Arnold Abraham Goodman, Baron Goodman, CH, QC,
(21 August 1913 – 12 May 1995) was a British lawyer and political advisor.

Arnold Abraham Goodman, Baron Goodman

Arnold Abraham Goodman, Baron Goodman

Lord Goodman was educated at University College London and Downing College, Cambridge. He became a leading London lawyer as Senior Partner in the law firm Goodman, Derrick & Co (now Goodman Derrick LLP). He was solicitor and advisor to politicians such as Harold Wilson.
Goodman was chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1965 until 1972, succeeded by Lord Gibson. As chair of the Arts Council, Goodman managed the organisation’s ‘golden age’ with the establishing of the South Bank Centre and adoption of the only UK government bill for the Arts while the Council began regular funding for a number of galleries and theatre companies in the English regions. He was also Chairman of British Lion Films, the Committee of Inquiry into Charity Law, the Committee on London Orchestras, the Housing Corporation, the National Building Agency, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association, and The Observer Trust, as well as being Director of the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a member of the Planning Committee for the Open University and President of the Theatrical Advisory Committee. He was a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art. He was also a founder and patron of the Next Century Foundation.
Later in his career, Lord Goodman was Master of University College, Oxford, succeeding Lord Redcliffe-Maud in 1976. He retired from the post in 1986 and died from pneumonia on 12 May 1995. Harold Wilson (by then Lord Wilson of Rievaulx), Honorary Fellow of University College since 1963, died only twelve days later on 24 May.

He was created a life peer as Baron Goodman, of the City of Westminster in 1965 and Companion of Honour in 1972.


In an obituary in the telegraph, the following appeared:- “The Lord Goodman, who has died aged 81, was a brilliant solicitor and for many years the Establishment’s chief mediator and fixer; he never held elective office, but few in Britain wielded more influence.

When Harold Wilson was Prime Minister he would summon Arnold Goodman to Downing Street at least once a fortnight. “He would use me,” Goodman remembered, “as the wall of a fives court against whom he could bang the ball.”

Goodman never became a member of the Labour Party, and had almost as much contempt for Socialist egalitarianism as he did for Conservative materialism. This even-handed sense of superiority left him free to serve governments of both Left and Right.

In 1968 he helped to establish a basis for a meeting between Wilson and Ian Smith aboard Fearless. The talks broke down. “I am sufficiently egotistical,” Goodman later wrote, “to believe that one of the reasons they failed was that I was not present.”

Three years later, working for Edward Heath, he achieved an agreement with Smith which many of his Labour friends regarded as a betrayal of the black majority in Rhodesia, and which was overwhelmingly rejected when that majority was consulted by the Pearce Commission. Goodman declared that he had been betrayed by bad Foreign Office advice.

When the Camp David negotiations over the Middle East reached deadlock in 1978 Goodman was summoned to Paris to parley with President Sadat of Egypt. When the Prince of Wales experienced matrimonial difficulties Lord Goodman was on hand to advise him.

From 1965, when he was appointed chairman of the Arts Council, important posts in newspapers, theatre, cinema and academia fell like ripe plums into Goodman’s lap.

“Chairman of almost everything,” as he was once described, Goodman was a consummate man of business, even if the struggle to keep up with all his responsibilities meant that he became known prematurely as “the late Lord Goodman”.

The story goes that he once chaired a committee of 12 which voted unanimously for a measure he opposed. “Twelve to nil,” declared Goodman. “We seem to have deadlock.” The decision went his way.

In 1965, on Wilson’s recommendation, he was created a life peer as Baron Goodman; in 1972, on Heath’s, he was appointed Companion of Honour. Honoured by both major parties, Goodman had achieved an unassailable position in the councils of the great and the good. George Wigg thought him “saint-like”.

Goodman intensely disliked publicity and made a virtue of his elusiveness: “No sensible decisions,” he said, “are made under the searching light of inquisitive scrutiny.”

