Liam Guilar, in his review of A Strong Song Tows Us, was sorry that I missed one of his favourite Basil Bunting stories: “It’s a fine book. There are a couple things I was surprised to miss: one of my favorite Bunting stories is about his appearance at Tom Pickard’s trial: Alldritt tells it briefly. Pickard tells it dramatically in More Pricks than Prizes building to a great exit line. But you can’t have everything.” The reason I didn’t tell it was that I was very dubious about the source and I hadn’t at that point seen Pickard’s memoir. Pickard was arrested in the mid 70s for his (relatively minor) part in a smuggled cannabis deal. As Pickard tells it:
“At the end of my long cross examination, it lasted a day and a half, I shakily resumed my seat next to [co-defendant] Costos while witness to my previous good character were drummed in. Amongst others, Eric Mottram and the film director, Lindsay Anderson spoke eloquently but the prosecutor ignored them until my final witness, Basil Bunting, took the witness stand…Bunting was someone the jury clearly felt comfortable with, which may be why the prosecutor rose to ask a question just as the old gentleman picked up his walking stick and was about to be helped from the witness box.
‘Wing Commander Bunting, would you still think so highly of Mr. Pickard if you knew that he took drugs?’
He smiled benignly and without a moment’s hesitation replied. ‘I would be surprised if a man of his generation didn’t.’
As Bunting walked out of the court Costos said, as much to himself as to those in earshot:
‘What a fucking beautiful old man.’”
From Tom Pickard, More Pricks than Prizes (2010) pages 63-68, by kind permission of Pressed Wafer.
ps. Pickard was found not guilty by a majority verdict.