Sunday, January 18, 2009

John Mortimer, 1923-2009

When actor Leo McKern (the man in the wig) died in 2002, I thought the crusty old barrister Horace Rumpole would not be seen again. McKern was the image of Rumpole for the BBC in Great Britain and PBS Mystery in America, but the true source of the character was the lawyer and author John Mortimer (the taller man), who was not ready to retire his creation. In fact, Mortimer, who had not written a Rumpole book for seven years, then wrote five more, which were published between 2002 and 2007. The last was Rumpole Misbehaves.

It is a mistake, however, to only think of Mortimer as the author of the Rumpole series. He had a long and successful law career, in which, like Rumpole, defended clients that other barristers declined. He also wrote novels, short stories, autobiography, and plays for stage, radio, and television, including the screenplay for the highly acclaimed BBC production of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

The BBC has written an appreciative obituary. A biography of Mortimer is evolving at Wikipedia, as over 120 edited to his page have been made in the past 48 hours. There is a lengthy bibliography there. For a deeper look, try Mortimer's autobiography Clinging to the Wreckage, which tells about his early life and career.

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