Rumpole of the Bailey

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Rumpole of the Bailey
Caricature of Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole from the episode "Rumpole's Return"
Genre Drama
Created by John Mortimer
Starring Leo McKern
Theme music composer Joseph Horovitz
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 44
Running time c. 50 minute episodes
Production company(s) BBC (play)
Thames Television (series)
Distributor FremantleMedia (since 2002)
Original network BBC 1 (play)
ITV (series)
Picture format 4:3 PAL 576i
Original release 17 December 1975 (1975-12-17) – 3 December 1992 (1992-12-03)

Rumpole of the Bailey is a British television series created and written by the British writer and barrister John Mortimer. It stars Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole, an ageing London barrister who defends any and all clients. The original show has been spun off into a series of short stories, novels, and radio programmes.

Horace Rumpole[edit]

Character sketch[edit]

While certain biographical details are slightly different in the original television series and the subsequent book series, Horace Rumpole has a number of definite character traits that are constant. First and foremost, Rumpole loves the courtroom. Despite attempts by his friends and family to get him to move on to a more respectable position for his age, such as a Queen's Counsel (QC) or a Circuit Judge (referred to as Queer Customers and Circus Judges by Rumpole), he only enjoys the simple pleasure of defending his clients (who are often legal aid cases) at the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court: "the honour of being an Old Bailey Hack," as he describes his work. A devotee of Arthur Quiller-Couch's Oxford Book of English Verse, he often quotes Wordsworth (and other poets less frequently, e.g. Shakespeare). He secretly calls his wife Hilda "She Who Must Be Obeyed", a reference to the fearsome queen in the adventure novel She by H. Rider Haggard.[1]

His skill at defending his clients is legendary among the criminal classes. The Timson clan of "minor villains" (primarily thieves) regularly rely on Rumpole to get them out of their latest bit of trouble with the law. Rumpole is proud of his successful handling of the Penge Bungalow Murders "alone and without a leader" (that is, as a "junior" barrister without a QC) early in his career and of his extensive knowledge of bloodstains and typewriters. Cross-examination is one of his favourite activities, and he disdains barristers who lack either the skill or courage to ask the right questions. His courtroom zeal gets him into trouble from time to time. More than once, his investigations reveal more than his client wants him to know. Rumpole's most chancy encounters stem from arguing with judges, particularly those who seem to believe that being on trial implies guilt or that the police are infallible.

Rumpole enjoys smoking inexpensive cigars (cheroots), drinking cheap red wine (claret), and indulging in a diet of fried foods, overboiled vegetables, cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, and steak and kidney pudding. Every day he visits "Pomeroy's",[2] a wine bar on Fleet Street within walking distance of the Old Bailey and his chambers at Equity Court, and at which he contributes regularly to an ever-increasing bar tab by purchasing glasses of red wine of a questionable quality, to which he refers as either "Cooking Claret", "Pomeroy's Plonk", "Pomeroy's Very Ordinary", "Chateau Thames Embankment", or "Chateau Fleet Street". (The last two terms are particularly derogatory: the subterranean Fleet river, which flows below Farringdon Street in a culvert and crosses under one end of Fleet Street at Ludgate Circus, served as the main sewer of Victorian London,[3] while the Thames Embankment in central London was a reclamation of marshy land which, until the 1860s, was notably polluted.) His cigar smoking is often the subject of debate within his chambers. His peers sometimes criticise his attire, noting his old hat, imperfectly aligned clothes, cigar ash trailing down his waistcoat and faded barrister's wig, "bought second hand from a former Chief Justice of Tonga" (or the Windward Islands: Rumpole is occasionally an unreliable narrator).

Despite his affection for the criminal classes, Rumpole's character is marked by a firm set of ethics. He is a staunch believer in the presumption of innocence, the "Golden Thread of British Justice". He often reinforces this by proclaiming that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent to be convicted (basically Blackstone's formulation).

Accordingly, Rumpole's credo is "I never plead guilty",[1] although he has qualified that credo by stating on several occasions that he is morally bound to enter a guilty plea if he knows for a fact that the defendant is actually guilty of the crime of which he/she is accused. (In fact, he enters a plea of guilty on behalf of his clients in "Rumpole's Last Case".) However, if there is any doubt whatsoever in Rumpole's mind about the facts surrounding the commission of the crime – even if the defendant has personally confessed to the deed (having stated, and proved, on one occasion that "there is no piece of evidence more unreliable than a confession!") – Rumpole feels equally honour-bound to enter a plea of "not guilty" and offer the best defence possible. Rumpole's "never plead guilty" credo also prevents him from making deals that involve pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Rumpole also refuses to prosecute, feeling it more necessary to defend the accused than to work to imprison them. (There was one exception where Rumpole took on a private prosecution, working for a private citizen rather than for the crown, but he proved that the defendant was innocent and then reaffirmed, "from now on, Rumpole only defends".)

