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Peter Corris, AuthorI used to entertain myself and (less so, I suspect) my friends by posing the question, ‘What three events in history would you wish to have been a witness to?’

I had a theory that the answers would provide a clue not only to their real interests but to the kinds of people they were, but it surprised me how many had trouble coming up with answers, even when given time to do so. I ruled out dubiously documented events like the loaves and fishes caper and the Resurrection.

Some people were completely stumped. I’ve forgotten most of the responses now but the Azaria Chamberlain event figured, along with the joining of the two halves of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Of course I was obliged to give my own big three (was this the egocentric object of the exercise?) and provide justifications. In chronological order my three are – the execution in 1649 of Charles Stuart, Les Darcy’s  defeat of American Jimmy Clabby at Rushcutters Bay Stadium in 1915 and the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial at the Old Bailey in 1960.

I might have shut my eyes at the moment the axe fell on the royal neck, but the reaction of the large crowd would have been fascinating. Some cried ’God save the King’, meaning Charles’s exiled son; some rushed forward to soak handkerchiefs in the blood. Like the soldiers dipping their swords in the blood, these were celebrants. And there were those who shared the king’s delusion that he was appointed by God and who sincerely felt the world would come to an end when he was executed. They were wrong; the sky did not fall in and the wintery sun came up the next day.

James Leslie ‘Les’ Darcy was probably the best boxer at his weight and well above it in the world. The world middleweight title was disputed for years following the 1910 murder of the titleholder Stanley Ketchell. Amid the promotional squabbles and confusing fight results, Jimmy Clabby had a justifiable claim to the championship, having beaten some of the other leading contenders. Darcy also had a claim to the title after beating Jeff Smith, another claimant, and others. The bout with Clabby could be seen as an elimination bout for the title.

Clabby was a powerful, skilful, experienced fighter, but he was beaten on points by 20-year-old Darcy, who was suffering from a heavy cold and fever. Darcy had beaten most of his opponents  by knockout and technical knockout. In this fight he proved not only his strength and punching power, but his boxing skill and tactical resilience. I would love to have sat or stood in the draughty, smoky barn to see it.

My interest flowed from my research into Darcy’s career, which showed him to be a more complex character than simply the ‘golden boy’ of Australian boxing. Darcy, handsome, intelligent, physically gifted, was unlucky in every other respect – in the people he dealt with, the damage he suffered and the time in which he flourished. Acclaimed as a hero, reviled as a coward and dead at 21, it is difficult not to see him as doomed from the day he pulled on a glove.

The trial of Penguin Books for publishing an obscene object, D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, would have been a joy to watch. The defence experts made bumbling policemen look like  infants struggling to cope in an adult world, and when the prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones put to the jury the rhetorical question, ‘Would you allow your wife or your servants to read it?’ the case was lost. It is unlikely that any member of the all-male jury had a servant and many no doubt had wives who read what they pleased.

The verdict ended literary censorship in Britain and for Philip Larkin, in his wonderful piece of light verse, ‘Annus Mirabilis’, it heralded the beginning of sexual intercourse … but not for him.