MICHAEL WHEELER's first greeting to his friends showed immediately his feelings for them: the more personal and direct it was the greater the respect and the more he liked you. The only son of the mercurial archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, he inherited from him much of his iconoclastic irreverence for pomposity and bureaucracy. But as a Deputy High Court Judge for 15 years his judgement and the respect in which he was held totally belied this outwardly superficial attitude.
Michael Wheeler was born in 1915. He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, and Rugby, before reading law at Christ Church, Oxford. After a short spell in a solicitors' office, he was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1938. A year later Wheeler, who had joined the Territorial Army, helped his father to raise at Enfield the 48th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery. Early recruits included Lord Goodman, with whom Wheeler later had a long and happy professional association at the Bar, and Lord Lloyd. His father seems to have thought that the battery was some kind of independent feudal levy, because he commissioned Wheeler as a second lieutenant, an act which the War Office confirmed.
Wheeler commanded a regiment in Italy in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and was mentioned in dispatches. On his return to the Bar in 1946, he was appointed a member of the UK mission to sell Argentine Railways to Argentina to pay for bully beef supplied in the war. On his return he entered into practice in company law in Lincoln's Inn, having joined that Inn in 1946. He continued in practice until he retired from the Bar in 1988. He sat regularly for many years as a respected Deputy High Court Judge. A coronary in 1972, the first of many health problems, blighted his chances of appointment to the Bench.
Wheeler took silk in 1961. He was elected a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn in 1967 and became Treasurer in 1986. In that year the new Bar Council and Inns of Court Council were formed. Wheeler was heavily involved in negotiating the terms and drafting the constitutions, particularly to regulate relations between the new bodies and the Inns.
He was a keen sportsman, playing both golf and cricket for the Bar. His Chambers was one of the first to abolish the rule that a pupil at the Bar paid his master a fee. But when Keighley, who played for Yorkshire, came as a pupil, the fee was a course of lessons at Alf Gover's cricket school. Wheeler's ambition was that the Bar should beat the Barrister's Clerks in the annual match then held at the Oval, an ambition seldom achieved.
He was a loyal member of Chambers throughout his time at the Bar, supported by his wife, Sheila, a successful orthoptist, and was the head of a very happy chambers.