Some of Rumpole's clients feel that things would have been better for them if they had been found guilty and resent him for getting them off.[4]

Mortimer's 2009 obituary in The Daily Telegraph confirmed that Rumpole was, in part, based on a chance meeting in court with James Burge QC:

In the early 1970s Mortimer was appearing for some football hooligans when James Burge, with whom he was sharing the defence, told him: "I’m really an anarchist at heart, but I don’t think even my darling old Prince Peter Kropotkin would have approved of this lot." "And there," Mortimer realised, "I had Rumpole."[5]

Biographical information[edit]


In the television series, where Rumpole first appeared, there is some consistency with regard to Rumpole's backstory. The original play is set in 1974, and Rumpole states that he is 64 years old, suggesting a birthdate of 1910 (although Leo McKern, the actor who played Rumpole, was born in 1920). Rumpole's Oxford Book of English Verse is inscribed "Horace Rumpole, Little Wicks School 1923. Cursed be he who steals this book," (Series 4 – 1987); he bought his barrister's wig in 1932; first appeared in court in 1937; first met Hilda on 14 August 1938; served in the RAF Ground Staff in WWII; married Hilda in approximately 1944; won the Penge Bungalow Murder case in 1947; and had his son Nick in 1951. The series itself takes place between 1967 and 1992, when Rumpole is getting on in years.


Within the context of the books, facts are harder to pin down. He mentions buying his wig in 1932, and another time to proposing to Hilda in 1938, and is "sixty-eight next birthday" at the publishing of the first book in 1978. As well, in Rumpole and the Fascist Beast it is mentioned that Rumpole was born sometime before the outbreak of World War I. These last two pieces of information would indicate a birth year of 1911, although later books would seem to contradict this. Rumpole and the Primrose Path, for instance, appeared in 2003 and was set in the present day; however, Rumpole was not 92 but somewhere in his seventies. Nonetheless, when in Rumpole and the Primrose Path Erskine-Brown asks Rumpole what he sings to himself when he is alone, Rumpole replies, "A ballad of the war years."

In general, in the book series, it would seem that Rumpole has been frozen at an age of around 70 years old for the duration of the series, and past events in his life have been retconned in order to fit the time-frame of each specific story. Thus, in the books published in 1996 and before, he proposed to Hilda in 1938, and in books published in 2003 and after, it appears that he neither became a barrister nor met Hilda until after World War II ended in 1945. Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, containing his first unled case and his engagement to Hilda, takes place in the early 1950s, entirely inconsistent with the early stories. Since 1988, when Phyllida Erskine-Brown became a QC and Soapy Sam Ballard became Head of Chambers, the other characters seem to be similarly frozen in time. In the story Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, Rumpole was still practising in 2006, and Judge Bullingham was still in post. Or perhaps this is a different Judge Bullingham, though this is never stated explicitly. In the 1990 story Rumpole at Sea, Rumpole says of Judge Bullingham: "But now we have lost him." The prior "Mad Bull" was Judge Roger Bullingham, and this Bullingham's name is Leonard.

Rumpole attended "Linklater's" (a fictional minor public school)[6] and studied law at either Keble College[7] or the fictional "St Joseph's College", Oxford,[8] coming away with "a dubious third". He would not be eligible to be called to the Bar in England today, as a lower second is the minimum degree requirement. He was called to the bar at the "Outer Temple" (a fictional Inn of Court, named on the analogy of the Inner Temple, where John Mortimer was called, and the Middle Temple.).

Rumpole's family[edit]

Apart from the legal drama, Rumpole also has to deal with his relationships with family and friends. His wife Hilda was proud of her daddy (as she calls him), C.H. Wystan,[1] who was Rumpole's head of chambers, and pushes for Rumpole to achieve more: head of chambers, QC, judge.[9] The Rumpoles reside in a cavernous, underheated mansion flat at 25B Froxbury Mansions (sometimes called Froxbury Court), Gloucester Road, London.

Rumpole raises tensions with his American daughter-in-law Erica (Deborah Fallender) because of their differing views (such as her disapproval of his cross-examining a rape victim whom he believed to be lying).[10] His associates' dynamic social positions contrast with his relatively static one, which causes feelings between him and the others to shift over time.

Rumpole retired for a short period of time, moving to Florida to be near his son Nick, a sociology professor and now department head at the University of Miami.[11] Nick is described as "the brains of the family". As a teenager, Nick was educated at a public school, then went on to study at Oxford, and later Princeton. His academical visit to Baltimore University was determinant for staying in the USA. Rumpole often says that Nick was fond of his crimes, and enjoyed his accounts of his cases and "harmless legal anecdotes". However, as Nick grew, they progressively began to fall apart, because Nick didn't understand Rumpole's attitudes towards law, criminals, judges, justice or his own family life.


