I’d say it was a chance discovery but then I firmly believe you make your own luck and I never pass a skip without even a casual glance. This one yielded a bunch of 1950s hardbacks, including one that’s right up my, somewhat voyeuristic, partially academic, slightly scientific, sort of historical, street – The Murder and The Trial by Edgar Lustgarten. Fine name, and I love reading earlier true crime books as so much is different about not just the ways of life and death, but also jurisprudence and those who wrote about it.

Mr Lustgarten is no disappointment, writing in the late 1950s he looks back at several high-profile murder trials where he feels, with significant justification, there has been a miscarriage of justice due a lack of cultural communication between the stuffy world of the law and lawyers and the real world of normal people, their drives and urges. He takes a psychological, but common sense, approach to everyone involved – the accused, witnesses, juries, police, advocates and judges and whilst his argument has been pretty much accepted and incorporated by now, it is interesting to see him put forth his points at a time when they were not. I enjoy his sympathetic,  no-nonsense, approach to the realities of human life and behaviour and whilst his writing style is definitely situated in his time, there is not so much of the casual class or colonial bias you find in some writers of pre-1960s England. Instead, he seems to have an understanding of people and their natural responses to the slings and arrows of undoubtedly outrageous fortune.

The preface, by Lord Birkett, is essentially two excellently written pages of, “this man needs no introduction” which rather piqued my interest as the situation, if ever true, has changed, at least where I am concerned. So, as so often, my friend Google led me to Wikipedia…

A quick glance and it turns out Edgar Lustgarten was well known in the 1950s though hardly remembered now. That said, I bet most of you know of one affectionate parody, without even realising it is one…
As president of the Oxford Union, he seems to have always admired a good speaker and presumably put that interest to good use in his first calling as a barrister. Which may have been the end of the story were it not for WW2 but, being unfit for military service, he turned his talents to propaganda, working for BBC radio. After the war, his interests in broadcasting, debating and crime came together and he never returned to the bar, working on several TV series, the most popular of which was Scotland Yard, running from 1953 to 1961, each one featuring a dramatisation of a case solved by the detective department of the Metropolitan Police.

Edgar Lustgarten

Edgar Lustgarten

I’m astonished I’d never heard of this before as it’s exactly the sort of thing I love – murder mysteries in black and white, with fabulous views of London in the 1950s behind the action. Each episode was introduced by Edgar Lustgarten, in the same erudite oratorial style of his books, which may seem a little stuffy to some modern ears but has a wonderful structure and balance not always found in current speakers.
After several episodes I can’t help the feeling that I’ve seen him before somewhere so off we go back to Wikipedia….

Yup, the chappie behind the desk telling the tale in the Rocky Horror Picture Show is indeed an affectionate mimicry of Edgar Lustgarten…

He died in 1978, in Marylebone Library whilst reading The Spectator.

Wikipedia – Edgar Lustgarten
Goodreads – Edgar Lustgarten
Wikipedia – Scotland Yard short film series


About woofbarkyap

Lady of Leisure. Dog behaviourist. NLP Master Practitioner. Ebay entrepreneur formerly running busy central London doggy daycare with global door to door dog and cat travel agency. Interested in psychology, cognition, learning theory, consciousness, history, steampunk, rock music and dogs. Plus just about everything else
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