The Nottingham Essay: The Chatterley Trial

In 1960 the establishment got a right cob on when Penguin Books published a smutty book by Nottingham’s top gobshite, D.H Lawrence. For those of you who paid no attention at school, here’s a quick synopsis of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Connie Reid is a cultured bohemian of the upper-middle class. That means she’s wealthy and likes a bit of a cock. At 23, she marries a snooty toff called Clifford Chatterley. Shortly after their honeymoon, Clifford heads off to World War One and returns paralyzed from the waist down. To compensate for his lack of virility, Clifford takes up writing, gets famous and loads of people flock over to his mansion to tell him how ace he is. He also runs a coal mining business which makes him even more dosh. But he’s smug and boring so Connie seeks out a bit of rough in Oliver Mellors, the well-ripped moody gamekeeper.

If you throw a sacking, pregnancy, a crazy ex and some rants about industrialisation into the equation, that’s pretty much it. The book ends with Connie and Mellors hoping for divorces to come through so they can do something really radical; get married again. Oh yeah, there’s what appears to be an anal rape scene too when Connie experiences the “piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness”. But it’s so subtle you won’t notice it.

There are three versions of this infamous novel that Lawrence wrote while dying of tuberculosis. The first crops up in 1926 and has none of the dotteh scenes, focussing instead on life within a mining community. This was known as The First Lady Chatterley and was published in 1944. The second version was called John Thomas and Lady Jane, and sounds more like a Carry On film with its silly euphemisms. This also had the alternative title of Tenderness due to it being more soppy. It was first published in an Italian translation in 1954.

The final version came out in 1928 and publishers bobbed their pants because it was so spicy. Lawrence funded it via subscriptions, and a Florentine bookseller named Guiseppe Orioli banged out 1,000 copies. But because the book had been privately published – and was therefore not formally copyrighted – pirated copies flooded the market. By the time Lawrence died in 1930, gutless publishers were printing ‘cleaner’ abridged versions of the novel. The National Union Catalogue records up to fifteen expurgated versions between 1932 and 1943 in America, UK and Paris.

Lawrence was constantly censored throughout his life, which did his reputation as a bad boy no harm. In 1915, copies of The Rainbow were seized and burned, and his 1928 poetry collection Pansies had to have twelve or so pages removed before it went to print. Even when he exhibited paintings a year later, these were seized and thrown in a cell. All of which had the effect of making Lady C a cult novel that everyone wanted to read just to see what all the fuss was about.

When Penguin published the full, unexpurgated edition in 1960, they were taken to trial. The thing that infuriated the establishment the most, other than all of the ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’, was that the book was on sale for 3/6, or the price of a pack of ten fags, thereby making it easily accessible to the impressionable masses. The trial was held at the Old Bailey and ran from 20 October to 2 November 1960, and would be the first major test of the recently created Obscene Publications Act of 1959.

There’s various evidence throughout the novel to suggest that sexual freedom and being a potty mouth were Lawrence’s means of offsetting the cold intellectualism that defined the period. But putting this academic waffle aside for one moment: What you really want to know is whether Lady C is worth a wank?

The short answer is no.

The first time they get it on, Connie is more passive than a plank of wood. Instead of clawing Mellors’ back out with her nails, she just, well, falls asleep all the time. Then it gets all mystical as Mellors discovers “the peace on earth of her soft, quiescent body.” This is hardly pornographic and, if anything, reads like something Barbara Cartland would have written if she’d grown up in Glastonbury.

Mellors doesn’t mind Connie dozing off on the job. But he does have a bit of a tantrum when he realises she’s holding back. Lawrence had quite a thing for synchronised coming. But the fact that she didn’t come at the right time has nothing to do with him. Oh no. It’s because of… the dehumanising effects of industrialisation. That old chestnut.

When Mellors really goes for it, Connie finds his thrusting buttocks a tad stupid. These little love pistons are a right turn off. But this is nothing in comparison to the ridiculous sight of his “wilting… poor insignificant, moist little penis”. Fortunately, Mellors is a dab hand at pillow talk and sounds just like Will Smith in Hitch when he retorts, “A woman’s a lovely thing when ‘er ‘s deep ter fuck, and cunt’s good.”

That told yer.

Connie is smitten and wants to know what motivates Mellors, other than bottoms, killing cats and shooting the occasional grouse. It turns out the reason he wants to get jiggy has nothing to do with being a randy bogger. It’s because….insert drum roll…. “I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.”

On the plus side, we can conclude from all this ‘warm’ heartedness that Mellors isn’t into necrophilia. But part of having a warm heart means doing as yer tode. Lawrence had some pretty odd ideas about submission, not the type where you get dressed up as a gimp and get women to piss on you to relieve the stress of modern living (Ahem), but the Nietzschean variety. Because Connie’s given in to his will and become “a physical slave” her reward is sexual awakening which is symbolised through them both – finally – coming at the same time.

Connie then gets all soppy, as you do when you’ve been buggered, and realises she’s in love. Bless.