Origins: Play for Today[edit]

The origins of Rumpole of the Bailey lie in "Infidelity Took Place", a Wednesday Play written by John Mortimer and broadcast by the BBC on 18 May 1968.[12] This satirical play – a comment on newly enacted English divorce laws – told the story of a happily married couple who decide to get divorced to take advantage of the more beneficial tax situation they would enjoy were they legally separated. The play features a character, Leonard Hoskins (played by John Nettleton), a divorce lawyer with a domineering mother, who can be seen as an early prototype of Horace Rumpole.[13] In the mid-1970s, Mortimer approached Play for Today producer Irene Shubik, who had overseen "Infidelity Took Place", with a new idea for a play, titled "My Darling Prince, Peter Kropotkin", that centred on a barrister called Horace Rumbold.[13] Rumbold would have a particular interest in nineteenth-century anarchists, especially the Russian Peter Kropotkin from whom the title of the play was drawn. The character's name was later changed to Horace Rumpole when it was discovered that there was a real barrister called Horace Rumbold.[14] The title of the play was briefly changed to "Jolly Old Jean Jacques Rousseau" before settling on the less esoteric "Rumpole of the Bailey".[14]

Mortimer was keen on Michael Hordern for the role of Rumpole. When Hordern proved unavailable, the part went to Australian-born actor Leo McKern.[14] Mortimer was initially unenthusiastic about McKern's casting but changed his opinion upon seeing him at rehearsal.[15] Cast as Hilda was Joyce Heron, who played the character as a much tougher individual than that later seen in the eventual series.[16] Aside from Rumpole and his family, no other characters who would eventually be series regulars were seen in the Play For Today production of Rumpole of the Bailey—with the possible exception of a fellow lawyer named George, who could be an early version of eventual series character George Frobisher. (Note that in the series, George Frobisher was played in a very different style by a different actor).

Rumpole of the Bailey made its television debut on 17 December 1975 to good reviews by the critics.[16]

The series[edit]

Aware of the potential for further stories centred on Rumpole, Irene Shubik approached the BBC's Head of Plays, Christopher Morahan, and obtained permission from him to commission a further six Rumpole of the Bailey scripts from John Mortimer.[17] However, Morahan left his post at the BBC a short time later and his successor was not interested in turning Rumpole of the Bailey into a series. At around this time, Shubik was contacted by Verity Lambert, Head of Drama at Thames Television, who was looking for ideas for an up-market drama series.[17] Impressed with Rumpole of the Bailey, Lambert offered Shubik the opportunity to bring the series to Thames. John Mortimer readily agreed, since it would mean more money, and Shubik (and Rumpole) duly left the BBC in late 1976.[18]

Rumpole of the Bailey made its Thames Television debut on 3 April 1978 in a series of six episodes. These introduced and established the supporting characters including Guthrie Featherstone (Peter Bowles), Claude Erskine-Browne (Julian Curry) and Phyllida Trant (Patricia Hodge). The role of Hilda was recast, with Peggy Thorpe-Bates taking on the part. Other than McKern, David Yelland (who played Rumpole's son Nick) was the only cast member from the BBC Play For Today who also became a regular in the series.

Rob Page's title sequence, featuring amusing caricatures of Rumpole, was inspired by the nineteenth-century cartoonist George Cruikshank, who had illustrated the works of Charles Dickens.[19] The music was composed by Joseph Horovitz, whose extensive use of the bassoon for Rumpole's theme complemented Leo McKern's portly stature and sonorous voice.[19] Mortimer continued to work as a barrister while writing the series, rising at 5:30am to write scripts before going to work at the Old Bailey.[20] The series was critically acclaimed ("Not to be missed. Leo McKern is superb as the wild and witty barrister Rumpole"[21]The Times; "I wouldn't say the BBC threw away a pearl richer than all its tribe but it has mislaid a tasty box of kippers"[21]Nancy Banks-Smith, The Guardian) and Thames quickly commissioned a second season. However, upset to see that her pay had reduced while McKern and Mortimer had received increases for the second season, Shubik's relationship with Verity Lambert deteriorated and, in the end, she quit Thames after commissioning three of the six scripts for the second season.[22] Shubik moved to Granada Television where she produced an acclaimed adaptation of Paul Scott's Staying On and set up, but did not produce, The Jewel in the Crown, the follow-up adaptation of Scott's Raj Quartet.[23] Rumpole of the Bailey continued under a new production team.

When Rumpole of the Bailey returned for its fourth series in 1987, Marion Mathie took over as Hilda when Peggy Thorpe-Bates retired because of poor health.[24]

Television series cast[edit]

In all, seven series of Rumpole of the Bailey were made from 1978 to 1992, each consisting of six episodes. A two-hour special, "Rumpole's Return", was aired in 1980, between the 2nd and 3rd series.

