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Garrow's Law: The original courtroom drama

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Tony Marchant Tony Marchant | 15:01 UK time, Friday, 12 November 2010

Garrow's Law is a show that I love and am very proud of. I've loved dramatising the trials to make history come alive and reading and using the trial transcripts, the words of defendants and prosecutors and judges and barristers, to hear that world as it was described by those who were there, experiencing it in that very moment.

However, turning the trials into drama wasn't simply a matter of going to the Old Bailey online archive and writing it up. In a compelling court case you need reversals and revelations, last minute interventions and the suspense of the judgement.

So, in other words, despite the historical resources at my fingertips I've had to make a lot of stuff up.

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I knew nothing about Garrow until I started investigating him for the drama but then again, as I've discovered, neither did most of the legal profession.

Without William Garrow there would be no such thing as a courtroom drama. He made a drama out of the trial out of necessity really - those accused defendants in criminal trials had very few rights and their barrister could not get them a fair trial.

Garrow realised that if the law wouldn't allow him to defend his clients properly he'd use the only weapon available to him - by attacking and undermining those who prosecuted them.

His adversarial approach changed the criminal trial forever. He invented cross-examination as an art form and a way of exposing the corrupt motives of prosecutors, reward driven as so many were.

It's a difficult balancing act with Garrow's Law. We want to be historically accurate but dramatically compelling at the same time. The cases we dramatise all come from real events, real trials but we have necessarily used dramatic licence, using Garrow as a lightning rod through which to illuminate such cases.

For instance, in the first episode of series two, I have dramatised the case of the Zong - 133 slaves thrown overboard a ship. Those responsible for such a massacre were not prosecuted for murder but instead investigated for insurance fraud.

Andrew Buchan as William Garrow, Alun Armstrong as John Southouse, and Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah Hill

Not only was this a telling reflection on the status of black slaves (slaves were goods) but putting Garrow in the thick of it enables me to present such a grotesque and shameful history to viewers who might shy away from the same subject if it were a documentary.

I always wanted Garrow's Law to be a show that educated and entertained, using Garrow as someone whose work at the Old Bailey could tell us something new or too easily forgotten about our past and the rights he fought to gain.

However, he can't just be a proselytising reformer - we also have to invest in him as a vulnerable, fallible human being. We have to marry a narrative of the past with a dramatic narrative of the person and the personal.

This inevitably takes us away from a literal rendering of historical facts to an imaginative but truthful account seen through Garrow's experience. As we all know anyway, history is about interpretation.

My favourite moment in Garrow's Law is probably in the second episode of series one when Garrow suddenly turns to a less than honest witness and says, "Blast your eyes, you damned bitch!"

The courtroom is aghast at his sudden abuse of a woman until in the next breath he explains he is merely recounting an insult she's supposed to have suffered from the defendant. I love it when Garrow is playful, mischievous and deadly in court all at once.

Tony Marchant is the writer who created Garrow's Law.

Garrow's Law starts on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday, 14 Novemeber.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Wonderful show about the Law, what a joy, superb cast, lovely lovely, please give us more,

  • Comment number 2.

    I love this programme. The first series was aired around the time I was doing my journalism training. It peaked my interest in law even more. The show combines my two favourite topics - Law and History.

    Can't wait for more!

  • Comment number 3.

    I have twin daughters, one doing legal aide work for the Scottish law society and involved in a lot of family law and the other in London doing English law. I have loved this programme from the first episode and was hoping the BBC would continue. Well done to all the cast, once again English Drama at its best.

  • Comment number 4.

    So pleased to see this return. I watched the first series, and it made for a fascinating insight through drama, of the relatively little known beginnings of our Legal system here in the UK.

  • Comment number 5.

    I came to Britain last year in pursuit of my Law degree and luckily i watched this program one evening which really inspired me and gave a picture of English court room. I eagerly waited for the show on sunday but i was disappointed to know that it was over, but i'm happy that Mr.Garrow is back. I humbly request the production to make this show uninterrupted.

  • Comment number 6.

    Really enjoying this first programme of the new series so far. If it is as good as trhe first series, we are in for a treat. Could you please let me know where some of the scenes are set, especially Lady Sarah's house? I thought I recognised it as a National Trust property I had visited in England.

    Thanks again for a wonderful series,

    Julie Reid

  • Comment number 7.

