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Colin Milner Smith, QC, was born on November 2, 1936. He died of the effects of strokes and dementia on July 10, 2020, aged 83.
Judge and commercial silk who played backgammon with Roger Moore and once outscored Colin Cowdrey at cricket.
Although a high-minded and studious commercial lawyer, Colin Milner Smith, QC, derived his greatest pleasure from his sporting pursuits. While representing the producers of the James Bond films, he was particularly chuffed to play Roger Moore, 007 himself, at backgammon. He obtained even greater satisfaction through outscoring the England batsman Colin Cowdrey in the final of a cricket competition.
The demands of advocacy and, later, of a circuit judge, were not permitted to interfere with his love of games, particularly cricket. Milner Smith had followed Cowdrey to Tonbridge School and to Brasenose College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner, but had been prevented from gaining a Blue by the presence of another England cricketer in the making, Alan Smith. He was no relation but was a fellow wicketkeeper.
Hence Milner Smith played in just one first-class match, in 1958, while his namesake was taking an exam. Far from being deflated, he continued to keep wicket for a variety of clubs into his seventies. Weekends were sacrosanct: if he was not behind the stumps he was in the pavilion at Lord’s, where he knew any number of MCC members.
He outscored Cowdrey, one of England’s finest batsmen, for Old Tonbridgians in the final of the Cricketer Cup in 1972. He made 90 and Cowdrey 49 in a victory over Old Malvernians. The reward for the winners was to be flown to Epernay when the sponsors of the competition were Moët & Chandon. Milner Smith’s brother, Martin, the more gregarious of the two (obituary, April 29, 2017) drank so much champagne after another victory in 1984 that he was unable to give his speech at the celebratory lunch at Château de Saran, amusing himself by urinating into the hat of the portentous cricket writer EW Swanton, who had left it on a peg outside the dining room. Fortunately for him, his hosts did not notice as one brother stood in for the other.
Colin Milner Smith was the son of Alan Milner Smith, a lawyer who became town clerk of Lewisham in south London, and Vera (née Cannon). He grew up in Otford, Kent, and excelled at sport and academia at Tonbridge. In his two subsequent years of National Service a relaxed existence of drinking gin gimlets in Malta was followed by the grim task of being in charge of a marine landing boat during the Suez crisis, picking up injured commandos under fire. “He combined a touch of lunacy with utter charm,” his friend Ted Rose said. “Fancy electing to join the Royal Marines, then later being renowned as the most polite judge on his circuit.”
Alan Smith, who was in the same college at Oxford and who was to become chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, recalled Milner Smith as “a very nice chap” but surprisingly they never discussed the art of wicketkeeping. In his one first-class appearance, in the Parks against Sussex, Milner Smith brought off a stumping and was twice dismissed cheaply. Much of the rest of his time was spent reading history and then studying law, in which he got an upper second, and wearing a brown tailcoat in the Phoenix, believed to be the oldest of the Oxford dining clubs.
He then attended University of Chicago Law School. “My father always said it was an exciting time to be in America,” said his son, Alexander. “Kennedy had just been elected and there was a school of thought developing among lawyers which was to influence some of the president’s key advisers. By the time he returned to Britain, the Swinging Sixties had begun and my mother was part of that scene.” He met her through gatecrashing a party in Notting Hill.
Milner Smith became a circuit judge in 1991
A contemporary who became a close friend when he worked in the Middle Temple was Tony Blair’s brother, William, who is Alexander’s godfather. Several decades later, Milner Smith would be invited to Chequers. He would be predominantly a commercial silk — he met Moore through acting for Eon Productions over a dispute when a rival James Bond film, Never Say Never Again, was released in the early 1980s — before becoming a circuit judge in 1991. He wrote books concerned with the laws on gaming and betting.
Milner Smith was sensitive to any criticism in the press for being too lenient in sentencing criminals. “He would make every effort to prevent defendants from having to deal with sneaky questions,” said Alexander. “And he was prepared to be flown into the Maze in Northern Ireland to do internment without trial hearings. A lot of people didn’t want to do that.”
He could always escape to a cricket ground or to another favourite venue, Glyndebourne for the opera. As well as attending matches at Lord’s, he was a keen supporter of Kent and would watch them at Canterbury. Among the other clubs he played for was Limpsfield on the border of Kent and Surrey, for which he was to score more than 20,000 runs. He arrived late for one Limpsfield Strollers’ tour of the West Country when he was supposed to be opening the batting and was out first ball but then propped up the bar until closing time.
“Colin played both days every weekend, three if it included a bank holiday, yet still contrived to appear in court on Monday mornings, evidently in complete control of his brief. Extraordinary really,” said Rose. The only time this seemed a problem was when he was hit on the nose by a ball and was worried about his starring image. In the days before drink-driving restrictions, he would race home in his little white sports car late in the evening. “On one occasion, he took great delight in relating that the police had to admit in court that they had been unable to keep up.”
Milner Smith married, in Gray’s Inn Chapel in 1979, Moira Braybrooke, the daughter of Contessa Teresa Marcello Stopponi, who was the first public relations representative for Laura Ashley, having been taken on initially as a shop manageress. According to Laura Ashley: A Life By Design she had “style, good looks and an exotic family background”. They made their home in Wimbledon and had two children: Alexander, who became a lawyer, and Camilla, a doctor. Moira died last year.
Milner Smith and his brother were nothing if not competitive. “My father was extremely generous with his time but parsimonious by nature,” said Alexander. “If he could find a suit for £6, he would buy it. When Martin staged a party once, my father told him he had found the “champers deal of the century” and would bring this with him — only what he had in mind was not champagne but “Shampa” (Sovetskoe Shampanskoye, which was cheap sparkling wine from the Soviet Union). Generally they got on well but Martin took this very poorly. There was always a bit of needle about who was the better cricketer.”
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