Rumpole and his family:

  • Horace W. Rumpole:[25] Self-described "Old Bailey hack" who defends any and all clients, and never pleads guilty. He usually defends legal aid cases, but also defends paying clients, and rarely practices in family law and civil litigation. He loves poetry, especially William Wordsworth.
  • Hilda Rumpole (Peggy Thorpe-Bates) (Series 1–3 and Special); (Marion Mathie) (Series 4–7): Also known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed". Would dearly love to see Rumpole become a QC, Head of Chambers or a Judge – none of which are honours Rumpole really wants. Played by Joyce Heron in the original BBC Play For Today.
  • Nicholas Rumpole (David Yelland) (Play for Today, plus Series 1–2); (Ian Gelder) (Special only): "The brains of the family", as Rumpole calls him, Nick and his father are especially close. Nick eventually moves to the United States (first Baltimore, then Miami) to work as a professor of sociology.

Members of Rumpole's Chambers at 3 Equity Court, London:

  • Guthrie Featherstone (Peter Bowles) (Series 1–2, Special, and as an occasional guest star in series 3–7). The well-connected if occasionally feckless Head of Chambers, he took silk and was elected to Parliament early in the series (and thus is usually mock-reverently referred to by Rumpole as "our learned Head of Chambers, Guthrie Featherstone QC, MP").
  • Samuel Ballard (Peter Blythe) (Series 3–7): Head of Chambers in later series; a very pious and priggish person, and alumnus of Marlborough College. Rumpole refers to him as "Soapy Sam" which is an allusion to a much parodied nineteenth-century Bishop of Winchester, and generally addresses him as "Bollard". Later became a judge in the ecclesiastical courts, while maintaining his role as head of chambers.
  • Phyllida (Trant) Erskine-Brown (Patricia Hodge) (Series 1–2, Special, and as an occasional guest star in series 3–7). First appeared in episode four in the first series as Erskine-Brown's pupil, Phyllida Trant. The "Portia of our Chambers", Phyllida is a strong advocate with definite opinions of her own. Usually, but not always, sides with Rumpole in Chambers matters. She eventually becomes a Q.C., then a Recorder, and then a Judge.
  • Claude Erskine-Brown (Julian Curry): Phyllida's husband, "opera buff and hopeless cross-examiner", and sometime would-be philanderer. Eventually promoted to Q.C. through Phyllida's manoeuverings (upon hearing of his promotion, Judge Graves remarked "They must be handing out silk gowns with pounds of tea nowadays!") He particularly loves the operas of Wagner, and his (and Phyllida's) children are known as Tristan and Isolde. He frowns upon Rumpole's clientele, having a largely civil practice, with an occasional criminal prosecution. However, Rumpole has helped Eskine-Brown out in important personal matters without Erskine-Brown's knowledge.
  • T.C. Rowley, better known as "Uncle Tom" (Richard Murdoch) (Series 1–6 and Special). "The oldest member of chambers, who has not had a brief as long as any of us can remember." He is usually seen happily practising his putting in the clerk's room, or offering cheerfully inappropriate comments in chambers meetings.
  • George Frobisher (Moray Watson) (Series 1–2, Special, and as an occasional guest star in Series 3–5). A sensible if somewhat stiff barrister and Rumpole's closest friend in Chambers. Later a Circuit Judge, at which point their relationship cools. A former Army officer, Frobisher becomes a Judge Advocate for the British Army in later series.
  • Percy Hoskins (Norman Ettlinger) (Series 1, Episode 1 only); (Denys Graham) (Series 3–6): A rather minor character, Hoskins seems chiefly concerned with keeping other lawyers from being admitted to Chambers, lest they take away his work. Often prefaces his arguments with the phrase "Speaking as a man with daughters..." Later promoted to a judgeship.
  • Fiona Allways (Rosalyn Landor) (Series 3 only): Originally Phyllida Erskin-Brown's pupil, Rumpole took a liking to her, mentored her, and got her admitted to Chambers. The character left chambers to get married, and was replaced by Liz Probert.
  • Liz Probert (Samantha Bond) (Series 4); Abigail McKern; Leo's daughter. (Series 5–7): An outspoken young feminist barrister in Rumpole's chambers, who describes herself as a "young radical" and is known to Rumpole as "Miz Liz". Rumpole's wife Hilda once suspected him of having an affair with Liz. Introduced in episode 2 in series 4.
  • Dave Inchcape: (Michael Grandage) (Series 5, Episode 6 only); (Christopher Milburn) (Series 6–7): A young lawyer who has a sometimes stormy relationship with Miz Liz.
  • Charles Hearthstoke: (Nicholas Gecks) (Series 4, Episodes 4, 6; Series 5, episode 4): Called "Hearthrug" by Rumpole. Another young lawyer, brought in by Ballard at least in part to streamline the operations of chambers, a move Rumpole and Henry both opposed for differing reasons. Hearthstoke woos Liz Probert during his stint in chambers, but is ultimately forced out by Rumpole. After departing, he is later tempted to return by the possibility of a romantic "adventure" with Phyllida. Rumpole's intervention prevents this.

