Horace Rumpole

Created by John Mortimer
(1923-2009 )

Down those mean streets and meaner chambers a man must waddle…

Lord knows, he’s not a private eye–but I wish he were. Like Philip Marlowe, HORACE RUMPOLE is “a relatively poor man… a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks — that is, with a rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.”

And so, may I submit for your consideration, Your Honour….

That great defender of most muddled and sinful humanity…

With his jowls a-quiver…

His fondness for Wordsworth, Chateau Thames Embankment and hopeless cases…

His cheroot-puffing and claret-quaffing…

His food-bespeckled robe and raggedy wig…

And his beloved and tattered copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse clutched to his bosom…

For his oratorical outbursts…

His always entertaining jabs at the soft underbelly of hypocrisy, pomposity and upper class twits…

And for standing up for truth, justice, honour and the Golden Thread of Justice…

May I submit for inclusion, Your Honour, this most British of all lawyers…

This proud, this defiant Old Bailey Hack…

With his best gal, Hilda, She Who Must Be Obeyed, standing, NOT amused, by his side…

The one, the only…

HORACE RUMPOLE.

May there always be an England, and may there always be Horace Rumpole to see that justice be done. And thev pompous may squirm.

Your Honour, I rest my case.

* * * * *

Rumpole is, of course John Mortimer’s rotund, defiant British criminal lawyer who, as brilliantly brought to life by the late, great Australian actor Leo McKern, the star of Rumpole of the Bailey, the popular British courtroom comedy/drama that originally aired on Thames Television in 1978, and soon became popular on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing on the American Public Broadcasting Service as part of its Mystery! series.

Mortimer wrote each and every episode of the television series, as well as their subsequent novelizations. But oh what a show! Every episode, almost always built around a clever little mystery or two, poor Horace rumbled his way through his life, suffering the slings and arrows of hostile judges, office politics and the pettiness and ambitions of his co-workers, crooked coppers, annoying clients, a legal system teetering on the brink, and all the domestic bliss one man should have to endure, under the stern and disapproving eye of She Who Must Be Obeyed.

No wonder visions of plonk frequently danced through his head…

The show ran, off and on, for seventeen years, an incredible run, and inspired not just short stories, but novels and two radio series as well. It was only in 1995, with the publication of the Rumpole and the Angel of Death collection, that Mortimer began writing original Rumpole stories (ie: ones not adapted from his own TV scripts). Since then, two more collections have appeared, and an original novel, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, as well.

The pilot episode and the first two television series were adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 1980 under the title of Rumpole: The Splendours and Miseries of an Old Bailey Hack, starring Maurice Denham as Rumpole and Margot Boyd as Hilda (Denham subsequently popped up several times on the television show as Justice Gwent-Evans in Series Four and Five).

In the autumn of 2003, four new 45-minute plays were broadcast by BBC Radio starring Timothy West and Prunella Scales.

But Maurice Denham? Timothy West? Fine lads, I’m sure, but you want the real deal–Leo McKern.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mortimer wrote numerous other novels and plays, and three volumes of autobiography, but he always claimed his heart belonged to Rumpole. A former barrister himself, Mortimer drew upon both his own 36 years of experiences as an old Bailey hack, and that of his father, a blind divorce lawyer. According to his bio “Much like Rumpole, Mortimer adores good food, enjoys a bottle of claret before dinner, loves Dickens, and fights for liberal causes.”

SAY WHAT?

In 2019, it was announced that British actress Emily Mortimer, along with her sister Rosie, plan to write a new version of Rumpole, in which the claret-drinking QC is a woman. Normally this sort of reboot drives me up the wall, but I’ll let this one slide–Emily and Rosie are the daughters of Rumpole’s creator, John Mortimer. If anyone’s going to treat the character with respect, I figure it’ll be those two.

THE EVIDENCE

  • “Crime doesn’t pay, but it’s a living.”