He saw himself as the man of justice sent to reconcile the quarrels of the passionate and the prejudiced. His technique was to be elaborately conciliatory to each side in turn until the point at issue became suffused by the sweet light of reason.

The musicians’ strike which threatened to keep the Proms off the air in 1980 was one of many disagreements he resolved. As chairman of the Observer Goodman contrived to negotiate a 25 per cent reduction in printing staff in 1975; the next year he helped to secure the ownership of the paper for Atlantic Richfield. He once turned down a candidate for the editorship by saying:

“I have always wanted to be a dancer with the Bolshoi. I know I could do it. I know I’d be good at it. The tragedy is that no-one else agrees with me.”

Goodman’s chief contribution to legislation was to reinforce Labour’s determination in 1964 to maintain the security of tenants by devising a formula for “fair rents”, and to suggest the appointment of rent officers to enforce them.

Behind the scenes he was instrumental in the creation of the National Theatre: in 1960 he drafted its constitution, and as a member of its board from 1968 to 1982 helped to guide it through the difficult period that followed Lord Olivier’s illness and retirement.

As Master of University College, Oxford, from 1976 to 1986, he utilised his myriad contacts to such effect that the college gained substantial new buildings and several fellowships.

Another instance of Goodman’s practical resource was the “Motability” scheme, under which the disabled may assign their disability allowance to buy motor-cars on advantageous terms. Besides his public services, which he usually performed without payment, he could be remarkably generous in private.

His happiest experience was his chairmanship of the Arts Council, where he formed what he called an “idyllic” partnership with Jenny Lee, his minister, with whom he helped to set up the Open University. He was rather less enamoured of Sir David Eccles, who became Arts Minister in 1970.

Under Goodman’s leadership the Arts Council created the Theatre Censorship Committee, which recommended the abolition of all censorship for a trial period of five years. Subsequently the 1968 Theatre Act established obscenity as the only grounds for prosecuting a performance.

Goodman derived much satisfaction from ladling out funds. He thought it outrageous that he should be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee, and ridiculous that the Department of Education and Science should draw up expenditure lists for the Arts Council. As he wrote in his memoirs, Tell Them I’m On My Way (1993): “My own relationship with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, made him available to me for discussions about estimates and any reductions of them.”

Goodman was prepared to stand up for his principles. He defied the legal establishment in urging an end to the demarcation between barristers and solicitors; he espoused the cause of Biafra against Harold Wilson’s Labour government; he stood out against Michael Foot’s establishment of a closed shop for journalists; and in 1975 he faced Barbara Castle’s anger when he opposed her plan to separate private health facilities from the NHS.

His independence may be attributed to the fact that Goodman’s character was already fully formed by the time he became intimate with power. Until the age of 50 his reputation had not extended beyond legal circles.

The younger of two boys, Arnold Abraham Goodman was born in north London on Aug 21 1913. His maternal grandfather had emigrated from Lithuania to Britain and set up a business supplying British textiles to the South African market. His father operated in the same area, though with less success.

The driving force of the family was Arnold’s mother, Bertha, who had been a schoolmistress in the East End; Maurice Mauerberger, her younger brother, became an industrialist in South Africa and bestowed a small income on the Goodmans.

Mrs Goodman was a passionate Zionist, and her son, though never Orthodox, always insisted that he was not English. But he did acknowledge a debt to his native land, and included Rule Britannia in his choices for Desert Island Discs.

At the local grammar school young Arnold showed a marked distaste for anything mathematical but enjoyed games, becoming an immovable opening batsman. After matriculation he moved to another school in Hampstead, from which he proceeded to University College, London, to read economics. A term of Hugh Gaitskell’s lectures persuaded him to switch to law.

Goodman combined his studies with articles arranged by his mother at Rubinstein Nash in Gray’s Inn. The firm specialised in literary and theatrical affairs, and well before he had qualified he had become an expert in copyright and libel; he took an LLM at UCL and first-class honours in his solicitor’s examinations.