Other Staff at 3 Equity Court, London:

  • Albert Handyside[26] (Derek Benfield) (Series 1–2 and Special): The original clerk of chambers. Fired in episode 3, he remains friendly with Rumpole and gets him the occasional case from the firm of solicitors that he joins as a clerk.
  • Henry Trench[27] (Jonathan Coy): Albert's successor as the efficient but harried clerk of chambers. Unhappily married, Henry is also an amateur dramatics enthusiast, frequently appearing in works by Noël Coward. Henry's wife is active in local politics and serves as a member of their local borough council.
  • Diane (Maureen Darbyshire) (Series 1–6 and Special): The oft-seen but rarely heard chambers secretary, and Henry's flame.
  • Dot Clapton (Camille Coduri) (Series 7): The new Chambers secretary after Diane leaves. A friendly chatterbox, especially in contrast to the quiet Diane.

Frequent courtroom allies and adversaries:

  • Mr Bernard (Edward de Souza) (Series 1); (Denis Lill) (Series 3–7): An instructing solicitor who frequently presents Rumpole with clients – often a hapless member of the Timson clan. Known to Rumpole as "Bonny Bernard".
  • His Honour Judge Roger Bullingham (Bill Fraser) (Series 1–4 and Special): "The Mad Bull", Rumpole's most notorious courtroom enemy. Noted for his intense dislike of defending barristers in general, and of Rumpole in particular.
  • Mr Justice Vosper (Donald Eccles) (Series 2): A humourless, elderly judge who is not fond of Rumpole.
  • Detective Inspector Brush (Struan Rodger) (Series 2–5): A police officer intent on seeing accused criminals put away. Rumpole is generally contemptuous of D.I. Brush and his "unreliable notebook".
  • Mr Justice Gerald Graves (Robin Bailey) (Series 4–7): Another in a long line of judges who are not fond of Rumpole's courtroom theatrics. Known privately to Rumpole as Mr. Justice Gravestone, and once referred to as Mr. Injustice Death's Head. Originally merely Judge Graves, elevated to high court status in the series 6 episode "Rumpole at Sea."
  • Mr Justice Oliver Oliphant (James Grout) (Series 6–7): A judge whose affectations of Northern bluntness and "common sense" drive Rumpole to distraction.

Others in Rumpole's life:

  • Marigold Featherstone (Joanna Van Gyseghem): Guthrie's social-climbing wife.
  • Fred Timson (Peter Childs) (Series 1–2); (John Bardon) (Series 4–7): Head of the Timson clan, a family of "minor South London villains". The Timsons, who specialise in non-violent petty theft, often turn to Rumpole to defend them from their latest brush with the law. Although many Timsons are seen through the course of the series, only Fred and Dennis (below) are series regulars.
  • Dennis Timson (Ron Pember) (Series 4–7): Another member of the Timson clan who frequently requires Rumpole's services, either for himself or for a family member.
  • Peter "Peanuts" Molloy (David Squire) (Series 1, Episode1; Series 4, Episode 6; Series 5, Episode 4): Member of the Molloy family, archrivals of the Timsons. This legume-lover has frequent run-ins with the law. Also known to date April Timson, wife of Tony Timson.
  • Jack Pomeroy (Peter Whitaker) (Series 1); (Eric Dodson) (Series 3–5): Owner of Pomeroy's Wine Bar, to which Rumpole often repairs for a glass of "Pomeroy's Plonk".
  • Keith (Peter Cartwright) (Series 2 & 5): Almost invariably referred to as "Old Keith from the Lord Chancellor's office". Has the ear of the Lord Chancellor, and is largely responsible (it seems) for determining who will be promoted to Queen's Counsel, or to judgeships.
  • Dodo Mackintosh (Ann Way) (Series 3–5): A school friend of Hilda's who is often mentioned. Barely tolerated by Rumpole, she stops by to visit the Rumpoles on several occasions. Her maiden name is Dodo Perkins.
  • F. I. G. "Fig" Newton (Jim Norton) (Series 3); (Frank Mills) (Series 5–6): Rumpole's favourite private investigator, who is usually battling a cold as he's often called on to tail suspects through the pouring rain. In his first appearance, when played by Norton, he introduces himself as Ferdinand Ian Gilmour Newton. All later appearances were by Mills, and in these appearances Rumpole refers to him as Ferdinand Isaac Gerald Newton.
  • Marguerite "Matey" Ballard (Rowena Cooper) (Series 5–7): The matron of the Old Bailey and widow of Mr Plumstead, who later becomes "Soapy Sam" Ballard's incongruously blunt wife.

Radio series cast[edit]

The BBC One Play for Today and the second television series were adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 1980 along with seven new stories. Rumpole: The Splendours and Miseries of an Old Bailey Hack starred Maurice Denham as Rumpole and Margot Boyd as Hilda.

