MONDAY, JANUARY 30, 2017
When Greville Janner died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in December 2015, it marked the end of proceedings against him for child sex offences – though not of efforts to determine the truth of the allegations. The inquiries now under way are proving every bit as labyrinthine and controversial.
However they proceed – and without speculating on matters of guilt or innocence – we can say with certainty that the Labour peer held some fairly unpalatable views on sexual violence and consent.
We know this because he set them out himself, in an article published under a pseudonym shortly before he first entered Parliament. Writing as a barrister, he offered guidance on how women could avoid a sex attack.
Janner sums up his advice with a hackneyed rape gag:
If the worst comes to the worst, you could take the advice of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius: “If you are going to get raped, you might as well lie back and enjoy it!”
Certainly, if you resist with sufficient force, you may end up dead.
The advice is part of a double-page spread headlined “How not to get knifed, burgled, cheated or blackmailed”, which appeared on February 7, 1970 in the Mirror Magazine – the colour supplement that came tucked inside each Wednesday’s Daily Mirror.
It contains sections on how the reader could avoid misfortunes such as being “coshed, bottled, knifed or kneed”, “wrongfully charged with shoplifting” or “cheated by the repair man”. But the starkest advice deals with “How not to get murdered or raped”.
This begins with the observation that “The girl who manages not to get raped greatly reduces her chances of being murdered”. It goes on:
Women should realise that men are a thoroughly excitable lot. And when excited, they are liable to lose control. Girls who play sex games are usually quite capable of stopping within sight of the winning post. But men are often utterly incapable of self-control, once they’re on the home straight.
So the first rule if you seriously want to avoid being raped is to keep your companion in a reasonable frame of mind.
Unfortunately, murder and rape are often intertwined. The woman resists. The man loses his self-control. The women dies.
Rule one, then, is to avoid provocation. As the old riddle goes: “What’s the difference between a crook and a virgin?” “Once a crook, always a crook…”
It’s an unsettling piece, which would be howled out as a creepy example of victim-blaming if published today. So does it matter that instead, we’re dealing with a curio from more than 45 years ago? I’m sure many would argue that yes, it does make a difference. Whenever material like this comes to light, there’s a chorus of Those Were Different Times, You Have To See It In Context and Anyway That Stuff Was Just Locker-Room Humour.
Or perhaps robing-room humour. The notion that women are responsible for provoking sexual assault is more persistent than herpes in the murkier corners of the judiciary. Worse instances can be found a lot more recently than 1970, and delivered in open court rather than pseudonymously in the press.
Possibly the most notorious example came 20 years later. Summing up in an Old Bailey rape trial, Judge Raymond Dean told “the gentlemen of the jury” that “when a woman says no she doesn’t always mean it. Men can’t turn their emotions on and off like a tap, like some women can.”
Those remarks were widely condemned, and supplied the name and impetus for the original No Means No campaign; but there’s no shortage of similar cases that could be cited, before and since.
Today, it would be extremely difficult to find out whether Janner’s article prompted any kind of response at all. All that can be said is that his Confucius quip has a long history of causing offence – sometimes with career-ending consequences.
★ ★ ★
It may seem odd that the feature hasn’t resurfaced before, given the controversies of the peer’s final years. But the short-lived Mirror Magazine is very difficult to track down in archives, and I’m told that not even the British Library has a full run. More importantly, the article was attributed not to Janner but to “barrister Ewan Mitchell”.
This was the pen name under which he wrote a vast amount of material in the Sixties and Seventies, including a long-running consumer column in the Daily Mail and many layperson’s legal manuals and how-to guides such as The Retailer’s Lawyer, All You Need to Know About the Law and Coping with Crime.
There is nothing sinister in his use of an assumed byline. At the time, barristers were totally prohibited by the Bar Council from mentioning their profession in published articles. This was viewed as soliciting business, and a grave breach of etiquette. Quintin Hogg, a future Lord Chancellor, was once disciplined simply for telling a reporter he was returning to private practice.
Indeed, Daily Mail diarist Nigel Dempster would stitch Janner himself up in 1976, running a snippet about how the MP had included the sacred “QC” postnominals on the promotional ballpoint pens that he gave out at his Westminster office – and mischievously alerting the Bar Council to the transgression by approaching them for comment.
Four months after the Mirror Magazine article, Janner was returned as a Member of Parliament in the 1970 General Election. He was selected by his constituency party upon the sudden withdrawal of his father, Sir Barnett Janner – something that supposedly saved Labour a bob or two on reprinting “Vote Janner” posters. The next year, he was appointed QC, a courtesy then extended to most barristers entering the Commons.
Somewhat cheekily, he used one of his “Ewan Mitchell” articles in 1972 to highlight a Private Member’s Bill about car parks, which was being introduced in Parliament by a certain “Mr Greville Janner, MP for Leicester North West”.
★ ★ ★
Few of Janner’s constituents would have known of his parallel career as a prolific journalist and author, or been able to link him with the attitudes expressed in Mitchell’s writings. Whether many of them would have cared is one for the social historians.
From a media-history point of view, however, it’s interesting that the article was carried in the Mirror Magazine. Launched in October 1969 as the first colour supplement of a tabloid newspaper, it was specifically intended to appeal to women – or at the least, it was pushed to potential advertisers on that basis.
The way it interpreted that brief is often bizarre. The Magazine contains a very male, Fleet Street take on what women’s-interest features ought to look like, from supercilious motoring articles (“Every woman likes to imagine herself at the wheel of an open roadster – men like women in sports cars”) to fashion pages with gratuitous full-colour frontal nudity, a full six months before Stephanie Rahn became the first proto-Page Three Girl in the Sun.
It’s a strange publication that is worth studying on several grounds, and one that I intend to revisit in more detail on this blog.
★ ★ ★
Back to Janner. One further section of the feature warrants a quick mention. Sandwiched between “How not to get burgled” and “How not to have your car stolen” is a remarkable section on “How not to get taken for a ride by a prostitute”. And it’s that wacky old Chinese guy again:
Easy, said the experienced tart. Confucius, he say: ‘Fun first, pay later’.”
As a throwaway attempt to leaven the article with humour, it clanks like scrap iron. But it’s difficult to ignore a nagging sense that it is a clue to where its author’s sympathies – and prejudices – truly lie.
★ ★ ★