He then spent two years at Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied Roman and Roman-Dutch law. He claimed to have said “Good morning” to F R Leavis (a Fellow of Downing) every day for two years without once receiving acknowledgment.

In 1935 Goodman joined Royalton Kisch at Gray’s Inn; three years later he scored a notable triumph when he helped to nail Croydon Corporation for its part in spreading a typhoid epidemic. During this period he also gave his services free at a weekly legal surgery in the Commercial Road.

As a lawyer Goodman possessed the ability to cut to the centre of the most tangled web and draw out the essential threads. He claimed that (particularly in the case of libel) he invariably advised clients not to sue.

In July 1939 Goodman enlisted in the Territorial Army and joined 48th Light Aircraft Battery, where he came under the command of the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, whom he considered “a grotesque figure”. Wheeler is reported to have described Goodman as “the greatest quartermaster-sergeant in the history of the Army”.

When the battery was ordered overseas Goodman was declared unfit on the grounds of asthma. “You are also very fat,” the doctor said. “You would be an encumbrance.” The comrades who left him behind were decimated in the Japanese invasion of Java.

Goodman, meanwhile, had been commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and posted to Southern Command HQ, where he stayed for the rest of the war. “It was there that I really got to know the human race,” he remembered, “and to like unexpected people, and to see what astonishing qualities could be found in unexplored areas.”

One of the friends he made was George Wigg, who secured him an invitation to stand for Parliament as a Labour candidate in the 1945 general election. Goodman declined; his replacement won the seat.

Demobilised as a major, he rejoined Royalton Kisch, also examining for the Law Society and lecturing at Cambridge.

On the death of Ronald Rubinstein he went back to Rubinstein Nash. Goodman was happy enough there, but those who had followed him from Royalton Kisch were not, so in 1954 with a friend from Army days he formed the firm of Goodman Derrick at Hare Court.

Commercial television was then being established, and Goodman Derrick profited from the new opportunity. Goodman helped to put together TWW, the syndicate which initially won the licence for Wales and the West; this in turn led to work for Granada.

He had always been a devotee of the cinema, and his connection with Sidney Bernstein afforded him the opportunity to work on some scripts. He specialised in dialogue for trials, and wrote the courtroom scene in The Constant Husband (1955).

Goodman also developed contacts with Labour politicians, notably Aneurin Bevan, whom he met through George Wigg. As a result he became involved in one of the most notorious post-war libel cases.

The Spectator published an article which said that on a visit to Venice Bevan, Morgan Phillips and Richard Crossman had “puzzled the Italians by their capacity to fill themselves like tanks with whisky and coffee”. Having failed to agree an acceptable form of apology with the Spectator the three Labour politicians went to court. Each came away #2,500 the richer – though in the case of Morgan Phillips, at least, the Spectator’s allegation was true.

Goodman insisted that in this instance, as in so many others, he had discouraged his clients from suing. But Crossman’s recollection differed: “Goodman and Beyfus [the QC] very much wanted to fight it [the action],” he wrote, “since they thought they could win, and win kudos.”

Crossman admitted that the risk had been “appalling” and added: “I’m sure of one thing – that Mr Goodman, whom I regard as a pleasant villain, will sleep easier in his bed tonight now that he’s got his verdict.”

In his memoirs Goodman addressed these accusations with a good deal of bluster and not much conviction. The accusation of perjury, he claimed, “comes entirely from the extreme right of the social, literary and political worlds”. Crossman was “a gentleman who took immense delight in upsetting the applecart”; it was safer to accept the statements he had made under oath.

The Spectator case consolidated Goodman’s position in Labour circles, and by the late 1950s he was advising Hugh Gaitskell on such matters as the reform of land law; later he briefed the party over the Vassall Tribunal.