The role of Rumpole went to Timothy West when four new 45-minute plays were broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in the autumn of 2003. Rumpole and the Primrose Path also starred West's wife Prunella Scales as Hilda. In 2009, Benedict Cumberbatch joined the cast playing the younger Rumpole.[28]

Television episodes[edit]

BBC One Play for Today (1975)

  • "Rumpole of the Bailey" (16 December 1975) (Set in 1974)
    • Later issued on DVD as "Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt"

Season 1 (1978)

  1. "Rumpole and the Younger Generation" (3 April 1978) (Set in 1967)
  2. "Rumpole and the Alternative Society" (10 April 1978) (Set in 1970)
  3. "Rumpole and the Honourable Member" (17 April 1978) (Set in 1974)
  4. "Rumpole and the Married Lady" (24 April 1978) (Set in 1975)
  5. "Rumpole and the Learned Friends" (1 May 1978) (Set in 1976)
  6. "Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade" (15 May 1978) (Set in 1977)

Season 2 (1979)

  1. "Rumpole and the Man of God" (29 May 1979)
  2. "Rumpole and the Case of Identity" (5 June 1979)
  3. "Rumpole and the Show Folk" (12 June 1979)
  4. "Rumpole and the Fascist Beast" (19 June 1979)
  5. "Rumpole and the Course of True Love" (26 June 1979)
  6. "Rumpole and the Age for Retirement" (3 July 1979)

Special (1980)

  • "Rumpole's Return" (30 December 1980)

Season 3 (1983)

  1. "Rumpole and the Genuine Article" (11 October 1983)
  2. "Rumpole and the Golden Thread" (18 October 1983)
  3. "Rumpole and the Old Boy Net" (25 October 1983)
  4. "Rumpole and the Female of the Species" (1 November 1983)
  5. "Rumpole and the Sporting Life" (8 November 1983)
  6. "Rumpole and the Last Resort" (15 November 1983)

Season 4 (1987)

  1. "Rumpole and the Old, Old Story" (19 January 1987)
  2. "Rumpole and the Blind Tasting" (26 January 1987)
  3. "Rumpole and the Official Secret" (2 February 1987)
  4. "Rumpole and the Judge's Elbow" (9 February 1987)
  5. "Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim" (16 February 1987)
  6. "Rumpole's Last Case" (25 February 1987)

Season 5 (1988)

  1. "Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation" (23 November 1988)
  2. "Rumpole and the Barrow Boy" (30 November 1988)
  3. "Rumpole and the Age of Miracles" (7 December 1988)
  4. "Rumpole and the Tap End" (14 December 1988)
  5. "Rumpole and Portia" (21 December 1988)
  6. "Rumpole and the Quality of Life" (28 December 1988)

Season 6 (1991)

  1. "Rumpole à la Carte" (28 October 1991)
  2. "Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent" (4 November 1991)
  3. "Rumpole and the Right to Silence" (11 November 1991)
  4. "Rumpole at Sea" (18 November 1991)
  5. "Rumpole and the Quacks" (25 November 1991)
  6. "Rumpole for the Prosecution" (2 December 1991)

Season 7 (1992)

  1. "Rumpole and the Children of the Devil" (29 October 1992)
  2. "Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice" (5 November 1992)
  3. "Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle" (12 November 1992)
  4. "Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Jonson" (19 November 1992)
  5. "Rumpole and the Family Pride" (26 November 1992)
  6. "Rumpole on Trial" (3 December 1992)

DVD releases[edit]

The seven seasons of the programme and the Rumpole's Return special episode are available on DVD and as part of a single DVD box set, published by Fremantle Media. The Play for Today (The Confession of Guilt) is also available on DVD, released separately by Acorn Media.

A&E Home Video released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 between 2004–2006. It was initially released in season sets then on 28 February 2006, they released Rumpole of the Bailey a 14-disc box set with all 42 episodes.

Radio episodes[edit]

Rumpole: The Splendours and Miseries of an Old Bailey Hack (1980)[edit]

Starring Maurice Denham as Horace Rumpole and Margot Boyd as Hilda Rumpole

  1. "Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt" (21 July 1980)
  2. "Rumpole and the Dear Departed" (28 July 1980)
  3. "Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail" (4 August 1980)
  4. "Rumpole and the Rotten Apple" (11 August 1980)
  5. "Rumpole and the Man of God" (18 August 1980)
  6. "Rumpole and the Defence of Guthrie Featherstone" (25 August 1980)
  7. "Rumpole and the Show Folk" (1 September 1980)
  8. "Rumpole and the Fascist Beast" (8 September 1980)
  9. "Rumpole and the Case of Identity" (15 September 1980)
  10. "Rumpole and the Expert Witness " (22 September 1980)
  11. "Rumpole and the Course of True Love" (29 September 1980)
  12. "Rumpole and the Perils of the Sea" (6 October 1980)
  13. "Rumpole and the Age of Retirement" (13 October 1980)
  • "Rumpole and the Widow Twankey" (1996)

When Rumpole takes a trip to the pantomime, he discovers all is not well behind the scenes. John Mortimer’s short story is read by Timothy West, produced by Pam Fraser Solomon and was first broadcast Christmas 1996 & repeated on BBC7 Sunday 26 December 2010.

