One day in 1959, Rex Makin, a legendary Liverpool lawyer who died late last month at 91, received a telephone call from the wealthy owner of a local furniture store. Her name was Malka Epstein, but everyone knew her as Queenie, the English translation of her Hebrew name. She was calling about her son, Brian: smart but lazy, he was kicked out of one school after another, and spent his days cruising about, trying to solicit sex. Which was a problem, because Brian was gay and homosexuality, at that time, was still illegal in England. One day, propositioning a dock worker in a public bathroom, Brian was badly beaten and robbed. To his horror, his assailant rang him up the next day, and demanded money in return for keeping quiet. Terrified, Brian turned to his mother, and Queenie turned to Makin.
It was a natural choice. Only 34, Makin was already one of the better-known legal eagles in town, an imposing sort who liked to boast that he earned his living “by the sweat of my tongue.” A few years earlier, he had successfully defended a young lad named Harold Winstanley, who, while training as a footman to Lady Derby, seized a German MP40 pistol one day that left his employer wounded and a few others dead. The prosecution demanded the noose, but Makin, thinking on his feet, issued a statement strongly denying an affair between the young man and his aristocratic employer. With the rumor mill now spinning furiously, Makin diligently argued that his client was merely insane, thus saving his life. Equally reviled and admired, Makin took an office above a notorious sex shop, had it armor-plated, and enjoyed his new moniker: Sexy Rexy. It was all very amusing to a Jewish kid whose parents emigrated from Russia and sold seamen’s trunks for a living and whose uncle was Leon Trotsky’s secretary. To such an outsider, English manners were a balloon to pop.
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