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Rumpole of the Bailey (ITV 1978-1992, Leo McKern, Peter Bowles)

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Rumpole of the Bailey

Created by playwright John Mortimer (himself a former barrister, most famously acting for the defence in the Oz magazine trial of 1971) Rumpole of the Bailey first appeared as a one off Play For Today on the BBC in 1975. Alastair Sim was first choice for the role but was nearing the end of his career by that stage.

Despite the BBC knowing there was plenty of mileage in the character a full series didn’t emerge until 1978 and then it was on ITV. Rumpole (like Mortimer himself) only worked on Defence cases – often taking on the cause of less-than-popular defendants – small-time thieves, massage-parlor barons, and the like. There was a nice hint of mystery for most of the cases with Rumpole and his team sorting through the clues as they attempted to gain a not guilty verdict for those they defended.

Rumpole was perhaps not the finest barrister to ever defend a case in the Old Bailey — he was certainly not the best groomed — but despite his outward manner, his rumpled old hat, his smelly cigars, the accused could hardly hope for a more hard-working defense counsel.

When the theatre of the court-room was played out, Horace Rumpole returned home to his Hilda (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed), originally portrayed by Peggy Thorpe-Bates and then by Marion Mathie (Thorpe-Bates died in 1989). The change in performers brought about a change in the character as well. As played by Thorpe-Bates, Hilda, while frustrated to no end by Horace’s peculiar ways still snowed signs of caring for the old fellow. Mathie’s Hilda seems to have run out of patience for Rumpole and he for her.

Main players also included Patricia Hodge as plummy brief Phyllida Trant Erskine-Brown, 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.

The first two seasons aired in 1978 and 1979 but McKern seemed unwilling to commit to a long term run and the third season didn’t appear until 1983 with more episodes following in 1987. The series continued on and off until 1992.

Incidentally the BBC dramatised Mortimer’s stories in 1980 with Maurice Denham as Rumpole. There were more recent radio plays between 2001 and 2009. Timothy West played Rumpole in those.

production details
UK / ITV – Thames / 1×61 minute episode 1×100 minute episode 42×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 16 December 1975 (Play for Today) and 3 April 1978 – 3 December 1992

Writer: John Mortimer / Producers: Irene Shubik (Season 1), Jacqueline Davis (the rest) / Executive Producers: Lloyd Shirley, Brian Walcroft

cast
Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole
Peggy Thorpe-Bates as Hilda Rumpole (Seasons 1-3 and Special)
Marion Mathieu as Hilda Rumpole (from Season 4)
Julian Curry as Erskine-Brown
Peter Bowles as Guthrie Featherstone QC
Joanna Van Gyseghem as Marigold Featherstone
David Yelland as Nick Rumpole
Richard Murdoch as Uncle Tom
Patrica Hodge as Phyllida Trant (later Erskine-Brown)
Peter Blythe as Samuel Ballard QC
Maureen Darbyshire as Dianne
Camille Coduri as ‘Dot’ Clapton

THE EPISODES
PLAY FOR TODAY
1. RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY (61 minutes / 16 Dec 1975)

SEASON ONE 3 April – 15 May 1978
1. RUMPOLE AND THE YOUNGER GENERATION (3 Apr 1978)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY (10 Apr 1978)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE HONOURABLE MEMBER (17 Apr 1978)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE MARRIED LADY (24 Apr 1978)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE LEARNED FRIENDS (8 May 1978)
6. RUMPOLE AND THE HEAVY BRIGADE (15 May 1978)

SEASON TWO 29 May – 3 Jul 1979
1. RUMPOLE AND THE MAN OF GOD (29 May 1979)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE CASE OF IDENTITY (5 Jun 1979)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE SHOW FOLK (12 Jun 1979)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE FASCIST BEAST (19 Jun 1979)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE (26 Jun 1979)
6. RUMPOLE AND THE AGE FOR RETIREMENT (3 Jul 1979)

SPECIAL
1. RUMPOLE’S RETURN (100 minutes / 30 Dec 1980)

SEASON THREE 11 October – 15 November 1983
1. RUMPOLE AND THE GENUINE ARTICLE (11 Oct 1983)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE GOLDEN THREAD (18 Oct 1983)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE OLD BOY NET (25 Oct 1983)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES (1 Nov 1983)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE SPORTING LIFE (8 Nov 1983)
6. RUMPOLE AND THE LAST RESORT (15 Nov 1983)

SEASON FOUR 19 January – 23 February 1987
1. RUMPOLE AND THE OLD, OLD, STORY (19 Jan 1987)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE BLIND TASTING (26 Jan 1987)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE OFFICIAL SECRET (2 Feb 1987)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE JUDGE’S ELBOW (9 Feb 1987)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE BRIGHT SERAPHIM (16 Feb 1987)
6. RUMPOLE’S LAST CASE (23 Feb 1987)

SEASON FIVE 23 November – 28 December 1988
1. RUMPOLE AND THE BUBBLE REPUTATION (23 Nov 1988)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE BARROW BOY (30 Nov 1988)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE AGE OF MIRACLES (7 Dec 1988)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE TAP END (14 Dec 1988)
5. RUMPOLE AND PORTIA (21 Dec 1988)
6. RUMPOLE AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE (28 Dec 1988)

SEASON SIX 28 October – 2 December 1991
1. RUMPOLE A LA CARTE (28 Oct 1991)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE SUMMER OF DISCONTENT (4 Nov 1991)
3. RUMPOLE AT SEA (11 Nov 1991)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE RIGHT TO SILENCE (18 Nov 1991)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE QUACKS (25 Nov 1991)
6. RUMPOLE FOR THE PROSECUTION (2 Dec 1991)

SEASON SEVEN 29 October – 3 December 1992
1. RUMPOLE AND THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL (29 Oct 1992)
2. RUMPOLE AND THE MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE (5 Nov 1992)
3. RUMPOLE AND THE ETERNAL TRIANGLE (12 Nov 1992)
4. RUMPOLE AND THE REFORM OF JOBY JONSON (19 Nov 1992)
5. RUMPOLE AND THE FAMILY PRIDE (26 Nov 1992)
6. RUMPOLE ON TRIAL (3 Dec 1992)