At long last, Mellors has found an obedient woman who has the decency to synchronise her coming. This is in stark contrast to his former wife, Bertha Coutts, who would think nothing of finishing herself off once he’d rolled over. And she didn’t care how long it took either. If you want a job doing properly, do it yersen!

Obviously this level of independence infuriated Mellors, whose descriptions of Bertha having a fiddle sounds more like David Attenborough describing a feeding frenzy in the Serengeti, “the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! Self! All self!… tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak.” Calm down Lawrence, it’s only a clitoris…

Lady Chatterley is an extraordinary book because it’s an honest attempt to understand human relationships. Sometimes the sex is good, sometimes it’s bob. Yes, Lawrence has got some odd ideas but before you get all smug, check through your own internet history.

Anyway, let’s get back to the Trial.

The defence council was led by Gerald Gardiner, a founder member of CND, and included Jeremy Hutchinson, a man of great privilege who financed his early years as a barrister by selling off an inherited Monet (as you do) and marrying the actress Peggy Ashcroft. He was drawn to defending amiable rogues throughout his career and his client list would go on to include the Great Train Robber, Charlie Wilson, and drug smuggler, Howard Marks.

The team pulled off two masterstrokes. Firstly, they declined an all-male jury which was traditionally reserved for obscenity trials, presumably to protect the fairs of the gentler sex. Instead they used their right of challenge to include three female jurors. As Geoffrey Robinson QC explains, “They realised the danger that an all-male jury might be overprotective towards women in their absence and they calculated that the prosecution’s paternalism would alienate female jurors.”

Secondly, they selected 35 key witnesses to vouch for the book’s integrity, including E. M. Forster, Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and The Bishop of Woolwich, Dr John Robinson, who said Lawrence showed sex as “an act of holy communion”. He even insisted it was a book that “Christians ought to read” – which I hope has nothing to do with the anal rape scene.

The prosecution, on the other hand, couldn’t find anyone to testify against the book, and instead obsessed about the swear words, analysing each page in microscopic detail and developing a complex hierarchy of filth. In the “gratuitous filth” category were descriptions such as “best bit of cunt left on earth”. In his opening speech to the jury, the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, read out the list: “The word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ appears no less than thirty times… ‘Cunt’ fourteen times; ‘balls’ thirteen times; ‘shit’ and ‘arse’ six times apiece; ‘cock’ four times; ‘piss’ three times, and so on.”

This sensationalist line of argument was irrelevant as the change in law meant that such words, no matter how provocative, had to be viewed within the overall context of the work of art. Lawrence once described his detractors as the “grey elderly ones” and nowhere was this more evident than in the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who asked of the book, “Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

Such snobbishness all but sealed Penguin’s victory and they were acquitted on 2 November 1960, one week after the Pope’s decision to remove The Origin of Species from the Catholic Church’s Index. In that year alone, there had been 24 forfeiture orders against book importers for bringing in banned works, but the world was about to change.

The victory represented a growing cultural liberalism that would define the sixties and find voice in a more progressive politics which saw the legalisation of homosexuality, abortion and a reform of divorce law. Within a year of the trial, the book had sold over two million copies, outselling the Bible. In 1965, the critic and author Kenneth Tynan said “fuck” on live TV. The floodgates had opened, but a Tory MP, reasonable as ever, suggested Mr Tynan should be hanged.

In the same year, across the pond, Charles Rembar, who had previously defended Lady C (1959), Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1961) and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1963) forced a hearing in front of the Supreme Court that would finally see such books entitled to protection under the First Amendment. But in Australia, progress was a bit slower. Not only was Lady C banned, but the book detailing the trial was banned too. By 1971, works of no literary merit were safe thanks to the Oz trial and by 1977, courtesy of Inside Linda Lovelace, works of no merit whatsoever were acquitted.

Of the trial, Lawrence’s stepdaughter Barbara Barr said, “I feel as if a window has been opened and fresh air has blown right through England.”

Thanks to D.H. Lawrence, we can request that someone shut it, because it’s fucking freezing.

Were yer born in a barn or summat?


The Nottingham Essay: Catherine Booth (17 January 1829 – 4 October 1890)

Catherine Mumford was born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire on 17 January, 1829 to strict Methodist parents. During childhood she was forbidden from dossing about with other kids for fear that she may ‘catch’ their bad habits. By twelve, she’d read the Bible eight times and given up sugar in protest at the treatment of Negroes. By her late teens she’d joined the Temperance Movement. She would meet her perfect match in William Booth, a man who also excelled in self-denial. Through marriage they made a formidable partnership, sharing an uncompromising set of values that would define the Salvation Army and radically transform the fate of the poor.         

As you’d expect from the daughter of an occasional lay preacher, Catherine was a serious and sensitive kid. However it was a spinal problem in 1842 that left her bedridden for months – and would plague her for the rest of her life – that defined her as a person. From her bed she studied theology which would underpin her various moral crusades and lead to her penning some exceptional sermons that would challenge the religious establishment as well as books on Christian living.

