Horace Rumpole relied on the South London crime family, the Timsons, to keep him supplied with adequate draughts of Chateau Embankment, a claret designed to curl your toes.
The return of "Silk" on BBC1 (series 2) introduces us to a new London criminal family, the Farrs, on which Billy, the senior clerk, hopes the future profits of Shoe Lane chambers will rely. But only if their solicitor, the aptly named Mickey Joy, likes the performance of the barristers. By which he doesn't mean their forensic skill but rather their compliance with the larger family concerns.
To say the Farrs are like the Borgias in wickedness is to malign that estimable Florentian family. The Farrs are thugs. Their heavy man, Brendan, pulls out the eyes of his victim. The government having cut legal aid the criminal bar is struggling to keep their horse hair wigs alive. So means to an end....
We see Billy having whisky discussions with Mickey in the local pub. He wants to be the only supplier of barristers to Mickey. And since he's got three barristers on his cases, Billy thinks he's on to a winner if only the barristers play along. But there's the rub.
Enter our dashing new silk (QC), Martha Costello. Working class lass from up north beats posh southern kid, Clive Reader, to the golden prize of Queen's Counsel. (I've already made my views clear on that to the dismay of many barristers.) Martha don't like Mickey because her client, the heavy Brendan, clearly has the IQ of a 5 year old and is being set up by the Farrs to take the fall.
Billy gets Clive to act as her junior in the case. Clive is still smarting from not getting silk and to compensate has bought himself a very powerful Norton motorbike. Clive the posh boy in the Cameron-Osborne mould, is prepared to cut a few ethical corners here and there if it keeps him in well with the clerks.
OK....SPOILER ALERT HERE....
Martha is as naive as Billy is manipulative. Somehow, and you have to suspend disbelief here, she persuades the jury that Brendan, all 6 foot 7 inches and 250 pounds of him, is a hard done by lad. Instructed to remove the victims eyes, nose, ears, tongue and fingers, he only takes out the eyes because he's kind. Then he calls 999 (or 911). Instead of taking the fall, he's acquitted.
You can see what's coming next, can't you? The Farrs are pissed off. So just before Martha is to take her silk victory lap up Middle Temple Lane, Billy gets a call to say that Brendan's eyes, ears, etc have been removed and he's dead.
Martha's heart is in the right place but she's seriously lacking street smarts. I hope her new wig keeps her brain warm.
As much as "Silk" irritates me, I enjoy it. And I classify watching it as work which most people can't do. So I'll be in for the whole series. More to come.
One point: these TV series about barristers are incestuous. In 2000 there was a better TV show called "North Square" about a set of barristers chambers in Leeds. The actor who plays Mickey, Phil Davis, was the senior clerk, Peter, in "North Square" (even more Machiavellian than Billy) and Clive (Rupert Penrys-Jones) was one of the barristers, Alex--again a posh boy.
Both "Silk" and "North Square" were created by the same writer, Peter Moffat, a British playwright.
Then, would you Adam and Eve it, Phil Davis (Mickey/Peter) and Rupert Penrys-Jones (Clive/Alex) both turn up in another TV show called "Whitechapel" (2009) about copycat Jack the Ripper murders where Rupe is the posh, naive, educated CID inspector and Phil is the trustworthy, university of life trained sergeant.
At this rate they'll take over every legal TV show going....Stop!
Quick Followup: The Guardian has an interview with Peter Moffat, "Silk's" writer. One of the comments refers to an even more lively Australian barrister series called "Rake". Here's the blurb:
Barrister Cleaver Greene's life continues to spiral out of control - the latest blow being the beating he's just received from Mick Corella's stand-over man Col for unpaid gambling debts. As usual, Cleaver retreats to the arms of his lover/friend/confidant Missy, a high class call girl who works at a brothel also frequented by Cleaver's friend, Attorney General, Joe Sandilands.Can't wait to see this one!