Monday, 2 October 2017

Murray Campbell

I can’t wait for the BFI London Film Festival to open on the South Bank this week (4-15 October). I’m hoping for hot tickets to a premiere or two and the chance to rub shoulders with stars on the red carpet, and to enjoy a little close-up glimpse of the glitz and the glamour of those celebrated people who inhabit the silver screen.  Ahhh.  Quite a contrast to the dry, serious world of law, I hear you say.  

But are you aware of the role that legal London often plays in some of our favourite films and TV shows?   Visiting clients in Lincoln’s Inn over the years I’ve often seen the big white and silver vans for film casts and crews parked up on the roads around Lincoln’s Inn Fields and wondered what they were about.  Being a film and TV fanatic, of course I made it my business to find out.  My friends at the Bar told me the Inns are often used as film locations because they are so perfect as period London backdrops.  In fact, I learned recently over a coffee with Murray Campbell, Member Services Director at Lincoln’s Inn and the man responsible for managing any filming around the Inn, (alongside a long list of other duties), that it’s the mix of old and new that makes the Inn such an efficient filming location.  Gothic, Palladian, Queen Anne, Tudor, Georgian and 20th century styles co-existing cheek by jowl, which makes it popular with the likes of Disney, Warner Brothers and Paramount and the like, as they can keep coming back to one familiar location for multiple sets.  

As we chat, Murray gives me the roll-call of film and TV productions that have filmed key scenes at the Inn.  The list is impressive: Judge John Deed and Silks you might have guessed would be on the list.  But did you know scenes from Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes were filmed there? Also from Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, About Time and Finding Neverland. … not to mention TheMuppets…Again movie!  And this year’s Wonder Woman, also The Children Act which was released only this month. 

“It does provide a small income stream for the Inn, which is helpful, but we have to balance that with the impact on members” Murray tells me.  “We only allow filming at weekends... and even then we keep it to a minimum and avoid weekends back to back, because we don’t want members’ lives to be disrupted by it.  But it is tremendous fun for anyone who gets involved.”  He then regales me with some choice anecdotes about Benedict Cumberbatch having to repeat a scene so many times over (jinxed with extras sneezing at the wrong moment, props being dropped by various cast members), that by the time it was a wrap Murray knew the lines of all the actors by heart; about Hercule Poirot staying in character between takes and wearing a special fat suit that meant he couldn’t sit down without the aid of a special contraption devised for the purpose; and about Robert Downey practising Tai Chi by the fountain in New Square first thing in the morning before cameras started rolling (I can’t think of anything else whenever I walk past now!)

I was fascinated to know more about Murray’s role. Is it all as glamorous as this?  “The filming is just a minor, albeit fun, aspect of my role.  The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is like five businesses in one: it’s a mini university; it houses the best law library in the country; it runs several five-star kitchens; it is also a 0.5 billion pound estates business spread over some 11 acres, with a mix of residential as well as commercial tenants; all this needs to be maintained and staff and members need to be kept safe and secure.”  It’s a big job.  So much goes on behind the scenes.  Something to think about next time you are strolling through any of the inns.

You can see the full list of productions filmed at the Inn on the Lincoln’s Inn website here. Next time you’re at the cinema, watch out for backdrops you might recognise.

The fallout continues from PR giant Bell Pottinger's gob-smacking campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa as a deliberate strategy for a client. The agency is in administration after clients left in droves, including a number of law firms, and the talk now is all about the need for "better due diligence" when hiring PR firms. So expect an explosion in tick-box exercises....which unfortunately ignores the simple fact in the Bell Pottinger story that no amount of due diligence would have uncovered what this one team in the agency's South African operation were doing anyway. Regulatory lawyers tell me this is a classic: knee-jerk regulation in reaction to a scandal .... that wouldn't actually have prevented the scandal that inspired it!  Exactly what happened with the mammothly onerous Sarbanes-Oxley legislation brought in as a reaction to the Enron scandal, they say.

To my mind the more pertinent issue, as I told Times journalist Jonathan Ames, is that whilst big PR firms are often seen as a "safer" bet than small and niche, (no one gets fired for hiring IBM after all), and are celebrated as all-singing and all-dancing in terms of the range of services and geographies they can offer, as the Bell Pottinger disaster has shown they can be "all-contaminating" too. The problem is their sheer size, which means that perfectly good, ethical and able PR teams in one corner of the business can be sullied by association with rogue elements in another, in an entirely different part of the world and in a separate sector - even if they have had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with these troublesome campaigns or individuals.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it? If only we could learn the right lessons by it.

So it's SJ RIP. This was a sad piece of news that stopped us in our tracks: astonishing that such an excellent and respected magazine as Solicitors Journal, that has been a mainstay of the legal publishing world for over 150 years, should have to fold because of the challenges publishers face monetising good content in the digital age.

And in terms of good content, the quality doesn't get much better than SJ. That's why, as shocked and sad as we are to see our respected journalist friends there lose jobs, we know they will quickly be moving on to new, exciting roles elsewhere. They are a very talented bunch and we look forward to working with them in their new homes soon.

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