Tom Bingham interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 31st March 2009

0:09:07 Born in London in 1933; father's parents lived in Belfast and had three daughters and a son; my grandfather was an unqualified solicitor's clerk; my father left school at fourteen and became a pupil teacher, which was a way of continuing your education in return for teaching younger children; after a couple of years he decided he did not want to be a teacher, but a doctor; he needed to matriculate and to pass in Latin, both of which he did phenomenally quickly; he qualified in medicine at Queens University where to study was cheap; he later went back and got a doctorate in medicine and a diploma in public health at the same time; he went to Wales to work and met my mother there; she was the youngest of four daughters; her father had gone out to California and started ranching in the High Sierra; it was a big ranch and the four girls were born there; the family tradition was that he had the first herd of Herefords west of the Rockies; the family had come from the Isle of Man to which they returned in 1903 when the my grandfather's health failed - he died the following year [The ranch was passed to a younger brother who ran it until the 1930s when the Owens River was blocked to provide water for Los Angeles, and the valley

turned into desert]; my mother was brought up there and went to school in Liverpool; she also qualified in medicine and dentistry and went to Swansea to work where she met my father; have no drop of Welsh blood but when I became Lord Chief Justice, found myself being asked to open a new county court in Swansea; at that time devolution was a hot topic; they asked me to approve a plaque which said opened by the Lord Chief Justice of England; seemed to me a grotesque insult to the Welsh so approached the Lord Chancellor to add Wales to the title, which was agreed; for the Welsh this reads 'of Wales and England'

5:44:16 I was much closer to my mother as our tastes and interests were similar; she liked reading and was interested in history although her education had been primarily scientific; I had an elder sister who died about twenty years ago; her husband was at one stage a fellow of King's - Robert Burridge, a mathematician; my father became the Medical Officer of Health for Reigate, Surrey, in 1931 so this was where I grew up; went to a kindergarten there but don't remember a great deal about it except that we had an extra term in the summer of 1940 because nobody could go away on holiday; we were affected by the War as we were only twenty miles south of London so were on a flight route from Europe; we slept in the scullery of the house which was fortified with pillars, and doors which swung over the windows to prevent flying glass; my father wasn't usually there, but my mother, sister, the maid and I slept on mattresses there; at that time I neither had any particular hobbies nor read a lot; my preparatory school was called 'The Hawthorns' and was in Redhill, about four miles away; it was a large yellow-brick house with quite extensive grounds which had been started in 1926; it had about seventy pupils, all boys; I was a weekly boarder; I went there in September 1941 and earlier that year a bomb had landed in the grounds; this was a large event in the life of the boys who were either pre-bomb or post-bomb; we all used to sleep in the cellars, certainly for a couple of years; it was humane; they lacked able-bodied young men to teach so had some women and colonial veterans; remember in 1944 when playing cricket, a V1 appeared overhead and the engine cut out which meant it would nose dive and explode; we looked around apprehensively and the old colonial who was supervising, waved his stick and told us to play on; there was corporal punishment but the Headmaster used it rarely; I was very bad at games and the school was not much better; we lost more matches than we won

13:43:13 Went to Sedbergh largely because my parents did not want me to go to the school the Headmaster recommended; I did the scholarship exam for Sedbergh which was a week before; in those days the schools were all divided into two and scholarships were taken for each group a week apart; the school the Headmaster favoured was in the second group, so my parents said I should do a practice run in the first group; mother selected Sedbergh from the list as she had friends whose brothers had been there; I first saw it when I went to do the scholarship exam and we stayed in the sanatorium; I was struck by the attractiveness of the place and how large everybody seemed to be; I remember my interview with J. H. Bruce Lockhart in his garden where he asked questions about the independence of India, which was a live topic in the summer of 1947; I was actually spending a term at a co-educational school at Robin Hood's Bay and he asked how I liked it; said it was alright but not very civilized; he hoped I did not think that all schools in the north of England were uncivilized; I got to know Bruce Lockhart better over time as I was in his French set in the lower sixth; he was so horrified by my accent that he asked me to go to School House to have private lessons with him; actually he was hardly ever there so it was not very successful; from the outset I was in the classical stream; of teachers, I remember Christopherson with great affection; I found myself in his form the second term and one did school certificate that summer; it was a very good learning environment and everyone very competitive; remember doing some American history and he said he would give thirty marks to anybody who could learn the Gettysburg speech by heart; some of us duly did so; I became a runner although I was not a natural one, but was certainly not a rugby football player; it you did not play that each day, you ran; I actually got to like it and you could achieve reasonable success by trying; I ran in the ten mile run twice but did less well than expected; I did not fish; it was quite a tough regime but I just accepted it; I was beaten; I think almost everybody was and I did administer beatings in due course; one just treated it as part of life; was discouraged from taking music by Peter Newell, one of the school Chaplains, who saw all bright boys as his pedagogical constituents and discouraged them from doing too much; neither my wife nor I is musical in any way