She first met William Booth in 1852 at a tea party hosted by Edward Rabbits, a wealthy benefactor who William was trying to tap up. Prior to this both Catherine and William had been visiting the sick in their native Brixton and Nottingham. They were destined for each other. A month later were formally engaged. As their biographer Roy Hattersley notes, ‘In all nineteenth century England there could not have been a couple in which both husband and wife held such strong opinions – and felt such an obligation to impose them on other people.’

William Booth was notoriously averse to reading, seeing theological study as an indulgence that got in the way of proper work. But this didn’t wash with Catherine who accepted no excuses when it came to self-improvement. In one typically condescending letter to William, she put his lack of reading down to poor time management; ‘Could you not rise by six o’clock every morning and convert your bedroom into a study until breakfast time?’

If William was the brawn then Catherine was definitely the brains of the Salvation Army. Her studious nature meant she was able to bring about change through logical and rational enquiry. She was instrumental in creating equality within their ranks by introducing female ministers able to command over men.


Unlike her husband, all of Catherine’s beliefs were built on solid fact and biblical exegesis. When William originally opposed women ministers she simply dug deeper for evidence. She eventually found it in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Chapter III, Verse 28, which stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bound nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’.

Catherine published her arguments in various pamphlets and directly challenged religious patriarchy. This was a highly contentious thing to do in 1850s Britain. But the Booths were never ones to worry about public opinion. The only person they were answerable to was Him upstairs.

In stark contrast to William’s histrionics in the pulpit, Catherine’s preaching style, according to the Wesleyan Times, was “no empty boisterousness or violent and cursing declamation, but a calm and simple statement of the unreasonableness of sin.” She brought something different to the table, enabling the Army to diversify its appeal, and it was this that convinced William to embrace spiritual equality.

Catherine’s logical and persuasive arguments were perfect for playing on bourgeois guilt where wasting money on ‘a single bottle of wine for the jovial entertainment of friends’ was an insult to the hardships suffered by the poor. She appealed to their goodwill and conscience, arguing their ‘knowledge of the awful state of things in the world around them must make them fully aware of the good that might be done with the money which they lavish upon their lusts’. Sermons such as this would inspire two wealthy benefactors to donate the costs of hiring their first permanent home in the East End of London.

Preaching brought her into direct contact with deprived communities whose problems were largely caused through alcohol abuse. Catherine started a national campaign raising awareness of the perils of drink and later had abstinence from alcohol written into the Salvation Army’s constitution. She also demanded greater protection for women through the law and recruited women from the working classes, her ‘Hallelujah Lasses’, to support women and children in slum districts. But her crowning glory was getting the age of consent raised from thirteen to sixteen, which helped address child prostitution.

Catherine was against sending children to boarding school on the grounds that their principles were not fully developed and therefore may be more prone to temptation. She believed that it was parents who should provide a Christian upbringing, not headmasters. In her sermons she compared a child brought up without love like a plant without sunlight. However as she was often absent from the home this role often fell to the governess.

Despite her clear love for her eight children, it couldn’t have been much fun for them growing up. They lived a pretty nomadic lifestyle, dragged from town to town, while being subjected to the strictest of rules from their righteous and bigoted parents. The Booths believed that clothing was a form of vanity and so any unnecessary frippery was unstitched before they could wear it. Inevitably their offspring became pious and earnest which led to a fair few kickings in the playground.

The Booths dogmatic regime of constant prayer and absolute discipline meant the children were raised in conditions that make the Taliban look liberal. Sports were banned, they had to take a cold bath everyday – apart from the Sabbath – and their frugal father’s idea of a treat was a scattering of currants on the daily bowl of rice pudding. But only on exceptional occasions.

Matters were made worst by Catherine’s gradual immobility. The birth of eight children had left her an invalid. Although this did not stop her preaching, it had a morbid effect on her moods. During this period melancholy was deemed a disease of the spirit and therefore the ultimate blasphemy as it suggested a denial of God’s love.         

In 1887 Catherine was diagnosed with breast cancer but, stoic as ever, refused an operation. As she lay on her deathbed a band was brought into her bedroom, not for personal comfort but so that all of the musicians who she had inspired over the years could show their respects. She was ‘Promoted to Glory’ in 1890 and her body was laid out in Clapton Congress Hall so that 50,000 mourners could visit over five days. A further 36,000 attended her official funeral on 13 October with a procession of 3,000 officers, each wearing white armbands to celebrate her life. And there was plenty to celebrate. She had persuaded William that women were the intellectual and moral equal of men. That it was nurture not nature that held them back and that “if we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” It would take a World War before women won the right to vote in 1918. But it was only in January this year that the Church of England consecrated their first female bishop. Her fight goes on.  

The above article was originally published in the Sept 2015 issue of LeftLion magazine as part of the City of Literature series. Two months later Nottingham was accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. The source for this article is Roy Hattersley’s superb Blood And Fire: William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army. The video was created by Josh Dunne, a 2nd year media student from Nottingham Trent University as part of a placement scheme with Dawn of the Unread.