Genial lawyer who wielded benign power in the arts

Tribute/ a household name
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The Independent Online
ARNOLD GOODMAN became a household name in 1964 when he emerged as Harold Wilson's lawyer, and the next year was made a life peer and chairman of the Arts Council. But before that he was known to a multitude of individuals, some of them his wards, as a genial solicitor who put at their disposal his wisdom of the world.

He demanded privacy for himself and was amused when asked to write his autobiography: if anyone expected revelations of life behind the scenes, they would be disappointed - a solicitor is by profession reticent.

He cared for people as individuals and he was angered if they were libelled or traduced. He therefore became a target for Private Eye and other publications from which he collected substantial sums in damages for his clients. He was a man of extreme benevolence. He knew many rich men and such was their affection for him and confidence in his judgement that they would give to causes that Goodman had at heart; and he had many.

At the Arts Council there was no doubt who made the running. It was the chairman, and because the minister for the arts, Jenny Lee, believed in him, he was the most successful chairman in its history. He brushed aside the quaking doubts of people troubled by obscenity or outraged by novelty. "No undue control," he said, "should ever be exercised over the people to whom the benefits are given."

Perhaps his most spectacular success was the establishment of English National Opera at the London Coliseum, but the last thing in his mind was to aspire to run the arts. He saw his role as midwife not mother.

He became famous as a fixer, but he was the first to admit that some people cannot be fixed, such as Ian Smith in Rhodesia or the print unions when he was chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors Association.

He was a man of the left but with a difference. He distrusted the egalitarians. He was sceptical of laws and regulations and doubted whether laws made men happier. He was a staunch believer in what Isaiah Berlin called negative freedom, the freedom of not being made to do things. He was a reformer and, unlike many reformers, wanted to reform his own profession. He lived to see, after many snubs by judges and barristers, solicitors win the right to plead in the High Court - though he still thought the paucity of women judges iniquitous.

No one ever failed to recognise him. He looked like a vast David Garrick and in character resembled Dickens's lawyer Jaggers - but a kindly Jaggers, radiating warmth, affection and even sometimes fantasy. He was a splendid raconteur of stories about the discomfiture of the stuffy and the official. He was loved by the Jewish community.

He spoke in public without a note, at great speed, with unshakeable conviction, often showing his rage at examples of folly, stupidity, ingratitude and cruelty. He was not an intellectual nor a great connoisseur of any of the arts; but he thought artists important and it was up to people such as him to help them. A remarkable character in public life has gone: and we are the poorer.