Magazine article The Spectator

Rumpole to the Rescue

Magazine article The Spectator

Rumpole to the Rescue

Article excerpt

Horace Rumpole must be one of the most glorious fictional comic characters of our time. He was played beautifully by the late Leo McKern on television but now Timothy West has donned his wig, so to speak, to perfection on radio. In many ways John Mortimer's creation seems to have everything: a fondness for fattening plain food, wine, a loathing of exercise, wit, humour, a nagging wife and unending possibilities in the courts.

This month I've been enjoying the series of Rumpole plays in the Afternoon Play slot on Radio Four directed by Marilyn Imrie. The supporting cast in this independently produced series was also strong. The bossy Hilda was played by West's wife Prunella Scales at her most magisterial. In Rumpole and the Vanishing Juror, Hilda demands to know if it's true that her husband hasn't been to the doctor for a check-up for some time. 'Possibly,' he replies warily. 'At my age you steer clear of the quack in case he tells you you've got something you didn't want to know about.' His idea of exercise is a short stroll to the tobacconist to buy his small cigars. Under protest, he obeys her instruction to join a health club to use its exercise bicycle.

Meanwhile, at the Old Bailey, Rumpole is defending a man on a murder charge. A religious fanatic who founded his own sect, Neville J. Skeat (David Holt) is accused of strangling a lap dancer on Hampstead Heath. Skeat had threatened the girl for working in what he regarded as a sink of iniquity. A difficult case but one knows with the Rumpole stories that, however unpleasant the defendant, he will get him off. Rumpole's solicitor, Bonny Bernard from Camberwell, first has to explain to him what a lap dancer is. In court before Mr Justice Sloper (Ian Masters), he's encouraged that one of the jurors, Marcia Brewster (Marlene Sidaway), laughs at his jokes and sarcasm, but one day she fails to turn up. During the adjournment Rumpole discovers she's looking after the dead woman's child and protecting him from the boy's father who's coming to collect him to take him to the Middle East to live with him. When he finds the boy isn't there he attempts to strangle her only for the police to rush in and arrest him. They'd been tipped off by Rumpole who had deduced that the murderer was the husband and not his client.

By the last of the series, Rumpole Redeemed, Hilda discovers that Rumpole's name has been signed in at the health club but he's not been using it. …

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