Rumpole of the Bailey (TV Series 1978–1992) Poster


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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury
hgallon7 April 2006
It is hard to know who deserves the most credit for this courtroom series; author John Mortimer QC (a noted barrister himself), or actor Leo McKern.

Obviously, the series was written with the benefit of intimate knowledge of the English legal system, but almost every branch of it is portrayed very unflatteringly. Most Barristers are shown as smug and pompous, fencing with each other in Latin phrases while the defendant and jury look baffled; policemen are bent, solicitors are shady and judges are either more concerned with barristers' correct dress rather than the evidence, or sadistic and bigoted.

The seamier side of the profession is also shown; with prestigious barristers having to work from poky "chambers", at the mercy of clerks for their work ("briefs") and undervalued secretaries for their paperwork.

In such a world, a weary and introspective character such as Rumpole dominates the scene. McKern's booming delivery and range of facial expressions make this all too easy. The language is a delight, as Rumpole quotes Browning, Tennyson, Shakespeare at will. Some of the most hilarious scenes occur as lawyers take on their clients' personas and start arguing their cases with each other in the first person, in bars or restaurants.

Rumpole's home life with wife Hilda, "She who must be obeyed", is also shown as quite a caricature, as Hilda Rumpole is portrayed as having few interests beyond her husband's lowly position in the pecking order, and household cleaning agents.

Any one of the episodes makes good viewing.
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Played to perfection
Nicolas Martin13 September 2004
Rarely has television fit a role and an actor together as perfectly as Rumpole and Leo McKern. (A couple of other examples would be Vic Morrow in "Combat!" and Derek Jacobi in "I, Cladius".) The singular pleasure these episodes afford is watching McKern act as the mildly cynical, but resolutely libertarian, barrister. It is easy to see why McKern came to loathe playing the part since it is the ultimate case of typecasting. One can less think of McKern sans Rumpole than he can Connery sans Bond. Better to rewatch Rumpole than the colorless blather on Court TV.

The scripts and additional cast are good enough to make repeated watching of McKern worthwhile.
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One of the most enjoyable characters ever!
yossarian1002 February 2004
Rumpole, a barrister spewing poetry and thunder and husband of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, entertains with a unique style of oratory, wit, and his own particular slant on the world. In a world drowning in political correctness, Rumpole is a life saver. Rumpole is also one of my favorite of all time characters. The stories and supporting cast are refreshingly British and the entire series is an absolute delight! I'm so pleased this was finally released on dvd.
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Delightful series from the UK...
quamp19 July 2002
I think everyone can identify with the lead character Horace Rumpole. That's because he's a crafty, witty barrister surrounded by a bunch of stuffed shirts and idiots. There's Claude Erskine-Brown, the close confidant of Rumpole's who seems to stumble from one disaster to another; Phylida "Portia" Erskine-Brown, Claude's wife and about a third of his source of problems; Judge Gutherie Featherstone, a rather hapless man who gets caught up in a sex scandal right as he's trying to decide on a case in that matter; junior clark Liz Probert, played wonderfully by Leo's daughter Abigail McKern; the hapless Timson clan, who Rumpole constantly rescues from trouble despite their antics, and most of all, we should not forget "She who must be obeyed" - Hilda Rumpole. The cast was a superb choice and the writing was excellent. What was sad about this series is its ending - it's the kind of thing you don't want to end.
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Unforgettable, Unique, Undefeated!
Wayner501 November 2006
"Rumpole of the Bailey" is the subject of a great series of books by John Mortimer, and most have been made into episodes of this terrific TV series. No one but the great Leo McKern could possibly be Horace Rumpole, henpecked husband, dedicated barrister, brilliant examiner, seeker of truth, clever investigator, tweaker of authority, and I hope I didn't leave anything out, the man you'd want defending you in Her Majesty's courts. The shows almost invariably start with Rumpole's introduction to his hopeless client. Rumpole gathers evidence to clear the unfortunate while navigating office politics, domestic crises and society's craziness. Each episode is enjoyable on its own, but try to see them in order to see how relationships begin, flourish, wither and end or continue to grow stronger. Leo McKern is perfect as the quick-witted Rumpole and he's well supported by the rest of the cast who appear in varying numbers of shows. Of course, each installment features an unexpected twist, which leaves Rumpole triumphant or, rarely, humbled. These exploits are great, if you think Perry Mason or Matlock are great, catch Rumpole.
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Ed11 June 2003
The late Leo McKern had the kind of identification with John Mortimer's character that occurs rarely (other examples being David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Raymond Burr as Perry Mason and probably Joan Hickson as Miss Marple.). In fact, I think the author agrees and said so more than once.

Hilda Rumpole, "she who must be obeyed", (the name comes from Rider Haggard's "She") is a perfect foil for Rumpole. (She was played by two actresses over the years, Peggy Thorpe-Bates 1978-83 and Marion Mathie from 1987-92) The other characters are also perfectly cast.