  • "The Spirit of Christmas" (30 December 1997, BBC Radio 2) performed by Leo McKern, abridged and directed by Bob Sinfield and produced by Ken Phillips.

Desmond Barrit[edit]

  • "Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces" (25 December 2001)

Rumpole of the Bailey[edit]

Starring Timothy West as Horace Rumpole and his real-life wife Prunella Scales as Hilda


  1. "Rumpole and the Primrose Path"
  2. "Rumpole and the Scales of Justice"
  3. "Rumpole and the Vanishing Juror"
  4. "Rumpole Redeemed"


  • "Rumpole's Return" (19 and 26 July)
  1. "Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf"
  2. "Rumpole and the Right to Privacy"


  1. Truth Makes All Things Plain
  2. The Past Catches up with Us All


  1. Rumpole on Trial
  2. Going for Silk


  1. Old Unhappy Far-Off Things
  2. Alone and Without a Leader

Starring Timothy West and featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Rumpole and Jasmine Hyde as young Hilda. Rumpole and The Penge Bungalow Murders is adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman from the novel by John Mortimer.


  1. "Rumpole and the Family Pride" (9 August)
  2. "Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle" (10 August)

Starring Timothy West and featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Rumpole and Cathy Sara as young Hilda. Both episodes are adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman from the stories by John Mortimer.


  1. "Rumpole and the Man of God" (1 March)
  2. "Rumpole and the Explosive Evidence" (2 March)
  3. "Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail" (18 December)
  4. "Rumpole and the Expert Witness" (25 December)

Starring Timothy West and featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Rumpole and Jasmine Hyde as young Hilda. All four episodes are adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman from the stories by John Mortimer.


  1. "Rumpole and the Old Boy Net" (20 March)
  2. "Rumpole and the Sleeping Partners" (21 March)

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Rumpole and Jasmine Hyde as young Hilda. Both episodes are adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman from the stories by John Mortimer.


  1. "Rumpole and the Portia of our Chambers" (20 March)
  2. "Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation" (21 March)
  3. "Rumpole and the Age of Miracles" (20 March)
  4. "Rumpole and the Tap End" (21 March)

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as young Rumpole and Jasmine Hyde as young Hilda. All four episodes are adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman from the stories by John Mortimer.


  • Rumpole of the Bailey (1978) (adaptations of the first season stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Younger Generation"
    • "Rumpole and the Alternative Society"
    • "Rumpole and the Honourable Member"
    • "Rumpole and the Married Lady"
    • "Rumpole and the Learned Friends"
    • "Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade"
  • The Trials of Rumpole (1979) (adaptations of the second season stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Man of God"
    • "Rumpole and the Showfolk"
    • "Rumpole and the Fascist Beast"
    • "Rumpole and the Case of Identity"
    • "Rumpole and the Course of True Love"
    • "Rumpole and the Age for Retirement"
  • Rumpole's Return (1980) (novel; based on one-off special)
  • Rumpole for the Defence (1982) (adaptation of the BBC One Play For Today plus the seven Denham radio episodes)
    • "Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt"
    • "Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail"
    • "Rumpole and the Dear Departed"
    • "Rumpole and the Rotten Apple"
    • "Rumpole and the Expert Witness"
    • "Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas" (a.k.a. "Rumpole and the Defence of Guthrie Featherstone")
    • "Rumpole and the Boat People" (a.k.a. "Rumpole and the Perils of the Sea")
  • Rumpole and the Golden Thread (1983) (adaptations of the third season stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Genuine Article"
    • "Rumpole and the Golden Thread"
    • "Rumpole and the Old Boy Net"
    • "Rumpole and the Female of the Species"
    • "Rumpole and the Sporting Life"
    • "Rumpole and the Last Resort"
  • Rumpole's Last Case (1987) (adaptations of the fourth season stories, plus one new story)
    • "Rumpole and the Blind Tasting"
    • "Rumpole and the Old, Old Story"
    • "Rumpole and the Official Secret"
    • "Rumpole and the Judge's Elbow"
    • "Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim"
    • "Rumpole and the Winter Break" (new story)
    • "Rumpole's Last Case"
  • Rumpole and the Age of Miracles (1988) (adaptations of the fifth season stories, plus one new story)
    • "Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation"
    • "Rumpole and the Barrow Boy"
    • "Rumpole and the Age of Miracles"
    • "Rumpole and the Tap End"
    • "Rumpole and the Chambers Party" (new story)
    • "Rumpole and Portia"
    • "Rumpole and the Quality of Life"
  • Rumpole à la Carte (1990) (adaptations of the sixth season stories)
    • "Rumpole à la Carte"
    • "Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent"
    • "Rumpole and the Right to Silence"
    • "Rumpole at Sea"
    • "Rumpole and the Quacks"
    • "Rumpole for the Prosecution"
  • Rumpole on Trial (1992) (adaptations of the seventh season stories, plus one new story)
    • "Rumpole and the Children of the Devil"
    • "Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle"
    • "Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice"
    • "Rumpole and the Family Pride"
    • "Rumpole and the Soothsayer" (new story)
    • "Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Jonson"
    • "Rumpole on Trial"
  • Rumpole and the Angel of Death (1995) (new stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Model Prisoner"
    • "Rumpole and the Way Through the Woods"
    • "Hilda's Story"
    • "Rumpole and the Little Boy Lost"
    • "Rumpole and the Rights of Man"
    • "Rumpole and the Angel of Death"
  • Rumpole Rests His Case (2002) (new stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces"
    • "Rumpole and the Remembrance of Things Past"
    • "Rumpole and the Asylum Seekers"
    • "Rumpole and the Camberwell Carrot"
    • "Rumpole and the Actor Laddie"
    • "Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf"
    • "Rumpole Rests His Case"
  • Rumpole and the Primrose Path (2003) (new stories)
    • "Rumpole and the Primrose Path"
    • "Rumpole and the New Year's Resolutions"
    • "Rumpole and the Scales of Justice"
    • "Rumpole and the Right to Privacy"
    • "Rumpole and the Vanishing Juror"
    • "Rumpole Redeemed"
  • Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders (2004) (novel; new story)
  • Rumpole and the Reign of Terror (2006) (novel; new story)
  • The Anti-social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole (2007) (novel; new story) published in the USA as Rumpole Misbehaves
  • Rumpole at Christmas (2009) A collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled from a number of British and American magazines. A shorter collection of these stories was published in the USA as A Rumpole Christmas.
    • "Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces"
    • "Rumpole and the Christmas Break"
    • "Rumpole and the Boy"
    • "Rumpole and the Millennium Bug" (*)
    • "Rumpole and the Christmas Party" (*)
    • "Rumpole and Father Christmas"
    • "Rumpole and the Health Farm Murder" (**)
(*) Does not appear in A Rumpole Christmas
(**) Appears in A Rumpole Christmas as "Rumpole's Slimmed-down Christmas"


