HH Roger Cooke Memorial Service

HH Roger Cook, a strong supporter of the Admiral Byng Campaign passed away earlier this year. On Wednesday evening, a memorial service was held at Lincoln's Inn Chapel. Here is the address.

I speak as only one of the many friends that Roger had, and on their behalf, for it was through his many and varied interests and activities that he had so many friends, whether it was his practice in the law, his teaching of its practice to students, pupils and would-be recorders and judges, his love of history and his profound knowledge of it, or his appearances on stage, usually in the more ponderous roles in which he revelled.

The detailed particulars of his life must not be omitted, although they barely describe the essential man. Roger Arnold Cooke was born on 30th November 1939, the only child of Stanley Gordon and Frances Mabel Cooke. After school at Repton he studied law at Magdalen College Oxford under the famous Rupert Cross who instilled in Roger the importance of the common sense involved in its practice; Roger would impersonate him saying: “Do you really think a court would decide that?”. After Oxford he read for the bar, and as an Astbury Scholar was called by the Middle Temple in 1962. He practiced at the Chancery bar until 1989 when he became a circuit judge. In the words of a fellow member of chambers and bencher of the Middle (Stephen Lloyd), Lincoln’s got him as a bencher before the Middle could; that was in 1994. He played a very full part as a bencher of Lincoln’s until his final and cruel illness began.

I first met him in 1966 when we trod the boards together in “The Lady’s Not For Burning” in which he played the part of Tappercoom, the Town’s Justice – Type-casting for the future perhaps? Many other parts followed: Dull in Love’s Labour’s Lost in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, Humpage in Penny For a Song, and many other roles in dramatised readings (directed by our friends Tony Arlidge, David Webster and Nigel Pascoe). In 1993, in his early judicial years, his experience of sitting at Luton amply qualified him for his great performance in black tights as the Common Man in “A Man For All Seasons” in Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall. In 2003, in Middle Temple Hall, he played Sir John Gawdie, one of the judges, in the re-enactment of the monstrous show trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603, 400 years after the actual event. These are not of course the things you read about in Who’ Who, which is why I mention them. It explains why Roger would often quote lines, familiar to both of us but almost incomprehensible to others, as he once did on a picture postcard he sent to me from Palermo with on the back some lines from A.P. Herbert’s “Expert Witness”.

Roger’s knowledge of both history and law was deep and thorough. One of the very many letters which Hilary received last June recalled the time Roger was in Windsor Castle expounding to his children and those within earshot some aspect of its history, when the custodian called out loudly “No guides allowed”. Another (Kenneth Zucker) recalled how Roger could recite “a vast number of facts with unerring precision.” At Ashwell where he lived for many years he would set the Christmas Quiz.

His profound knowledge of the law never prevented him from reaching decisions which were always sensible and realistic. He was a first class teacher, not only of his pupils and of students, but also of those considering a judicial career. A fellow bencher (David Dabbs) in a letter to Hilary said there was “no better tutor in the art of judicial analysis.” Another (Crawford Lindsay) wrote “He was a brilliant education tutor who not only taught but also entertained the students. There was never a dull session with him in charge.” He was a particularly excellent friend and guide to me when I began at the Chancery bar, and greatly encouraged me to follow in his footsteps a judicial career, as well as introducing me as a member of the Institute (in the words of the late lamented Leo Price “That Great Mafia of the Chancery Bar”).

Roger had a great gift for good administration and he worked tirelessly for the benefit of others. He was Secretary of the Chancery Bar Association from 1979 to 1989. He was a leading light of the Legal Costume Exhibition, and the judge in charge of the Chancery list at Central London. He was a member of the Inns of Court Advocacy Training Committee and the Advocacy Studies Board. At home he was churchwarden, first at Little Berkhampstead for 15 years and then at Ashwell for 7, a very fine Christian commitment to the local community, proof that if you want anything done ask a busy man.

In the late 1960s one might well have regarded Roger as a confirmed bachelor of serious academic bent. One would have been wrong about the bachelor part. His life as a devoted husband of Hilary and father to 4 children James, Elizabeth, Thomas and Mary was wonderfully happy; he had great love for his family. When his children were quite young he once told me: “With small children around you become well practised in resolving disputed issues of fact.” No doubt it made him the fine judge that he was. Later he told me that when as a bachelor he was drafting an affidavit in wardship proceedings he would, with his later practical experience as a father, have drafted fewer paragraphs on the subject of nappy rash.

Quite remarkable was his detailed knowledge of practically all aspects of history, geography, warfare, cathedrals, and most other subjects. If at lunchtime at Central London any of us wanted to know where Edward III was buried, or who was in line for LCJ at the time of the General Strike, or which French Cathedral is built of small bricks, we used to ask Roger, and there would follow an answer more than sufficient to satisfy our curiosity and far more entertainingly told than we thought our innocent question could ever deserve.

Even in retirement he was very active. His profound knowledge of both history and law enabled him to write the most acute analysis of the court martial of Admiral Byng, shot in 1757 “pour encourager les autres” as Voltaire said. He understood the thinking of the 18th century, and where appropriate he contrasted it but never muddled it with that of the 21st century. He kindly gave me advice about retirement, telling me he had attended adult education classes in digital photography, Spanish conversation, the political history of Russia, earthquakes and volcanoes – “this was very good indeed” – the solar system and Florence in the 15th century.

Roger was a superb cook (lower case, without an “e”) as indeed also is his dear wife Hilary, as I can testify both from having shared a flat with him in his single days and also from having enjoyed their generous hospitality in their successive homes, where they laboured to fine effect in the garden and the kitchen, both jointly and severally. If ever in their kitchen they displayed any maxims of the law, then “Equity leans against double portions” was more honoured in the breach than the observance when it came to entertaining their guests, and the more appropriate would have been “The Law does not care for small trifles”.

His last illness was so cruel, and he faced it with great fortitude. In its early stages he told me over the phone that he planned to do things as before “because you never know where the illness will take you next.” It was very distressing to learn at one stage that he could no longer write. Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, reminds us all: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” Those years drew nigh for Roger, when his only pleasure in them was the wonderful devotion of Hilary and his family. He followed Ecclesiastes in this: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

I have tried to describe a very good man and friend who will be greatly missed. I well remember him saying, so often when it was time to say good-bye, the lines only known well to those in the cast of Love’s Labour in 1967: “Allons! Allons! Sow’d cockle reap’d no corn; and justice always whirls in equal measure.” No doubt each of us will have our own special memory of Roger’s last farewell to us which makes it so appropriate that we should formally gather to remember him today, and give praise and thanks to God for His joyful gift to us of so good a husband, father, grandfather, cousin and our friend Roger.