Friday, January 16, 2009
R.I.P. Sir John Mortimer
Let us now gather before the polished oaken slab at Pommeroy's Wine Bar and hoist a glass of vintage Chateau Thames Embankment to Sir John Mortimer, who died today in London, aged 85.
Sir John, devotees of comic crime fiction know, was the creator of Horace Rumpole, the Shakespeare-loving barrister who happily defended crooks of all kinds, especially colorful types devoted to relieving rich people of their expensive baubles, in the courtrooms of the Old Bailey. Rumpole found good in every baddie, at least enough so that he never regretted winning a scoundrel's case.
Breathes there a mystery reader who did not watch the British television series with the inimitable Leo McKern (right) in the title role, singing grapey praises of "honest plonk" after hours before going home to She Who Must Be Obeyed?
There was quite a bit of Rumpolish shin-kicking in Sir John (left), who as a Queen's Counsel was traditionally obligated to take whatever brief might come his way and do his best for his client, innocent or guilty. Fortunately for posterity, Sir John realized that he much preferred doing the right thing for deserving clients, taking on a great many controversial free speech and human rights cases -- and winning them.
“Doing these cases,” he once wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”
Helen T. Verongos approvingly quotes this passage in her New York Times obituary today. Read it, and let us link elbows for another sweet sip of the claret of truth and hilarity.