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Leo McKern Rumpole of the Bailey Leo McKern Rumpole of the Bailey


Classic TV Revisited: Rumpole of the Bailey



Classic 70’s Legal shenanigans with the brilliant Leo McKern as gruff barrister Horace Rumpole.

Rumpole of the Bailey was a huge hit both at home and in the US. It was so well known in the States it was even mentioned during the OJ Simpson trial.

Crusty legal eagle with a weakness for cheap cigars and claret who was first sighted in 1975 and ran on and off until 1992.

Classy John Mortimer drama about eccentric and droll defence barrister Horace Rumpole played by Leo McKern.

Why was it golden?
Real-life barrister Mortimer’s scripts were humorous and spiky. McKern was magnificent as the irascible, jaded but dedicated, overweight, middle-aged lawyer.

How did it begin?
John Mortimer created Rumpole for a BBC Play For Today in 1975. It was critically acclaimed but BBC bosses unwisely refused to make it into a series. As a result Mortimer and Leo McKern took their talents to ITV. It proved a huge hit with viewers when the first series was screened in 1978. Four more series and 48 episodes followed until Rumpole hung up his wig in 1992.

How was Mrs Rumpole?
Horace Rumpole faced the scorn of his battleaxe wife Hilda – She Who Must Be Obeyed – as he was still a junior barrister at the ripe old age of 59.

Did he obey her?
Not very often. As a result Hilda – ashamed that Horace was not a judge or QC like her late father – regularly chastised him. Horace’s crime was usually drunkeness or tardiness, most often caused by his love of claret.

Who else was in it?
Peggy Thorpe-Bates was the formidable Hilda Rumpole. She sadly died in 1989 and was replaced by Marion Mathie.There was also Patricia Hodge as plummy brief Phyllida Trant, Julian Curry as the smarmy Claude Erskine-Brown and Peter Bowles as Guthrie Featherstone. Also in the cast were Robin Bailey as flint-hearted Judge Graves, Samantha Bond, Richard Murdoch and Joanna Van Gyseghem of Duty Free fame.

Rumpole of the Bailey

Did the legal profession enjoy it?
The minority of lawyers with a sense of humour saw Rumpole as a hero. He wasn’t as loved by the Establishment as he embodied many of creator John Mortimer’s liberal beliefs. Sir John’s most famous case was defending in the Oz magazine trial of 1971.

Didn’t it have strange episode titles?
Definitely. Who can forget The Great Grimsby Fish Fraud or The Penge Bungalow Murders.In Rumpole And The Alternative Society he defended a hippie and, in Rumpole And The Fascist Beast, a racist.The series was a huge US hit and was even mentioned twice during the OJ Simpson trial. One defence laywer said: “As Rumpole put it, I think we have a case of premature adjudication.”

Distinguishing features?
Wigs – Leo complained his was too prickly. Monologues, sideways glances and an off-kilter bow tie.Rumpole was never without his Oxford Book Of English Verse or Ackerman On Blood Stains.

Do say:
British TV’s best legal drama.

Don’t say:
You should have obeyed her!

Not to be confused with:
Perry Mason; Kavanagh QC; This Life; rump steak; David Bailey; pole vaulting.

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