29 July 1997
Oscar Beuselinck, solicitor, died on July 27 aged 77. He was born on October 10, 1919.
Through five decades, Oscar Beuselinck practised a unique brand of the law, specialising in litigation in the worlds of entertainment and the media. His colorful clientele respected his professionalism, while at the same time savouring his flamboyant, sometimes profane, approach.
The essence of his approach was always to negotiate and mediate, but if a fight proved inevitable, he was a doughty opponent. He believed in nurturing talented persons in a similar mould to himself, such as Keith Schilling, another working-class lad who started as an office boy and who went on to establish his own practice. Beuselinck's one abiding regret, however, was that he never had a practice under his own name.
He never tried to hide his humble origins. His father, a Flemish Catholic from a peasant background, was a seaman, a chef with the Union Castle line (who later served on the first convoy to Russia during the Second World War), while his mother, known as "Fighting Win", was a strong-willed Cockney whom Beuselinck credited with giving him the determination to succeed.
He was educated at his local council school, being unable to take up the grammar school scholarship he had won, because his father had not been born British. While working as a tailor's trotter after leaving school at 14, he observed young boys delivering the High Court cause list each night to legal offices in Bedford Row. He there and then decided that the law - as represented by the warm and comfortable premises that he had glimpsed - would do for him. He accordingly joined the law firm of Wright & Webb as an office boy.
Wright & Webb already acted for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, and had just started to act for the Associated British Picture Corporation. Sydney Wright, the senior partner, encouraged Beuselinck to further his education, first by qualifying as a shorthand typist, then by taking his London Chamber of Commerce exams in law.
By the age of 19 Beuselinck was a junior litigation clerk, and over the next few years he took part in several high-profile cases. He watched Sir Patrick Hastings obtain a court victory for Prince Youssoupoff when he sued MGM for libel over the film Rasputin the Mad Monk.
In 1939 Beuselinck was called up into the Army. He served in the Royal Artillery until 1943, when he joined the Intelligence Corps, working on preparations for D-Day and later on denazification.
In 1946 he rejoined his firm. He qualified as a solicitor in 1951 and was helped to set up in practice on his own by Jack Hylton, the famous bandleader and impresario. During the 1950s, Beuselinck's clients included Arthur Askey, Bud Flanagan and Oscar Loewenstein, who introduced him to John Osborne.
After Look Back in Anger had become a theatrical cause celebre, and while he was handling Osborne's divorce from Mary Ure, Beuselinck suggested that the play should be produced as a film. Thus was born Woodfall Films, with Beuselinck serving as a director along with Osborne and Tony Richardson, and all parties agreeing to defer their fees. This partnership generated some of the most acclaimed British films of the 1960s:
The Entertainer, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, A Taste of Honey, and the most commercially successful British film of the period, Tom Jones.
By the late 1960s, Beuselinck was acting for two out of the five major American studios and a host of artists. In 1970 he flew to Hollywood, along with Sean Connery's agent, to negotiate the contract for the star's return as James Bond.
In the 1970s the theatre and the film industry were gradually overtaken in his professional life by his growing involvement in defamation cases. He brought actions on behalf of Connery, Richard Harris, Willis Hall, Mia Farrow and Telly Savalas.
Having sued Private Eye for libel on behalf of Wolf Mankiewicz in the 1960s, he went on to be the magazine's principal solicitor (having represented its largest shareholder, Peter Cook, in other areas). He represented the Eye in the 1986 libel action brought against the magazine by Robert Maxwell, and was scandalised by the fact that any mention of Maxwell's reputation for dishonesty, as detailed in a famous Department of Trade Inspectors' report, was inadmissible for the purpose of mitigating damages.
However, when Maxwell grew anxious about the number of libel suits against his newspapers, he decided to try to recruit Beuselinck into his fold. This was in 1989 and Beuselinck, by then a consultant with Wright Webb Syrett, felt that he was not being adequately compensated for the amount of business he was generating. He accordingly accepted Maxwell's offer of employment - accepting a lower salary than the tycoon had proposed.
During his time at the Mirror Group, he rallied its litigation department and retained George Carman, QC, until then a stranger to libel cases, as leader in certain key court actions.
After the BBC Panorama programme about Maxwell in 1991, Beuselinck tendered his resignation, on the ground that Maxwell had become a client who would not listen to reason from his advisers. Maxwell persuaded him to stay on as a consultant, but he would not allow his opinions to be ignored. On one occasion he warned the Mirror Group directors by memo that a proposal to hive off the Holborn Circus site to another Maxwell company would effectively defraud the shareholders.
About a year after Maxwell's death in November 1992, while Beuselinck was continuing to act as a consultant for the Mirror Group, he returned to private practice as a consultant at Davenport Lyons, where he represented clients in defamation and built up what was soon acknowledged as the leading defamation practice in the country.
Beuselinck was a generous man, known for his joshing vulgarity (some of his more colourful idioms were slightly paraphrased to be put into the mouth of the central character in John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence). He was three times married and three times divorced. He blamed his obsession with work for the failure of his marriages. He is survived by a son from his first marriage and another from his second.
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