    I am a descendent of this Garrow family and have researched back 400 years.
    There is no evidence to support a marriage between Srah DORE and Arthur William Moyses HILL. Their first child was not called Samuel but William Arthur and born in 1778. Being illegitimate he did not inherit the title of Marquis of Downshire and was given the surname DORE-HILL the source of the name Dorehill used today.There is correspondence to show that he sought throughout his life much financial support from his biological father!!
    I am in contact with the Dorehill family in New Zealand and have correspondence with the current Marquis of Downshire.
    Sarah is NOT entitled to be called 'lady' and we shall see that even when she does marry William Garrow she dies before he receives his knighthood

  • Comment number 8.

    I love this series. It reminds me of the classic drama 'Shadow of the Noose'. I really wish this was repeated.

  • Comment number 9.

    Dear Mr Marchant
    Garrow's law is a delight. A glorious evocation of that time and the pioneering spirit of an extraordinary lawyer.
    Of this series, part one: you use the word sabotage...not cited in the OED before 1910. And speaking of Kelsall's nephew - ? - that, in retrospect., ' Daniel may still be alive' when, in fact, he was dead and the question ought to have been 'might still be alive' with the rider had better care been taken of him... Might covers what we know to be not the case, even if desired, and may that of what we might wish to be but we know is indeterminate, as in 'he may be alive but we don't know if he is or not'.
    all the best
    Graeme Fife

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi @jules2376,

    The exterior of Sir Arthur Hill and Lady Sarah's house is Pollok House in Glasgow. It's owned by Glasgow City Council but run by the National Trust. The interior of Sir Arthur/Lady Sarah's is a private house in the east of Scotland. All of Garrow's Law is filmed in Scotland - a mix of location filming in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Greenock and studio filming (e.g. the courtroom scenes) at BBC Dumbarton. Hope that's helpful!

  • Comment number 11.

    We watched Garrow's Law tonight (and last week). Very good, but much spoilt by the loudness of the background music, particularly at quiet moments. It was very difficult to understand what was being said!

    Please, please wind it down!

  • Comment number 12.

    I must agree with Otterspace -for me a good programme is spoiled by being factually incorrect when it comes to Garrow's private life. I did try to contact Tony Marchant after the first series to no avail. Sarah will give birth to a son and a daughter sired by Mr. Garrow - when the children were 12 & 9 years old they married at St. George the Martyr, Holborn on the 17th March 1793.
    No doubt his life, in those days, must have caused a stir - in the 21st Century the media would have a field day!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Good to see the BBC making period dramas such as Garrow's Lawin instead of moronic game shows.
    However what shame about the intrusive melodramatic corny background music.
    So loud sometimes it was hard to hear the dialogue !
    Very immature of the producers. The music spoiled the whole thing.
    Seems to be all too common these days.
    I saw a programme about spitfires recently.
    The most wonderful sound of the Merlin engine swamped out by corny background music.
    What idiots the producers are.
    Trying to be arty but in fact ruining the programmes.
    Don't they realise tha to experience the true atmosphere of a situation as if one was there means real sounds should be heard. Be it a horses hooves on a cobbled courtyard or the sound of a spitfire.
    Leave out the corny music please !

  • Comment number 14.

    I am delighted with the return of Garrow's Law and I wish the BBC would give us more programmes like this.

    Congratulations to Tony Marchant on bringing history to life again in this second series.
    Superb performances by the cast and an excellent script.

    I would agree with previous posts about the music as it is rather loud and I was struggling to hear some of the dialogue.

    Nevertheless, I adore it and look forward to Sundays with glee!

  • Comment number 15.

    It is great that Tony Marchant has produced a series based on my ancestor Willaim Garrow. The family has always been proud of this link and many generations used 'Garrow' as a second name indeed my own grand-daughter is Matilda Rosalyn Garrow Monk.
    The purists may wish to know that Sir Arthur William Moyses HILL (Viscount Fairford) who later became 2nd Marquiss of Downshire had a son in his relationship with Sarah DORE named Arthur William DOREHILL in 1778. Being illegitimate (they were not married) he did not inherit the titles. Family tales tell us that 'he never did a day's work in his life' as he scrounged from his father. The name SAMUEL is incorrect!!
    Sir Arthur eventually married Mary Sandys 'a notable heiress' in 1786 and they produced a legitimate heir but not before he sired another two illegitimate children with the same mother. He died early, in fairness to him, in his will (which must have been a shock to his widow) he supported all three of his children born out of wedlock. The will established William Arthur was indeed the son of Sarah and Arthur William Moyses Hill.

