For over 60 years Arthur Davidson, who has died aged 91, had a career spanning the law, politics and the press. As a QC, he rose to the top of his profession, and as the longest-serving newspaper lawyer of his era, he had the ear of media moguls, Fleet Street editors and sports stars. He was also consulted by individual broadcasters including Des Lynam and the late Jimmy Hill.
His attractive and extrovert nature proved widely popular. Described by colleagues as a true gentleman, someone who had time for everyone, Davidson was a long-standing Labour MP, although he first lost Blackpool South in 1955 and Preston North four years later. He became MP for Accrington in Lancashire in 1966 and increased his majority after that, until 1983, when boundary changes led to the abolition of his seat. He contested the new Lancashire seat of Hyndburn, but lost after six counts and only 21 votes to the Conservative Ken Hargreaves. He had been a Minister in the Attorney General’s Department between 1974 and 1979 under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan respectively, and Shadow Attorney General in 1982.
However, Davidson’s interests were a broad church, focusing largely on politics and sport. Famous clients included Alan Shearer, Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler and Frank Bruno, who respected his knowledge and authority.
Davidson’s expertise in media law began in his time as the backbench libel lawyer on the former London Evening News, which preceded his appointment as legal director of Associated Newspapers. He took up a similar position at Mirror Group Newspapers before joining Express Newspapers. His final assignment was as Time Out’s lawyer in London, which he held until he became ill.
Davidson was the second of three children born to Russian-born carpet manufacturer Abraham and Rose, née Spiele, in Liverpool and he studied first at Liverpool College and then King George V School, Southport, where the family moved at the outbreak of the Second World War. He read law at Trinity College, Cambridge, and soon demonstrated his sporting talents. He joined the university athletics team where he won Blue and captained the athletics teams at Trinity. He also edited Granta, the university’s literary magazine. Towards the end of the war he joined the Merchant Navy and was called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1953. He became a QC in 1978. The sports he ultimately embraced included rugby, skiing and tennis.
Shortly after qualifying as a barrister in Manchester, he was briefly married to Honoria “Stevie” Nugent. Then in 1983 he married Joan Ferguson with whom he had a son, Joel. He adopted Joan’s daughter Moon.
On the political front, he had one galling moment: his solitary experience on the hustings in Blackpool in 1955, where in pouring rain he delivered his speech to just one man, who then walked away half way through it.
But while never destined to reach the top of the political tree, as Labour MP for Accrington in March, 1966, he increased Labour’s majority and held his seat for four successive general elections. Both Prime Ministers Wilson and Callaghan appointed him a junior minister during the 1970s. In the 1980 election which followed Callaghan’s resignation, Michael Foot was the successful left-wing candidate who won by a margin of ten votes in the final ballot of MPs. Foot appointed Davidson defence spokesman for the Army, which preceded his appointment as Shadow Attorney General.
One near disaster came when he moved an amendment to the armed forces bill which aimed to end the then criminality of homosexual acts. The amendment was ambiguously worded – implying that homosexuality in the armed forces should be compulsory! It was defeated by the Tory government.
After losing his Hyndburn seat to the Tories, Davidson resumed his private law practice but in 1987 he was head-hunted by Lord Rothermere to become the Daily Mail’s legal director, where he remained for three years.
He was recruited by Robert Maxwell to take up the legal challenge at Mirror Group Newspapers, a post he held from 1991 until 1993. He then worked as a legal consultant to Express Newspapers. Apart from his sports interests — he was a passionate supporter of Liverpool Football Club, enjoyed horse-racing and played tennis well into his 80s — Davidson was a jazz aficionado and loved the theatre.
Paying tribute to his wisdom and commanding presence, Stephen Bacon, former Express legal director, said Davidson had “the thickest contacts book I ever knew, all from the world of politics, law and sport.” Estranged from Joan for over 20 years, he is survived by Joel, Moon, grandchildren Shoshanna and Esme, sister Harriet and brother John.
Arthur Davidson: born November 7, 1926. Died January 16, 2018