UNDER OATH

  • “…every once in a while a character and an actor fit together so precisely that is becomes hard to imagine one without the other (Sean Connery and James Bond, Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes)…. McKern’s jowls, bulbous nose, the erratic eyebrows were made to fit the eccentric, irrepressibly snide barrister who is as “lovable as a grumpy old panda.”
    — Robert Goldberg, television critic, The Wall Street Journal
  • “Yes, I know Mortimer did lots of other things. He was a lawyer and a novelist, a gadfly and a warrior of the literary trenches, a man of letters and a bit of a rake, perhaps. But to me and millions of others he’ll always be simply the man who gave us Horace Rumpole.
    Anyone who thinks literature is somehow inherently superior on some intellectual level to television has never really watched an episode of RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY, one of the cleverest, most literate and most sustained lancings of society’s boils to ever come from the ranks of crime fiction. In ANY medium.
    That most of those scripts were eventually — and quite successfully — turned into prose stories and novels by Mortimer is practically moot.
    It’s just too bad too many American’s unease with and/or aversion to British accents and customs prevented this PBS staple from reaching a larger audience, because there have been damn few crime shows to have ever maintained the level of quality Mortimer achieved with RUMPOLE, on television and later (after the death of beloved character actor Leo McKern) in print.
    Hypocrisy, class and racial prejudice, the insufferable smugness of the powerful, the human-sized holes in the legal system, the nature of “justice,” and even the on-going tug of war between the sexes–all were pierced, time and again, by Mortimer’s scathing but somehow gentle wit.
    There was rarely any sign of mean spiritedness about the Rumpole series. For all their faults and foibles, there was an obvious, almost Wodehouse-like fondness on Mortimer’s part for Horace, Hilda, Guthrie, Old Tom et al; for all those endearingly flawed miscreants who populated the Old Bailey.
    Which is without a doubt one major reason I and countless others were drawn back again and again to that world. Sure, we could empathize and even sympathize with the various trials and tribulations, both personal and professional, of one old Bailey hack, but it was Mortimer’s genius and obvious affection for his characters that drew us back.
    Perry Mason? LA Law? Damages? The Practice? Grisham’s latest attorney-in-peril? Pheh!
    All better, smarter lawyers, perhaps, but who would you rather spend a long lunch hour at Pomeroy’s Wine Bar with?
    So please, for those of you lucky enough to have had the pleasure of having encountered Mr. Rumpole over the years, let’s all raise a glass of Chateau Thames Embankment, light up a short, smelly cigar and toast his creator, He Who Will Be Missed.”
    — Kevin Burton Smith upon learning of Mortimer’s death (January 16, 2009, The Rap Sheet)

   

TELEVISION

  • PLAY FOR TODAY | Buy this DVD
    (1975, BBC1)
    A BBC anthology series

    • “Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt” (December 16, 1975)
      Created by John Mortimer
      Written by John Mortimer
      Director: Robert Knights
      Starring Leo Mckern as HORACE RUMPOLE
      and Joyce Heron as Hilda Rumpole
      Also starring Herbert Norville
      This “lost episode” served as the pilot for the subsequent series, commissioned from John Mortimer by the BBC as part of the Play for Today anthology series.
  • RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY | Buy the complete series on DVD
    (1978-92, ITV)
    42 episodes, plus one TV movie
    Created by John Mortimer
    Written by John Mortimer
    Directors: Graham Evans, Peter Hammond, John Glenister , Bill Hays, Brian Farnham, Derek Bennett, Donald McWhinnie, Herbert Wise, James Cellan Jones, Jim Goddard, John Gorrie, Julian Amyes, Martyn Friend, Michael Simpson, Mike Vardy, Robert Knights, Robert Tronson, Rodney Bennett, Roger Bamford, Stuart Burge, Tony Smith
    Producers: Irene Shubik, Jacqueline Davies
    Starring Leo Mckern as HORACE RUMPOLE
    and Peggy Thorpe-Bates (later Marion Mathie) as Hilda Rumpole
    Also starring Peter Bowles as Guthrie Featherstone
    Julian Curry as Erskine-Brown
    Patricia Hodge as Phyllida
    Moray Watson as George Frobisher
    Richard Murdoch as Uncle Tom
    Bill Fraser as Justice Bullingham
    Rosalyn Landor as Fiona Allways
    Jonathan Coy as Henry
    Maureen Derbyshire as Diane
    Joanna Van Gysegham as Marigold Featherstone
    David Yelland as Nick Rumpole
    Abigail McKern as Liz Probert
    Robin Bailey as Judge Graves
    Peter Blythe as Samuel Ballard
    and Maurice Denham as Justice Gwent-Evans (1987-1988)

