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Sir John Mortimer RIP - "That’s the great thing about the Law, it gets you out of the house”

Sir John Mortimer, the lawyer, author and dramatist, has died at 85. His character Rumpole, the shambolic barrister, survives, the best-loved lawyer of all time.

Sir John became a lawyer at his father's urging -

“My dear boy, have some consideration for your unfortunate wife,” Mortimer senior would advise. “You’ll be sitting around the house all day wearing a dressing-gown, brewing tea and stumped for words. You’ll be far better off in the Law. That’s the great thing about the Law, it gets you out of the house.”

So, without any great conviction, Mortimer achieved a wartime Law degree at Brasenose College, Oxford. Military service was precluded by medical examination, which established that he had appalling sight and doubtful lungs. He also appeared to be wasting away, a process which, as he remarked in later years, “now seems to have gone into reverse”.

He drew on his experiences to create Rumpole, the witty defender of the underdog. He also wrote a slew of screenplays, plays (among them, Voyage Round My Father), translations of Feydeau's comedies and autobiographies.

"Through rare gifts of energy, confidence, intelligence and wit he succeeded brilliantly in both careers." Rising at 5am to work, he regularly stopped for breakfast and a glass of champagne.

He was a Labour supporter his whole life until he became disgusted and outraged with the Labour Government's attacks on freedom -

"It was their lack of respect for freedom that got to him." (Quote from video link)


Leo McKern as Rumpole.

“Rumpole would have got me off,” one defendant told Mortimer, “why couldn’t you?”

Rumpole Rests His Case (2005) was Sir John's last book. Thank you, old darling.

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