The stories are most enjoyable and are a fine basis for the series.
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ckomanduri23 January 2001
I saw 16 or so episodes of this show a long time ago, but the memories of it are enduring. While the show's tone was humorous, the legal drama was as intense and as interesting as anything on American TV. Leo McKern's Rumpole is funny and charming, but with a serious sense of vocation underneath that Falstaffian bulk. He's been sort of a hero of mine ever since. I hope PBS will re-air this series, or BBC America will air the unedited, unabridged Rumpole in the not-too-distant future.
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A superb trilogy,Mortimer,McKern & Rumpole
steve powell5 January 2010
Mortimer is such a clever writer and his creation Rumpole is a work of genius,and who better than to pull it all together than Mckern. The author always weaved in 3 stories within an episode, the case,the chambers & home life with She Who Must Be Obeyed.Every episode is worth watching and even some of the weakest bare strong comparison with any other drama. McKern is mesmerising and you cannot take your eyes off him when he is on screen.This is truly great entertainment and the supporting cast are magnificent. This series is probably the greatest of all time as courtroom drama.

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Classic British Comedic Drama
kenbarr-ny1 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Rumpole of The Bailey" is one of those classic British comedic dramas that found fertile ground on American Public TV. Shown on these shores as part of the "Masterpiece Mystery" anthology series, Rumpole brings us a crusty "Old Bailey Hack," masterfully played by Leo McKern, who plies his trade amongst the common thieves and villains that inhabit the criminal courts of Britain. He refuses to move amongst the higher class of barristers, British for trial lawyers, referring to the senior Queens Counsels (QC) as "queer customers." One should not infer any homophobia here, Rumpole is the ultimate egalitarian, all who come before the bar of justice are entitled to "the Golden Thread" of British justice, the presumption of innocence until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He encounters many characters who attempt to derail his efforts, unreasonable judges like "The Bull" and pompous heads of chambers, including the fence sitting Guthrie Featherstone QC MP, played by "To The Manor Born's" Peter Bowles and the Bible thumping prig "Soapy" Sam Ballard (also called Bollard by Rumpole), played to delicious perfection by Peter Blythe. His overly ambitious wife Hilda, known to Rumpole as "She Who Must Be Obeyed," constantly chafes at the penury that she has become accustomed to. She is particularly embarrassed by Rumpole's habits, the ash of small cigars staining his robes and his fondness for cheap wine, which he calls Château Thames Embankment. An assortment of other characters of the court give "Rumpole" the unique feel the very best programs of its genre provide. It takes its place with "Morse" (Oxford turned sideways) and programs that didn't make the trip across the pond, "Minder" and "Only Fools And Horses." The series is based on the highly successful "Rumpole of The Bailey" short stories written by John Mortimer, ironically a QC barrister before turning to a highly successful career as an author. "Rumpole" hasn't been seen on these shores in quite some time. It is overdue for a return to our screens.
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An immortal television classic character
pekinman8 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Rumpole of the Bailey is one of those television shows, like Upstairs/Downstairs, I Love Lucy, The Prisoner, and a few others that are so well written, performed and produced, all things considered, that they are beyond criticism after a certain point in time.

What keeps Rumpole of the Bailey afloat is Leo McKern's Rumpole. They are one. McKern would probably not have liked that but in the minds of the legions of Rumpole fans he is just that. He was also a great theatrical performer on the stage and big screen and his nuanced performance style is very appealing on the small screen.

This show is funny but often deep. Rumpole always triumphs but there is a deeper cost for him. He lives in the world of the street villains, like the blessed Timsons, and sees the small tragedies that occur when blind Justice delivers a particularly harsh blow on a misguided soul who made a mistake. There is a rogues gallery of justices before whom Rumpole must plead his case for the defense. Rumpole is like a mongoose baiting a cobra before there stern, unforgiving and often buffoonish natures.

McKern is ably supported by the wonderful crew in chambers and in the courtrooms. Peter Blythe is the bumbling, ineffective boob who is appointed head of chambers, and he plays this man with a solemn, empty-headed and stony-hearted ineptitude that invokes laughter and disgust at the same time. Blythe was a great comedian, a perfect straight man for McKern's rollicking and wily Rumpole. The two Hilda Rumpoles were played by Peggy Thorpe Bates and Marion Mathie. The former was a true dragon and as hilarious as she was alarming. Mathie is no less invincible in the last 3 seasons of the show and a fine comedienne as well.

Jonathan Coy's Henry, the chambers clerk, is a fine bit of subtle comic timing. Coy was present in the cast from Day One to the final episode 14 years later. You will also see young actors at the beginnings of great careers appearing here as guest stars or in bit parts.

If you are a collector of great British television of all genres this must be in your collection. If you are a Rumpole fan this must be in your collection. I bought the 2004 edition of A&E's set. The only special feature is a nice in depth interview with Abigail McKern, Leo McKern's daughter, who plays Liz Probert in the last 4 seasons. She does all the talking and is quite interesting as she reminisces about her father, who died in 2002.

The Introductions before each episode are inane little commentaries by the author John Mortimer. He looks to have one foot in the grave already and wheeled out to sit behind a desk and read off these useless prologues. After seeing one or two of them I began skipping the Introduction on the play list and starting each episode just as the credits end with the second cue on the disc. These discs are easy to use and the sound and picture quality are excellent.

This 2004 A&E set of Rumpole of the Bailey is self-recommending.
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