    Sarah Dore is described 'an Irish lady of high birth' who moved from cook or maid to mistress to wife. We would dearly like to know more about her ancestors...can anybody help?

  • Comment number 16.

    Absolutely loved the first series and quite like the second. Something has changed. Can't quite put my finger on it. Think it's gone a bit ITV. The totally unnecessary music had the same effect as canned laughter on me. Garrow's voice was totally mesmerizing before but now is rather squeeky. The opening credits with pictures of the actors make it look a bit Dallasty. Still compulsive viewing - just ditch all this other stuff.

  • Comment number 17.

    Do you read this stuff Mr Marchant ?
    Please take note. Three of the last four posts are complaining about the intrusive corny background music to Garrow's law.
    Please take heed. Little or no music would be good thanks.

  • Comment number 18.

    Excellent show! I really have enjoyed both seasons so far! I did notice something interesting after viewing last Sunday's episode that has got me thinking. In the opening credits, the faces of the actors portraying the characters are superimposed over books and legal documents. When Sir Arthur Hill comes up, a book is opened containing a text. When I looked at the text a little closer, I noticed that it was the opening of the Declaration of Independence written on July 4, 1776. I wonder if the producers of the show were implying something by this? The show hasn't painted the aristocracy in a very favorable light and has even referenced Thomas Payne. I just thought it was interesting. This is certainly my favorite show on the BBC!

  • Comment number 19.

    I Watched the first series which was good. My husband and I enjoyed it. This series seems to have gone off a bit, could not put my finger on why. Then my husband remarked they are putting to much in this series about the love triangle its spoiling the the series. To which I have to agree. Its gone morbid

  • Comment number 20.

    The music is OK to me and I think it's great, makes it dramatic. It is hardly ever played anyway - only in the end in the preview of next week's episode that the theme tune was played alongside with dialogues. I have no idea why people would need to complain!! @_@ I watched this on iplayer using headphones and it was perfect regardless of whether I was wearing a 20 pounds or a 200 pounds pair of cans. BBC sound recording is always so lifelike it's a treat! I am also glad that BBC made shows always have especially commissioned music, what a way to nurture the composing talent in this country!

  • Comment number 21.

    Forgot to say - the series is great. After discovering this watching it for the first time ever - the series two - I had to see the series one straightaway.... bought the DVDs... actually bought two sets, one to send to my mum and dad, and one for myself. Looking forward to Series 3 already.

  • Comment number 22.

    This programme is absolute class.I am enjoying all aspects from costume,to acting and script.I can't wait for series 3.

  • Comment number 23.

    Please tell me there will be series 3! I love this show so much! A huge thank you to everyone involved in the making of this show, especially the creater/writer Tony Marchant. Thank you BBC, this is writing, acting, directing and simply TV at it's best :)

  • Comment number 24.

    We have just watched another wonderful episode of Garrow's Law.
    I congratulate Tony Marchant on the brilliant script. The whole series has been excellent.

  • Comment number 25.

    Well that makes it one in favour of the music & three against.
    Saying that the music is an opportunity to nurture composing talent is like saying someone should come round to your house & do unecessary building work for you so as to nurture their building skills.
    What is needed with programmes is what is right & that must be independant of any other causes. What is right = no corny melodramatic music so loud that at times the dialogue could not be clearly heard.
    I remember the old period dramas that went out on BBC1 at 5pm on a Sundays 30 or 40 years ago. Usually Dickens plays. There was no back ground music. They were all the more realistic for it. After all we don't live in a world with background music in real life do we.
    I'm not unthinking as to need melodramatic music to suggest to me when there's drama, anymore than I need canned laughter to tell me when to laugh.
    I guess you Mr screenname 1001 are in need of those things.
    Say no more !

  • Comment number 26.

    What a tremendous drama series from the BBC yet again and are we witnessing the emergence of another exceptional British actor in Andrew Buchan.

    There may be some historical inaccuracies but it is a drama not a documentary.

    Superb. When is the next series?

  • Comment number 27.

    Having watched the final episode of Garrows Law last night, I just had to pass on my appreciation at such a wonderful and truly gripping series. Being married to a trainee barrister myself and I am all to aware of modern practise but Garrows Law has provided me with an insight into the beginnings of the profession.
    Please, please write the series as a book too.
    Very much looking forward to series three.
    Thank you

  • Comment number 28.

