Silk, society and scandal: the archive of Jeremy Hutchinson QC

By Richard Wragg – University of Sussex Library Collections Manager

We are pleased to announce that the archive of Jeremy Hutchinson, Baron Hutchinson of Lullington QC (1915 – 2017), was allocated to the University of Sussex earlier this year through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. The Scheme provides a mechanism by which nationally significant cultural property can be sold and made available to the public in lieu of the owner paying an inheritance tax.  

Jeremy Hutchinson was a celebrated barrister, considered by many of his generation to be the finest silk in practice at the criminal bar. He famously served on the team defending Penguin Books over their publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The archive contains Hutchinson’s annotated court transcripts from the trial, his lists of witnesses, and correspondence. Also included is a rare signed first edition of Lawrence’s novel inscribed ‘In remembrance and honour of the great victory’ which was gifted to Hutchinson by his mother Mary.

It is said that Hutchinson was the model for John Mortimer’s Rumpole. One highlight of a decades-long career was his defence of director Michael Bogdanov of the National Theatre, after counsel for Mary Whitehouse had complained that an actor’s penis was visible on stage during a performance of Bogdanov’s production of The Romans in Britain. A private prosecution was brought, with the director being accused of having ‘procured an act of gross indecency’ contrary to the Sexual Offences Act of 1956. Bogdanov faced the prospect of spending up to three years in prison. However, in a memorable moment, and to much laughter in court, Hutchinson thrust his clenched fist and protruding thumb through his gown and suggested that Whitehouse’s star witness may have been mistaken about what he had seen. Realising the game was up, the prosecution was dropped with both sides claiming the win – Hutchinson had ensured his client’s freedom whilst Whitehouse, believing her point made, perceived a moral victory.

When Christine Keeler was tried for perjury it was Hutchinson who defended her. He represented the drug-smuggler Howard Marks, the art forger Thomas Keating and the spies George Blake and John Vassall. Letters written to Hutchinson by Blake from Wormwood Scrubs have already been found and we hope for further discoveries once cataloguing work begins.

Away from his legal career, Hutchinson served in the Royal Navy during World War II. He was aboard HMS Kelly when it sank, an incident which inspired Noel Coward’s famous piece of wartime propaganda In Which We Serve. As the Labour Party’s candidate for Westminster in the 1945 general election, Hutchinson’s canvasing activities took him to 10 Downing Street where he asked to speak to the occupant, Winston Churchill. 

Image shows a collection of black and white photos from the Hutchinson archive
Photos from the Hutchinson archive

Married to Peggy Ashcroft from 1940 to 1965 – their courtship began in Brighton where Ashcroft was appearing at the Theatre Royal – Hutchinson was well known to many writers, artists and public figures. The various events and relationships which were significant to Jeremy’s life are well-represented in the archive. Also of great interest is the correspondence to his parents from their wide circle of friends. Mary Hutchinson was a writer, socialite and member of the Bloomsbury Group, her husband, St John, was a barrister and politician. Five letters from D.H. Lawrence to St John detail the seizure of his manuscripts, a curious foreshadowing to Jeremy’s later representation of Penguin. The names of those who are represented in the archive reads like a who’s who of twentieth century society and includes T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse, Virginia Woolf, Stanley Spencer and Duncan Grant.

In a twist to the story, we were recently alerted to the sale of a diary dating from 1910, written by Mary and St John. We are delighted to record our gratitude to the Friends of The Keep Archives (FoTKA) for not only highlighting the sale but also purchasing the diary on our behalf.

The Hutchinson archive is very much a family collection. Interestingly, initial investigations suggest there is no clear break between Jeremy’s papers and those of his parents. Shared interests – in literature, art and theatre – are evident throughout the archive and many friendships remained in place. Jeremy, for instance, maintained his mother’s close association with the Bloomsbury Group and was a regular and welcome visitor at Charleston. These social, cultural and even legal continuities give the archive particular depth and we look forward to making it available to researchers at The Keep.

A version of this text first appeared in the FoTKA Newsletter.

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Posted in Special Collections, The Keep

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