    • SERIES ONE Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Younger Generation” (April 3, 1978)
    • “Rumpole and the Alternative Society” (April 10, 1978)
    • “Rumpole and the Honourable Member” (April 17,1978)
    • “Rumpole and the Married Lady” (April 24, 1978)
    • “Rumpole and the Learned Friends” (May 1, 1978)
    • “Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade” (May 15, 1978)
    • SERIES TWO Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Man of God” (May 29, 1979)
    • “Rumpole and the Case of Identity” (June 5, 1979)
    • “Rumpole and the Show Folk” (June 12,1979)
    • “Rumpole and the Fascist Beast” (June 19,1979)
    • “Rumpole and the Course of True Love” (June 26,1979)
    • “Rumpole and the Age for Retirement” (July 3,1979)
    • SPECIAL | Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole’s Return” (December 30, 1980)
    • SERIES THREE Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Genuine Article” (October 11, 1983)
    • “Rumpole and the Golden Thread” (October 18, 1983)
    • “Rumpole and the Old Boy Net” (October 25, 1983)
    • “Rumpole and the Female of the Species” (November 1, 1983)
    • “Rumpole and the Sporting Life” (November 8, 1983)
    • “Rumpole and the Last Resort” (November 15, 1983)
    • SERIES FOUR  Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Old, Old Story” (January 19, 1987)
    • “Rumpole and the Blind Tasting” (January 26, 1987)
    • “Rumpole and the Official Secret” (February 2, 1987)
    • “Rumpole and the Judge’s Elbow” (February 9, 1987)
    • “Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim” (February 16, 1987)
    • “Rumpole’s Last Case” (February 25, 1987)
    • SERIES FIVE Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation” (November 23, 1988)
    • “Rumpole and the Barrow Boy” (November 30, 1988)
    • “Rumpole and the Age of Miracles” (December 7, 1988)
    • “Rumpole and the Tap End” (December 14, 1988)
    • “Rumpole and Portia” (December 21, 1988)
    • “Rumpole and the Quality of Life” (December 28, 1988)
    • SERIES SIX  Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole a la Carte” (October 28, 1991)
    • “Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent” (November 4, 1991)
    • “Rumpole and the Right to Silence” (November 11, 1991)
    • “Rumpole at Sea” (November 8, 1991)
    • “Rumpole and the Quacks” (November 25,1991)
    • “Rumpole for the Prosecution” (December 2, 1991)
    • SERIES SEVEN  Buy this DVD
    • “Rumpole and the Children of the Devil” (October 29,1992)
    • “Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice” (November 5, 1992)
    • “Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle” (November 12, 1992)
    • “Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Jonson” (November 19, 1992)
    • “Rumpole and the Family Pride” (November 26, 1992)
    • “Rumpole on Trial” (December 3, 1992)

RADIO

  • RUMPOLE: THE SPLENDOURS AND MISERIES OF AN OLD BAILEY HACK
    (July 21 to October 13, 1980, BBC Radio 4)
    13 episodes
    Writers: John Mortimer
    Starring Maurice Denham as HORACE RUMPOLE
    and Margot Boyd as “She Who Must Be Obeyed”

    • “Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt” (July 21, 1980)
    • “Rumpole and the Dear Departed”
    • “Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail”
    • “Rumpole and the Rotten Apple”
    • “Rumpole and the Man of God”
    • “Rumpole and the Defence of Guthrie Featherstone”
    • “Rumpole and the Show Folk”
    • “Rumpole and the Fascist Beast”
    • “Rumpole and the Case of Identity”
    • “Rumpole and the Expert Witness”
    • “Rumpole and the Course of True Love”
    • “Rumpole and the Perils of the Sea”
    • “Rumpole and the Age of Retirement” (October 13, 1980)
  • RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY
    (2003, BBC Radio 4)
    4 45-minute plays
    Starring Timothy West stars as HORACE RUMPOLE
    and Prunella Scales as “She Who Must Be Obeyed”

    • “Rumpole and the Primrose Path”
    • “Rumpole and the Scales of Justice”
    • “Rumpole and the Vanishing Juror”
    • “Rumpole Redeemed”