    My ancestor, George Errington, attended Mr Crompton, the Special Pleader, at the same time as William Garrow. He paid a premium to Mr Crompton of £160 for three years, but was called to the Bar in 1783 after only fifteen months (William Garrow was called to the Bar a year later). This cost George £55-05-00 plus £6-16-00 for a suit of black silk. Later, as a barrister, he went on the Home Circuit, headed by Thomas Erskine, with William Garrow and Francis Const.
    George's wife, Harriot Shore, committed multiple adultery with, among others, the Curate of Battersea and Captain Buckley of The Coldsteam Guards, who was found guilty of Criminal Conversation, prosecuted by Thomas Erskine and William Garrow at the Court of the King's Bench in 1787. A Private Act of Parliament followed in 1788 with Erskine and Garrow appearing as Counsel for the Bill. This allowed George to marry again.
    George and his new wife lived in Essex and in 1795, only a year after they were married, his previous mistress, Anne Broadrick, arrived unannounced and shot him.
    Anne Broadrick was tried at the Chelmsford Assizes, Samuel Shepherd acting as her Counsel. The prosecution was headed by William Garrow and Francis Const. She was found not guilty of murder "on account of insanity" and the Judge, Sir Archibald Macdonald, ordered that "she be detained for life as a lunatic".

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    Absolutely brilliant, thank you very much.

    More please: beautifully written, put together and performed. Laughter and tears all in the space of an hour or so.

    Top banana.



  • Comment number 31.

    Who is Lady Elizabeth Fox? Could she be a figment of Tony Marchant's imagination?

    In his Will Sir Arthur William Moyses Hill provides for his three illegitimate children in addition to his legitimate children. This may well have come as a shock to his wedow!!
    William Arthur DORE-HILL was being brought up / educated by his mother Sarah Dore and William Garrow.
    In addition there were the two daughters born to Elizabeth (Betty) RUSSELL who are given the surname RUSS-HILL.

    In my opinion we were introduced to the first of these daughters in the final episode.

  • Comment number 32.

    Garrow's law shows the BBc at it's very best. This is quality television. It is a shame that these quality programes do not seem to be available on iplayer. I suppose the BBC want to ensure that only the paid up license payers can view the quality programes. The cheap skates can have all the rubbish for free on iplayer. Who said the BBC had no head for bussines?

  • Comment number 33.

    I watched and re-watched season one and two of Garrow's Law on youtube (thank god for youtube which allows you to watch some of the period dramas which I love) in a matter of 2 or 3 days. It is one of the best series I've ever seen even better than Forsyte Saga, Jane Austen movies, etc. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, BRING IT BACK WITH SEASON THREE. Andrew Buchan was excellent in these series and should be known as one the great actors of our time. He is also quite irresistable. I live in the US and English programming is far better than any in the US. There is no comparison to English acting and drama especially as far as period dramas are concerned. Thank you and we want more of Garrow's Law.

  • Comment number 34.

    I don't agree about the music being too strong...loved to know who wrote the opening theme

  • Comment number 35.

    This is an excellent production! I love the variety of characters that find themselves in the dock each week. Tony Jordan manages to inject humour into dark places and writes such beautiful dialogue. Andrew Buchan and Alan Armstrong are amazing! Their relationship is superbly delivered with strong characterisation at the core. All of the actors are great and I can't wait for series three. I am watching series one and two again on DVD and find something new each time. Thank you.

  • Comment number 36.

    I would like to apologise to Tony Marchant for attributing Tony Jordan to his script. Thanks to Tony Marchant.

  • Comment number 37.

    Tony Marchant should win an award for this excellent series. Andrew Buchan's acting is superb, he doesn't even need to open his mouth and when he does...his voice is exquisite. He is without doubt, in the ascendency, I just hope the Americans don't steal him from us. The other protagonists are also wonderful and even those with minor roles such as Foster the 'thief taker' are memorable. Please please make another series.

  • Comment number 38.

    This programme is great, and I thoroughly enjoyed both series. Please make a third series, this is the inspiring TV that everybody should and I'm sure WILL watch!! Andrew Buchan's acting is brilliant!! I hope he gets more oppurtunities to show off his amazing talent... BBC, please find something else for this man to act in!!

  • Comment number 39.

    I watched episode 2 of series 1 last night about the monster and was appalled to hear two characters say that he would be 'hung'. Surely the correct word is 'hanged'? Perhaps somebody should let Tony Marchant know.

  • Comment number 40.

    I enjoyed the drama but there were a lot of historical inaccuracies and simplifications, so I think the show has limited educational merit. Why did you think it necessary to cast Garrow as the defender in The Treason Trials when he was in fact the prosecutor? How is that truthful?


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