January 18, 2009


-TRIBUTE: A talent for being loved: my father, John Mortimer: Being with him made you feel better about yourself (Jeremy Mortimer, GMT 18 Jan 2009, Daily Telegraph)

He was the most stoical hypochondriac, for instance: when he had a cold, he would say that he felt like he was dying. Yet when he was actually dying, and suffering a great deal, he was extraordinarily brave.

Another example was his intolerant libertarianism. He believed passionately in people's freedom to do things, but he could also get incredibly irritated when they did things he didn't approve of.

He didn't understand the concept of patience. Attention, service, champagne – there was no time to waste. It was the same with his work. If he wasn't writing, often two or three things at once, he wasn't really living.

He also called himself an atheist for Christ. His atheism was unshakable, but he was really fascinated by religion. His religion was of a Wordsworthian and Huxleyan kind, and he had a great faith in it.

Perhaps some of those contradictions were demonstrated in my father's great ability as a lawyer to always be able to see and understand both sides of an argument.

TRIBUTE: Rumpole Creator Infused Whodunits With Levity (CHARLES McGRATH, 1/17/08, NY Times)
Rumpole, especially as embodied by Leo McKern in the many BBC television dramatizations, is a character of almost Dickensian lovableness. He’s disheveled, grumpy, henpecked (forever in thrall to the dread Hilda, “She Who Must Be Obeyed”), an enthusiastic quaffer of plonk (his favorite tipple is Château Thames Embankment) — a disreputable mess, in short, until he cross-examines a witness or addresses a jury and turns into an adversary of surpassing slyness. His legal cleverness may owe something to Mr. Mortimer’s father, a famous divorce lawyer, who once established adultery with no more evidence than a pair of footprints upside down on the dashboard of an Austin Seven.

Over the years Rumpole never altered or developed much, if at all, and the plots were sometimes stretched pretty thin, but Mr. Mortimer never wearied of his creation, and the stories were always reliably and reassuringly entertaining. At their best, they combine the whodunit satisfaction of Arthur Conan Doyle, say, with some of the comic fizz of P. G. Wodehouse.

Rumpole was something of an alter ego. Until he grew bored with the law, Mr. Mortimer was himself a barrister and a famous defender of free-speech cases, and he was at least as outspoken as Rumpole. He was a liberal who hated vegetarians, atheists and animal-rights activists. But Mr. Mortimer was a bon vivant who liked to begin the day with a glass of Champagne at 6 a.m.; a husband and doting father; and — perhaps in compensation for having been kicked out of Oxford for writing mash notes to a 17-year-old schoolboy — an enthusiastic, if unlikely, ladies’ man and bedder of actresses. He loved attention and was in many ways his own best character.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2009 8:28 AM
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