Friday, January 16, 2009

Rumpole's Creator Dies

British lawyer and writer John Mortimer, creator of the curmudgeonly criminal lawyer Rumpole of the Bailey, died Friday at age 85. Mortimer was both a lawyer and a writer. He published his first novel in 1947 and was best known for his character Horace Rumpole, a cigar-smoking, wine-loving barrister. He also wrote dozens of screen and stage plays and radio dramas, including the 1891 television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Mortimer was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. He was a noted raconteur and wit who "ruthlessly" used material from his own life in his writings.

He said he found writing to be far more challenging than lawyering: "No brilliance is required in law. Just common sense and relatively clean fingernails." As a lawyer he represented Penguin, the publisher of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, against obscenity charges in the 1960s. He also noted that he found the murderers he represented far easier to work with than the divorce cases: "Matrimonial clients hate each other so much and use their children to hurt each other in beastly ways. Murderers have usually killed the one person in the world that was bugging them and they're usually quite peaceful and agreeable." He adds, "People will go to endless trouble to divorce one person and then marry someone who's exactly the same, except probably a bit poorer and a bit nastier."

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