26:43:07 I went through a highly pietistic phase and had ambitions to take holy orders; on the day I left school I went off with Peter Newell to spend the night with an old Salopian friend of his who was then the Bishop of Wakefield; it rather faded during national service; I continued to be a believer but did not see myself becoming a clergyman; I am still an Anglican church-goer; I was in the history sixth, Clio, for a very long time, nearly three years; Andrew Morgan was my teacher throughout that time; Christopherson also taught some English history; Bill Long taught English although his degree was in French, so it was a joint learning experience; realize now that Andrew Morgan was very close in age to the people he was teaching; he had come straight from Oxford as  senior history master, having been recommended by John Prestwich his history tutor at Queen's, who had also taught at Sedbergh; he arrived as a hugely ambitious, alert, vibrant man, rather challenging everybody’s opinions; I found these years hugely exciting; read original texts for the first time and he was brilliant at making history come alive; he was certainly further to the left than most of the teaching staff in his thinking

35:01:15 After taking Higher Certificate, went to take an Oxford scholarship two terms later; rather to everyone's surprise I got one but stayed on a further couple of terms to try for a better one, unsuccessfully; it did mean that I was there for five terms after the equivalent of A level; Andrew planned that I should go to his old college, Queen's, but my housemaster, largely on grounds of alliteration, was keen that I should go to Balliol; national service was a curious experience because the standards were so different; partly out of loyalty to my paternal roots I applied to join the Royal Ulster Rifles whose headquarters were in Ballymena in County Antrim; remember at the medical being asked if I was a good scholar and, to my modest reply, being asked if I could read and write; most of the recruits were from London as there was no conscription in Northern Ireland; after a month there, as a potential candidate for a commission, the practice was that anybody from one of the four rifle regiments went to the Green Jackets depot at Winchester; the barracks combined a very high standard with a lot of intelligence, a rare mixture in the army; spent a couple of months there then went before the selection board; as a potential infantry officer, then sent to Eaton Hall, just outside Chester; I had joined this regiment partly because it was in Korea at the time and I thought it would be exciting to go to war; by the time I was commissioned they were out of Korea and in Hong Kong; I took out a draft of sixty men on a boat and it took nearly a month to get there, which was a wonderful way of spending time, sitting on the deck reading Russian novels for hours; Hong Kong was curiously remote; we were up near the border of the New Territories and we only got down to the bright lights about once a month; it was extremely hot and really quite primitive, and everyone suffered from skin diseases; I enjoyed the experience enormously and very nearly stayed in the army; I was only in Hong Kong from May to October and then we had another wonderful journey home by sea; for the remainder of the time we were in Colchester; I served under a charismatic, highly decorated man called Bredin; he rather wanted me to continue in the army but I thought it sensible to go to Oxford

42:41:23 I went to Balliol in 1954; I was taught by Dick Southern, Christopher Hill, A.B. Rodger, the senior history tutor who never published very much during his lifetime, and John Prest; they did all the College teaching; Christopher Hill was a good teacher; later on he was accused of having indoctrinated his pupils with his Marxist views, but this simply couldn't have been less true; he did have greater sympathy for some of students than others, Keith Thomas and Raphael Samuel; I was never in that network; I started off reading PPE and decided I wasn't any good at it so switched back to history; Dick Southern was also good but operated at an abstruse level; we had a vibrant life inside the College; we had a rather drunken debating club, and there were lots of things like that; I never participated much in the Oxford Union and did not pursue politics; we were a slightly inbred society; Maurice Keen was a close friend of mine, and there were some extremely interesting and attractive people there; other contemporaries were Robert Oakeshott and Peter Brooke, later Northern Ireland Secretary

50:34:01 I got a first; I did not see myself as an academic historian, partly because I thought Maurice would be much better; my mother suggested the Bar, so I joined an Inn which meant starting to eat some dinners; it is a relic of the days when students lived together;  three dinners a term was the rule and I found it rather tiresome having to go up from Oxford; in those days if you were doing a degree in another subject the simplest thing was to go to a crammer to pass the Bar Exam; one was just expected to learn, not to understand; it was quite quick in those days; I knew somebody who had done both parts 1 and 2 in five months; you then became a pupil to somebody who was an active practitioner; one had already fixed that up on a sort of college basis; nowadays it is much more open to competition; I always preferred history to law and I enjoy the historical aspects of law; it is a weakness that I probably shouldn't confess, but I have always found it hard to get excited by legal questions that aren't related to the solutions of a particular case; a debate on an abstract legal principle leaves me rather cold; Denning used to say that he didn't understand jurisprudence, and I think there are a lot of us who could say that, but there are some philosophers who can; the people at the crammers were able and intelligent people; John Widgery, later Lord Chief Justice, was once a partner in a crammer; I rather overdid myself and came out at the top of the list, and the partners at the crammer gave me lunch at the Charring Cross Hotel