011
The story of the murder of John Beckley on Clapham Common in 1953 encompasses knife crime, the coining of the phrase 'Teddy Boy', and a barrister by the name of Christmas Humphreys:
[Senior counsel for the prosecution] Humphreys wasn't your usual common or garden barrister, he was also the author of many works on Mahayana Buddhism. In fact Penguin had published his book Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide just two years previously in 1951 and has, somewhere in the world, remained in print ever since. Indeed Humphreys had founded the Buddhist Society in London in 1924 (it still exists and is now one of the oldest Buddhist organisations outside Asia) and was the most notable Buddhist in the country.
By the time of the Michael John Davies trial in the autumn of 1953 Christmas Humphreys had already had an extraordinary year. If he had been the sort of person who worried about what people thought of him (and he almost certainly wasn't) he would have wished the upcoming Clapham Common murder trial to be as uncontroversial as possible.
The reason why Humphreys might have hoped for a quiet, uncontroversial trial was that had already been involved in a couple of highly controversial cases1 involving the death penalty, cases that ended up leading to the suspension of the use of the death penalty for murder just a couple of years before Humphreys became a judge himself.
- A couple of years after the trial of Michael John Davies, Humphreys was the lead prosecutor in the Ruth Ellis trial. All told, Christmas Humphreys was such a central figure in Britain's use of the death penalty in the 1950s that he has been played on-screen five times in films and TV plays about the various high-profile trials he was involved in. Has any other real-life barrister been depicted on film and TV as often? ↩