Rumpole of the Bailey

Wednesday, February 16, AD 2011


I have sometimes been known to say, especially after a fairly crazy day in the law mines, yesterday was such a day, that I practice law mainly because of the amusement that it affords me.  As long as courts, judges, attorneys, and innocent and not so innocent clients exist, vaudeville will never be dead.  I rarely have found entertainment on television to match it in dramas or comedies regarding attorneys.  Most of them tend to be bloated soap operas, a la that wretched piece of tripe from the eighties, L.A. Law, but every now and then I do find a show that is a cut above, entertaining while relaying some truth about the legal system.

Perhaps the best I have come upon is the British show Rumpole of the Bailey, which ran from 1975-1992.  Written by John Mortimer, a playwright and noted Queen’s Counsel, (a rank given to British Barristers who are considered the top of their profession),  it follows the legal misadventures of Horace Rumpole.  Rumpole is a barrister, a British attorney who represents clients in court.  A self-described “Old Bailey Hack” (The “Old Bailey” being the London criminal court.),  both fame and fortune have eluded Horace.  No judgeship for him, not even the rank of Queen’s Counsel.  (Horace refers to them dismissively as Queer Customers.)  However, Horace is a happy man.  He realizes that he is a gifted trial attorney, and that knowledge is good enough for him.  The episodes usually revolve around one case, as we see Rumpole mostly prevailing, while illustrating both his own absurdities and those of the British legal system, his clients and society at large.  John Mortimer, at least in his younger days, was a political left winger, but there are no sacred cows in Rumpole land, no matter if they moo to the left or the right.

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3 Responses to Rumpole of the Bailey

  • I’ve loved Rumpole for many a year… anyone who’s practiced crim law can empathize with his sotto voce courtroom observations, his nicknames for the various judges (“Death-head” is my favorite), and of course, his devotion to “she-who-must-be-obeyed.”

    My children often look at me oodly when I announce that the dinner wine will be a fine Chateau James River embankment.

  • Re: “colonic irrigation.” That reminds me of a meeting last week
    with “stakeholders. I told one of my colleagues afterward. “I knew it would turn ot that way. I should have given myself an enema before we started.” We were ambushed (with the tried and true old eleventh hour memo) with a “twist” we could have answered had we received it two hours before the meeting. Now, it drags on . . . It’s their money.

    Plus, I refer to my wife as “the Warden.”

  • The catalog long ago had a sweatshirt with the words “She who must be obeyed”. I sent one to my mother on Mother’s Day.