Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Sad Passing

One of my favorite author is John Mortimer, the creator of Horace Rumpole, aka Rumpole of the Bailey.

Unfortunately, he passed away on Friday at the age of 85.

Sir John Mortimer, CBE, QC, was began life as the son of a barrister. Although he intended to become an actor, he followed in his blind father's footsteps and was called to the bar in 1948. For the first 18 years of his practice, he concentrated mainly on work in what we Americans would calls probate and family law (divorces).

That changed, however, once Mortimer was made a silk (made a QC). He began representing people in criminal cases and eventually in civil rights cases. Although frequently misidentified as the defending barrister in the Lady Chatterly obscenity triaBlogger: Wandering Bell - Create Postl, Mortimer did defend several high profile defendants in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He successfully defended publishers John Calder and Marion Boyars for publishing Hubert Selby, Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1968. In 1977, he successfully defended Virgin Records for the use of "bollocks" in the lyrics of the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks as well as a record store manager who put up a poster for the album. Mortimer was less successful in 1971 when he defended Richard Handyside, the English publisher of The Little Red Schoolbook and in 1976 when he defended Denis Lemon of the Gay News for the publication of the poem "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name" which was charged with being blasphemous libel.

In addition to his work as a barrister, he was also a writer. His first professional work was a writer of war-time propoganda films during the Second World War. Beginning in 1955, his work was produced on BBC radio and later on stage. Although he worked steadily as a writer, perhaps his most famous creation is Horace Rumpole, the criminal defense barrister he created for his Rumpole of Bailey series.

The Times obituatry wrote of Mortimer stating,

John Mortimer never met a criminal he didn't want to rescue from what he saw as the absurd maze of the law (“Never plead guilty” he told clients), or a liberty he didn't seek to safeguard or heard a story he didn't think could be polished into a wittier anecdote.

He was a man of lively passions, many of which he managed to pursue vigorously and simultaneously (he liked to describe his typical day as “breakfast in a cell with a murderer, lunch with a judge and dinner with an actress”).

The Guardian started their simply with,

The worlds of law and literature yesterday mourned their joint hero, Sir John Mortimer, creator of the immortal Rumpole of the Bailey, the crumpled champion of the common man.

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