The McAlpines jealously guard their privacy. When Building sought to profile the clan in 1999, we were only able to communicate through an exchange of hand-written letters.
The family was unfailingly polite and courteous; but, as for an interview, well, that was simply out of the question. "We are fundamentally 'no comment'," Malcolm told us emphatically.

So one can only imagine how awkward it must have been for him to step into the public arena of the High Court on Tuesday, as a witness for Sir Robert, with the press hanging on his every word. Elderly and somewhat uncomfortable on the stand, he was asked to speak up by the judge several times.

Still, one might argue, it was Sir Robert that brought the case. For a clan whose only publicity comprises the occasional snippet in a Fleet Street gossip column, there had to be something bigger at stake. And, as the first couple of days of the hearing unfolded, it became clear that there was: reputation. For once, that precious commodity could not be guarded by keeping out of the spotlight, or charming clients and other business partners in the discreet surroundings of Sir William's country retreat, complete with llamas and private railway.

In one telling episode, Malcolm McAlpine cited Jarvis as an example of what can happen to "a perfectly good reputation" – proving that you don't need to be a media tart yourself to follow what happens to those who do court publicity. On Wednesday night, Jarvis was the subject of an intrusive prime-time investigation by BBC2's The Money Programme. For the McAlpines, such exposure would be a kind of death.

Given the dynastic nature of this dispute, it's odd that Malcolm is the only member of the clan to feature on the official list of witnesses. Bobby was due to appear for the defendants, but unfortunately he's just undergone a debilitating hip replacement. His surgeon submitted a letter to the court stating that even video evidence would be "inappropriate". What? A McAlpine on camera? Unthinkable – even in a courtroom.