Bigger than the Beatles

Fiona Callister meets Rex Makin, the anti-authoritarian lawyer who has become an institution in his right.

In a side street in Liverpool, just between Thorntons and Ann Summers, are the offices of E Rex Makin, self-proclaimed legend and lawyer to the masses.

On the front door is a polite but firm notice to leave prams outside, a ban which is extended to buggies and shopping trolleys, according to a receptionist who is busy licking stamps in the absence of a franking machine.

Above her, an order not to smoke is painted in large letters across the wall, while dotted around the office are faded stuffed birds straight out of Miss Havisham’s parlour.

The shabby appearance of the small office belies the fact that Rex Makin, the founding partner, is almost as much of a Liverpool institution as the Beatles or legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankley.

You would be hard pressed to find a solicitor who is better known, although he is far from universally loved. One lawyer says members of his firm in the city describe him as being about as popular as Slobodan Milosevic.

The feeling appears to be mutual – Makin is initially reluctant to give an interview to The Lawyer, on the grounds that he does not like lawyers.

Various scurrilous tales about his personal life have passed into Liverpool folklore, growing in detail and scandal over the years. Most people in the city would know who he is and probably recognise his Bentley, with its personalised numberplate.

Many of Liverpool’s favourite children have passed through his city centre doors – a fact which he is not slow in mentioning.

“I have represented nearly all well known names on the way up – Tarbuck, Gerry Marsden, Freddie Starr, Brian Epstein. I could have been in on the Beatles – thank God I wasn’t.” He reels off the names with an assurance that suggests he has recited them a few times before.

In the Beatles’ early days, he says he was asked to write a contract for them, but turned it down because he had a young family taking up his time.

“If I had wanted to be enthusiastic about them I would have ridden along with Brian; I am glad I didn’t. Look what happened, a catalogue of disasters – poor Brian died a premature death, John Lennon was assasinated, George, well he seems to be a mixed up mystic, Ringo has had alcohol problems and Paul McCartney has been very successful in his professional life, but is he a happy man?”

As for Bill Shankley – probably even more of a legend in Liverpool than the Beatles – he was a client who never expected to be sent a bill, Makin remembers.

It is not just names that are dropped during the interview. Makin makes sure he has time before I leave to show me BBC’s Watchdog presenter Anne Robinson’s home phone number on his electronic organiser. They met when she gave him a lift to the station after Epstein’s funeral, a journey, he says, that made her career – it was Makin who gave Robinson the story that led to her job on the Daily Mail, he claims.

This year marks Makin’s 50th anniversary in a profession he says he never wanted to join.

“All my cousins went into the medical profession and my father wanted me to have a professional qualification. I didn’t want to become a lawyer, but if I was going to be one I wanted to go to the Bar.

“But my father quoted the saying of the late Marquis of Reading: ‘The Bar is all bed and no roses or all roses and no bed.’

“He said I would starve – those were the days before legal aid. He said ‘Become a solicitor, conveyancing is money for jam, you will always make a living’.”

Makin claims he has not enjoyed his professional life, saying he has merely “been usefully and remuneratively occupied”, performing a “useful function for clients”. Slipping into the stereotypical voice of an anti-authoritarian liverpudlian, he launches into a tirade against his profession’s institutions.

“Justice is only open to all if there’s a conditional fee arrangement, which this Lord Chancellor is obsessed with.

“One would have expected the obsession with courts paying for themselves from the most encrusted Tory, not from the so-called liberal Labour administration.”

He rails against the “outrageous” rise in court fees, claiming that clients do not get value for money, in the manner of a curmudgeonly old uncle who airs the same grievance at every family outing.

As for the Law Society, such is the family dislike of it that his son Robin, who works in the firm, has refused membership, and Rex, although a member, has never attended local meetings.

“I have always been anti-establishment. I think the Law Society has done the profession a disservice.

“Recently it has taken steps to show that it does not really represent practitioners. When I started in the profession, the members of the Law Society were grandees – with the progression of time they are lucky if they get people of eminence to serve.

“We think the Law Society should be a trade union. It represents those on the make in one way or another, who like their drinkie-poos and to suck up to the judges – sucking up to the establishment and looking for self-promotion.”

His father also warned him against a career in journalism. But 44 years later Makin began a weekly column, Makin his point, in the Liverpool Echo. The pieces often skate close to the edge of libel laws, with the legal system receiving the majority of his abuse. He is a natural gossip and knows about the lives and loves of the Echo staff and community figures, often before their colleagues.

“I really am reverting back to what I wanted to do. I would have liked to have gone into the management side of journalism. When I look at people like David Montgomery, I think I could have done better.

“To write when you wanted to would have been delightful,” he says. “Naturally I would have wanted to manage The Times.”

Makin complains that he has given far too many interviews in his time. One that sticks in his mind is with The Observer, for which the reporter turned up wearing leggings, much to his disgust. That may be true, but as well as a fine talent for name-dropping and a nice turn in sound bites, Makin knows how to play the interview game.

Before beginning his rant against his profession, he makes sure my tape recorder is running. He does not want me or you to miss any of his precious words.

While Makin – with his Echo column – has probably the best marketing opportunity available in Liverpool, he is vehemently against advertising in the profession.

“The abolition of legal aid, insofar as it is proposed, is going to leave the country as a nation of ambulance chasers. That’s also due to the Law Society having abolished the rule with regards to advertising. In the Liverpool Echo every night you will see no fewer that seven solicitors offering their wares, touting for business. Some of those firms we have sued for negligence.”

He may find advertising abhorrent and he may reject the networking circuit of the Law Society, but Makin certainly does not shy away from publicity. He sponsors a chair at John Moores University and an annual lecture on good citizenship named after his mother, which recently attracted Home Secretary Jack Straw as a speaker.

“I do not relish my high profile. It can be be quite embarrassing when you walk through a street and you are familiarly or otherwise saluted.

“I was quite entertained last week when Jack Straw gave a lecture in memory of my mother and was introduced to me. He said: “Oh yes, the legendary Rex Makin.” It made me feel quite antiquated, but it is quite heart warming to be told that by the Home Secretary. I don’t know how to take it really.

“It is one thing being a legend, to live up to the legend is another. People expect too much – I get all the cranks in creation who think I can wave a magic wand.”

Makin is now in his seventies but he relishes his role as a legend and has no plans to hand the keys over to his son. “I will retire when my health gives out. Thank goodness I have been in reasonably good health, although I have had a couple of colds this year with another one coming.

“If I retired I would die of boredom,” he says. “Although I don’t work a five and a half day week now, I work a five day week – that’s why I have got time to give interviews to charming ladies from the press.”
Rex Makin
E Rex Makin