"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
On receiving a writ for libel from Marie Stopes in May 1922, perhaps the biggest challenge for Halliday Sutherland was financial. The process of defending the action was potentially ruinous, regardless of whether he won or lost. At the time he was married and had three children under five years old (his eldest daughter, Jane, and twin boys, John and Peter).
Sutherland wrote about it in A Time To Keep:
Six months later my savings were spent, and I owed the solicitors £150. Without money or a guarantee they were not prepared to make further disbursements. When I told Cardinal Bourne of my predicament I learnt that His Eminence was trying to get together a representative committee in order that money might be collected all over the country. Some, from whom he expected help, excused themselves by saying that this would be “maintenance” and therefore illegal. Two leading counsel were then asked for an opinion. It is not “maintenance” to help a man, with whose opinions you agree, to defend himself. “Maintenance” is to give another person money so that he may bring an action against a third party.
A week later the postman left a registered envelope at our cottage at Over, near Bristol. In the envelope was a Bank of England note for £100 and nothing else.
Soon afterwards the anonymous donor invited me to come as his guest to the Annual Dinner at the Farm Street Sodality of Our Lady. The dinner was at the Trocadero, and in the reception-room I met Father Keating, S.J.
If godparents were needed for an action for libel, mine were Father Keating, S.J., and Professor Louise McIlroy. Father Keating scanned those who were present, and told me there was someone to whom he wished me to speak. Some minutes later he returned, and advised me to telephone in the morning to Sir Charles Russell and ask for an appointment.
An appointment was made, and I was first ushered into the waiting-room facing Norfolk Street. There was baize over the lower part of the windows, so that one could see out but no one could see in. On the walls were large photographs of famous racing yachts, and on a circular mahogany table were unopened copies of the morning papers. In the waiting-rooms of doctors and dentists patients read, but in a solicitor’s office, most clients are preoccupied with their own thoughts.
Sir Charles received me in a long room. At the far end was a door in a glass partition behind which his secretary was typing. In the centre of the room was a large desk, but we sat on either side of the fire, he in an arm-chair and myself in an easy-chair. As I told him of the case he was by no means enthusiastic, and at the end of my recital said: “You’re within three months of trial, and no solicitor likes taking over a case once it has begun. It’s like changing horses in mid-stream.”
In a huff, I rose. “I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time, Sir Charles.”
Sit down you young fool,” he answered. “How dare you lose your temper with me! I never said I wouldn’t take your case, but I haven’t said that I would.”
I sat down and later learnt that the only person in that office who had the right to lose his temper was Sir Charles. He was a short portly man, clean-shaven, with fine features, a square jaw, blue eyes, and silver hair.
His first question was whether I had received any contributions towards my costs. I told him that I had received a Bank of England note of £100 from an anonymous donor.
He nodded, “I sent you that on behalf of a client.”
I flushed, but did not answer, reflecting that, in view of the issues involved and the duplicity of human nature, he had the right to ask me a question—to which he already knew the true answer.
For a moment he looked at me intently, and then: “Have you a clean record?”
I looked him straight in the face and answered: “No.”
His eyes sought the carpet, and he asked quite gently: “What was it?”
I told him of the unfortunate ending to a hilarious evening. We both laughed, and he pressed a bell, “I’ll take your case.” In a moment his junior partner, Philip Oddie, entered the room, and was told to take me out to lunch.
Next post: 1st February 2016.