THE remarkable start to the legal carer of one of city’s best known solicitors features as the storyline in a first time novel by a former Worcester News journalist..

In the late 1960s, with the Vietnam War at its height, David Hallmark and a few friends decided to go on a roadtrip to celebrate passing his law exams and before he began a proper job. They set off in a long wheelbase Land Rover down the A44 to Oxford and ended up in Bangkok, Thailand.

There the young lawyer, who had never taken a case before, found himself appearing in a US Army court martial to represent a soldier accused of, among other things, pimping prostitutes and selling off military equipment on the Black Market. The extraordinary saga first appeared  as a feature in the Worcester News back in 2008, but it has now been adapted by Paul Francis as the basis of The Broken Elephant, which is published by Brewin Books at £9.95. Paul is a familiar figure on this newspaper. He has been a reporter, sub editor, deputy news editor, court correspondent, and, in the days when we had such a post, pop record reviewer. He has also been a goalkeeper.

Paul “The Cat” Francis was the regular guardian of the goal net for Berrow’s All Stars, our half decent football team of a few decades ago. With the dictum “Not even a gnat gets past The Cat” he would hurl himself around on muddy pitches on Sunday mornings. Sadly although no insects whizzed by, footballs sometimes did, usually due to the defensive frailties of his colleagues, and the All Stars were not all conquering. But enough of that, because Paul has now written his first book. He has fleshed out the bare bones of the original story, changed names, added fictional characters and turned it into a 260 page novel. David Hallmark becomes young British lawyer Matt Benson, who is given a love interest in the shape of a US Army nurse, when in reality David’s soon to be wife Margaret was travelling with him. Without giving too much away, the spine of the narrative involves David’s real life decision to go driveabout in south east Asia in 1969. Through circumstances, the newly qualified lawyer finds himself asked to appear at a US Army court martial to represent a much decorated soldier accused of a whole raft of serious offences including prostitution, drugs and theft of army equipment from bits of kit to fleets of transporter trucks.

Hence the real life David Hallmark and the fictional Matt Benson become the only English lawyer to feature in an army court martial during the Vietnam War. Although the hearing actually took place not in Vietnam, but Thailand, where the American military had its administration bases.

During his time in Thailand, David also appeared at a local Thai court for a British sailor accused of murdering a prostitute.  He managed to convince the judges the girl’s death was an accident, claiming that weak and undernourished like many of the girls on the conveyor belt sex industry which had mushroomed in the war years, she had simply died. It was a world away from an eventual return to Worcester and a career at the family law firm, arguably the city’s oldest. Paul first came across David’s Vietnam experience when the pair were working together on the local history volumes Worcester Revealed. “It was an incredible tale,” he said, “and I thought I could do something with it. But I had to open it up a lot, widen the story and create extra characters and sub plots, enough to turn it into a book.” He also took an on-line course in novel writing.

However this is by no means Paul Francis’ first stab at commercial writing. Back in the distant past he submitted scripts to TV’s police series The Bill and also Play for Today without any luck. But he was chairman of Worcester’s Swan Theatre Players, the rep company, and had two pieces performed. He has also won prizes for short story writing. It probably helped that Paul has first hand knowledge of Vietnam, because his son taught English in Hanoi for a while and he’d go over to visit. “It’s a lovely country,” he said, “but a nightmare to cross the roads because they are so busy. I soon learned the best way was to stand next to an old lady and go when she did!” After all, The Cat didn’t want to get caught napping.