SHORT STORIES

  • “Rumpole and the Alternative Society” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Honourable Member” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Learned Friends” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Married Lady” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Younger Generation” (1978, Rumpole of the Bailey)
  • “Rumpole and the Age for Retirement” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Case of Identity” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Course of True Love” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Fascist Beast” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Man of God” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Showfolk” (1979, The Trials of Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Boat People” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Dear Departed” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Expert Witness” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Rotten Apple” (1981, Regina v Rumpole)
  • “Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas” (1981, Regina v Rumpole; aka “Rumpole and the Defence of Guthrie Featherstone”)
  • “Rumpole and the Female of the Species” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Genuine Article” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Golden Thread” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Last Resort” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Old Boy Net” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Sporting Life” (1983, Rumpole and the Golden Thread)
  • “Rumpole and the Winter Break” (Mid-December 1984, EQMM; also “Rumpole’s Last Case”)
  • “Rumpole and the Blind Tasting” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Judge’s Elbow” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Official Secret” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Old, Old Story” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole’s Last Case” (1987, Rumpole’s Last Case)
  • “Rumpole and Portia” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Age of Miracles” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Barrow Boy” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Chambers Party” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Quality of Life” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole and the Tap End” (1988, Rumpole and the Age of Miracles)
  • “Rumpole à la Carte” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole and the Quacks” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole and the Right to Silence” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole at Sea” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole for the Prosecution” (1990, Rumpole à la Carte)
  • “Rumpole and the Children of the Devil” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Family Pride” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Jonson” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Soothsayer” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole on Trial” (1992, Rumpole on Trial)
  • “Rumpole and the Hanging Judge” (1993, Great Tales of Crime and Detection)
  • “Hilda’s Story” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Angel of Death” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Little Boy Lost” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Model Prisoner” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Rights of Man” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Way Through the Woods” (1995, Rumpole and the Angel of Death)
  • “Rumpole and the Younger Generation” (1995; published also as separate book)
  • “Rumpole and the Nanny Society” (June 1997, EQMM)
  • “Rumpole and the Absence of Body” (September/October 1999, EQMM)
  • “Rumpole and the Actor Laddie (June 2000, EQMM)
  • “Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces” (20001, The Strand Christmas)
  • “Rumpole and the Remembrance of Things Past” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Asylum Seekers” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Camberwell Carrot” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Actor Laddie” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole Rests His Case” (2002, Rumpole Rests His Case)
  • “Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf” (2002, The Strand #9)
  • “Rumpole and the Primrose Path” (2002, The Strand; also 2003, Rumpole and the Primrose Path)
  • “Rumpole and the New Year’s Resolutions” (January 2003, EQMM)
  • “Rumpole Redeemed” (2003, Rumpole and the Primrose Path)
  • “Rumpole’s Bonfire Night” (2003, The Strand #10)
  • “Rumpole the Scales of Justice” (2003, The Strand  #11)
  • “Rumpole and Father Christmas” (2009, A Rumpole Christmas)
  • “Rumpole’s Slimmed Down Christmas” (2009, A Rumpole Christmas)
  • “Rumpole and the Christmas Break” (2009, A Rumpole Christmas)

NOVELS

COLLECTIONS

OMNIBUS EDITIONS

  • A First Rumpole Omnibus (1983) | Buy this book
    Includes Rumpole of the Bailey, The Trials of Rumpole and Rumpole’s Return
  • The Second Rumpole Omnibus (1987) | Buy this book
    Includes Rumpole for the Defense, Rumpole and the Golden Thread and Rumpole’s Last Case.
  • The Third Rumpole Omnibus (1997) | Buy this book
    Includes Rumpole and the Age of Miracles, Rumpole à la Carte and Rumpole and the Angel of Death.

THE DICK OF THE DAY

  • June 13, 2021
    The Old Bailey Hack may not be a PI, per se, Your Honour, but may I submit for your consideration the following brief…

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • “The Man Who Put Rumpole on the Case”
    By Mel Gussow (April 13, 1995, The New York Times)
  • Public Broadcast, Private Eyes
    Private Detectives from PBS’ Mystery! & Masterpiece Theatre
Brief respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with able assistance from co-counsel Paul Urbahns. I’d also like to thank Bill Slankard for banging his gavel to get justice served.

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