  1. ^ a b c Sharpe, Brenda J. (2002). "The Rumpolean FAQ". 
  2. ^ The statue of Fortitude and Truth flanking a recording angel above the main entrance was sculptured by Frederick William Pomeroy
  3. ^ European Sewer Safari
  4. ^ c.f. Rumpole and the barrow boy, Rumpole and the Golden Thread.
  5. ^ Daily Telegraph Obituaries (16 January 2009). "Sir John Mortimer: QC who took on liberal causes but found most fame as the creator of the fictional barrister Rumpole". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  6. ^ In the first story, it is called "Mulstead".
  7. ^ Rumpole and the Younger Generation.
  8. ^ Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail.
  9. ^ Angelini, Sergio. "Rumpole of the Bailey (1978–83, 87–92)". Screenonline. Retrieved 2007-04-16. 
  10. ^ Directed by Graham Evans, written by John Mortimer (1978-04-17). "Rumpole and the Honourable Member". Rumpole of the Bailey. 
  11. ^ Rumpole's Return (Television production). Thames Television. 1980. 
  12. ^ Shubik, Play for Today, pp. 101–2.
  13. ^ a b Shubik, Play for Today, p. 177.
  14. ^ a b c Shubik, Play for Today, p. 178.
  15. ^ Shubik, Play for Today, p. 179.
  16. ^ a b Shubik, Play for Today, p. 180.
  17. ^ a b Shubik, Play for Today, p. 182.
  18. ^ Shubik, Play for Today, p. 184.
  19. ^ a b Shubik, Play for Today, p. 187.
  20. ^ Shubik, Play for Today, p. 190.
  21. ^ a b Shubik, Play for Today, p. 195.
  22. ^ Shubik, Play for Today, pp. 198–203.
  23. ^ Vahimagi, Tise. "Irene Shubik (1935–)". Screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  24. ^ Cooper, Nick (2001-10-28). "John Mortimer". Retrieved 2007-04-16. 
  25. ^ Rumpole's monogram HWR is clearly seen on the red bag he frequently carries. It is most clearly readable in the episode "Rumpole and the Alternative Society". It is never mentioned in the television series what the W stands for.
  26. ^ Albert is called "Mr. Tree" by Henry in both his appearances in Series 1, but his last name is thereafter Handyside.
  27. ^ Henry's last name is never spoken aloud by any character, but it can be seen on a poster in the chambers office in a fourth season episode.
  28. ^ Dowell, Ben (14 March 2014). "Benedict Cumberbatch returns as young Rumpole in two new Radio 4 dramas". Radio Times. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 


External links[edit]