R v Upward Day 5: Movie Star Named In Court Sensation
After overcoming a short interlude of existential despair Mr Justice Cocklecarrot proceeded briskly, and even brusquely, to initiate the trial of Luke Upward on criminal damage to a purple neon sign announcing the Polo Lounge nightclub.
He directed both counsel to produce their lists of witnesses. There were no interesting names from the predictable Prodnose for the Crown. His principal witnesses were Farley Cheese, the portly and port-flushed part-proprietor of the Polo Lounge and Johnny Atempo, the alleged entertainer whose opening night had been disrupted by the shot from Upward’s unhyphenated rook rifle. Other notably unmemorable witnesses were on his list, as might be expected of people with nothing better to do of an evening than attend a performance by Johnny Atempo. A dealer in aggregates on the jury made a dismissive gesture until quelled by a look from the retired lion tamer who was serving as foreman.
Luke Upward’s list for the defence began with his friend Patrick Moore and several Astronomers Royal, some round-the-world yacht captains, navigators from the world’s principal air forces, a sprinkling of celebrity survivalists and an expert on defence against asteroids. “Are all of these witnesses really necessary, Mr Upward?”
“Each one, m’lud, will make some unique contribution to the court’s understanding of the necessity of seeing stars. Your Lordship will have observed that a number of these witnesses emanate from the Southern Hemisphere, where the constellations have different aspects and different names. They will show, m’lud, that it can be as calamitous to lose the sight of Piscis Australis down there as that of Pisces up here.”
“Dr Stabismus (Whom God Hath Preserved In Utrecht.) I shall not challenge you on this nonsensical nomenclature, for you will have something in one of your bundles to prove that this is the witness’s real name. Is he another astronomer?”
“No, m’lud, a scientist and inventor. He will give evidence related to the gas neon and its misuse.”
“I see a long list of writers, Mr Upward.”
“They will offer evidence on the appearance and use of the stars in the world’s literature, m’lud.”
“Oh no, they won’t. Not in my court. I went through all those obscenity trials in the Sixties, and I had my bellyful of writers yammering on about the merits of literary filth. I’ve no objection to anything that’s a bit … fruity… why, I well remember all those evenings in Tortfeasors Hall when the Common Serjeant wore fishnets…” The judge’s eyes glazed again in memory of happier times. “But there’s such a thing as fruitiness and there’s such a thing as filth, and if something’s filthy it makes it worse , damnably worse, if people want to read it.” A few murmurs of approval rippled round the courtroom. The natty notetaker, Mr Reporter, with an eye to his career, made an entry for [protracted and stormy applause], a phrase he himself had translated from the original Albanian during the time of Enver Hoxha. “So no writers, Mr Upward.”
“As your Lordship pleases. But would that include my client, who is himself a writer of some distinction?”
“Your client, Mr Upward, may give evidence qua defendant as he thinks fit and you may elicit this as you think fit qua counsel, but if either of you crosses the line qua defendant or qua counsel to qua writer it will go hard for you from this bench, especially if I detect any filth.”
“We will take note of your Lordship’s admonition.”
“Now as to these other witnesses. You wish to call the Garter King-At-Arms and the Lord Lyon King At Arms?”
“To testify as to the significance of stars in heraldry.”
“Representatives of all the states, provinces and municipalities which use stars in their national or local flags?”
“For like testimony, m’lud.”
“Certain manufacturers of confectionery?”
“To testify as to the use they have made of the stars in branding and marketing their products.”
“A Miss Susan Sarandon?” The newspaper reporters, who had so far spent the session swapping bills for expenses claims, suddenly came to life. They charged out of their enclosure in the courtroom like a herd of startled wildebeeste to file the identical story to their newsrooms: MOVIE STAR NAMED IN COURT SENSATION.
“Why Miss Susan Sarandon?” For once the poise of the s-r m-of-l seemed to desert him. Upward shuffled from one faultless brogue to another.
“She is a star, m’lud, and… my client and I have always wanted to meet her.” It was as well for Upward that he did not detect the jealous spasm which seized the normally soft features of the ironmonger in the jury. “Ever since the kitchen sink scene in Atlantic City.”
“Approach the bench, Mr Upward.” In a confidential whisper to elude the eagle ear of Mr Reporter by name and profession, the judge asked “Is this scene at all… fruity?”
“Literally so, m’lud, the fruit in question being sliced lemons used to cleanse her character’s upper body of unwanted remnants of fish. I can present the scene to the court through the tape in Bundle 37c.”
At normal volume, Cocklecarrot made a ruling. “As president of this court, a delicate duty devolves upon me. I must balance the right of the defence to present its intended evidence with the right of the jury to be protected from filth exhibited under the pretence of art. I shall view this passage solus in my chambers.” There was a short adjournment. The returned press reporters resumed their exchanges of bills. The dealer in aggregates attempted vainly to console the ironmonger with an anecdote about gypsum.
The judge returned, slightly flushed. “I find Miss Sarandon a most compelling and therefore compellable witness. Sir Tipstaff, prepare a summons.” The case would continue.