After Gaitskell’s death in 1963 Goodman swiftly won the confidence of Harold Wilson. In July of the next year he was the mysterious “Mr X” who settled a dispute between commercial television companies and their technicians.

Three months later, on the day of his election as Prime Minister, Wilson telephoned Goodman for advice about the future of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soon Goodman was chairman of British Lion Films and of Charter Film Productions. From 1970 to 1976 he was chairman of the Newspaper Publishers Association. He was president of the Theatres Advisory Council, the Theatres Investment Fund and the Theatres Trust. A governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he also had the distinction of being at the same time a director of the Royal Opera House and chairman of the English National Opera.

He was impatient with some of the more outlandish operatic plots: “Nothing there that a good lawyer couldn’t solve.”

In 1972 he became the first chairman of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. In 1973 he was appointed chairman of the Housing Corporation and of the National Building Agency. From 1976 to 1991 he was deputy chairman of the British Council and from 1972 to 1985 president of the National Book League. In the 1970s Goodman headed a committee of inquiry into charity law, and in the 1980s he was chairman of the Council for Charitable Support.

He was president of the Institute of Jewish Affairs and chairman of the Union of Liberal & Progressive Synagogues, as well as of the Jewish Chronicle Trust.

Goodman was unmarried. “There is no doubt that marriage consumes a great deal of time that could be spent in advancing one’s career,” he once observed.

The Countess of Avon writes: “It might be said of Arnold Goodman that life began at 50, when he was was appointed solicitor to the Labour Party and met Gaitskell and Bevan.”

It was through Aneurin Bevan and Jenny Lee that his circle of friends and acquaintances was headily extended and he became renowned both as a most reasonable negotiator – emollient and, when necessary, steely – and as a resolute defender of artistic endeavour.

Slowly, despite his refusal to go on television, his huge frame registered with the public. He was rarely out of the press, and his unceasing speeches on the “panoply” of the law, divorce reform, censorship, obscenity, the power of shareholders and much more, built up the image of a brilliant extemporiser, London’s most wanted after-dinner speaker. The House of Lords filled up when he spoke.

His alleged authority in the corridors of power fascinated observers. Questions began to be asked about his ability to secure appointments, his role in Wilson’s patronage machine; one cleric even applied to him to be made a canon in the Church of England.

Nevertheless, Goodman did emerge as the “power behind the throne”, the principal figure of Labour’s new Establishment. He collected a close circle of friends among the industrial rich, who, like Mr Wilson, had reason to be grateful for his discreet legal services, and who periodically came up with large sums at Goodman’s prompting to save artistic treasures for Britain.

His refusal to compromise standards at the Royal Opera House by scaling down its Arts Council grants provoked demonstrations outside Covent Garden by angry supporters of “neglected” provincial theatres.

During his tenure at the Arts Council he maintained that creating a sympathetic climate in which the arts could flourish was as important as granting cash. He wanted painters, writers and musicians to feel that the Council was behind them.

In 1975 Goodman received an accolade which many believed Harold Wilson had hoped to have himself – the Mastership of University College, Oxford. This opened up a new and congenial world for him. Working on the basis that he would make himself available at once when necessary, the College found his talents made this part-time attendance eminently successful.

A determined individualist, he has been compared to Dr Johnson. This is inexact. Goodman was not noted for pithy remarks. The fascination of his conversation lay in the words. He was an indomitable talker, producing a flow of anecdotes couched in a unique vocabulary.

He was not actively religious, but he was very conscious of being Jewish and proud of it; and it had a significant bearing on his legal practice. He was essentially a man of peace, believing that few problems were incapable of solution, given patience, goodwill and a willingness to compromise. Humour was a powerful weapon in his armoury. His clarity of mind enabled him to dispose of work in a fraction of the time needed by others.

He always appeared relaxed despite the many tasks he undertook, and nothing was too much trouble for him if a friend was in difficulties – unless, which was rare, he had a moral objection to a person. He was known among his friends as “the Blessed Arnold”.”