'Rumpole of the Bailey' is one of my favourite book series, and is also one of my favourite television series of all time. Spanning well over a decade, Thames television produced over 40 episodes of the crusty old barrister's tales, penned both for book and screen by John Mortimer, who used to take delight in highlighting silliness in judicial judgements by putting those decisions into the guise of his own judges, perhaps most especially judge Bullingham.
Leo McKern, a well-known British character actor perhaps most famous internationally for 'A Man for All Seasons' and 'Shoes of the Fisherman', found this great role late in life, and became the quintessential image for Rumpole. He performed the role through all the episodes (presented in the UK originally starting in 1978, and continuing with a few gaps through 1992, and presented in the USA via the PBS Mystery series approximately the same time), joined by two different actresses portraying Hilda Rumpole (Peggy Thorpe-Bates and Marion Mathie), affectionately referred to as 'She Who Must Be Obeyed'. Rumpole's mannerisms and penchant for the less genteel things in life are done by McKern in a perfect contrast to the others in Chambers, be they Guthrie Featherstone (played by Peter Bowles as an upper-middle, Conservative-Labour MP QC) or 'Soapy Sam' Ballard (Peter Blythe), Claude Erskine-Brown (Julian Curry) or Phyllida Erskine-Brown ne Trant (Patricia Hodge).
There are set pieces about these episodes, but they are far from formulaic. Unlike some American counterparts with which one might hazard a comparison, Rumpole does not always win the case, although he almost always solves the mystery. Rarely do cases turn on points of law (indeed, Phyllida Erskine-Brown, the 'Portia' of Chambers once remarked that Rumpole knew nothing of law, but did know how to win over a jury), but the cases usually involve issues of eccentricity, both among those in the legal profession as well as among those who have need of the legal profession. Most shows involve several subplots, and the line between victory and defeat is often blurry. However, there will always be an England, at least in certain ways: As Rumpole said once during a defence, the English nation when it is long gone will be remembered for three things -- the English breakfast, the Oxford Book of English Verse (the Quiller-Couch Edition), and the presumption of innocence - this is Rumpole's mantra, and his statement of faith.
Rumpole is always for the defense - even in the later story of 'Rumpole for the Prosecution', in which Rumpole is hired to conduct a private prosecution, he manages to provide through his searching for the truth the best defence for the defendant. Rumpole, it seems, will never be anything but the champion for the defence.
This set includes the episodes from each series as well as the two-hour telefilm, 'Rumpole's Return', a re-introduction to Rumpole after the early run of shows which ended with Rumpole nearing retirement. The disc with 'Rumpole's Return' includes several other bonus features, including a brief biography of John Mortimer, a brief history of the Old Bailey, and a list of executioners of the Old Bailey neighbouring Newgate Prison, the last of whom performed his final duty in 1902.
This is a great set piece that fans of mystery, fans of legal drama (with more than a small hint of wit and, occasionally, the ridiculous) and fans of British television generally will find a joy to view. Sit back with your favourite glass of red wine (Chateau Fleet Street comes highly recommended) and wander into a London which is a blend of the thoroughly modern and practically medieval.Read more ›
I first watched this show as a teenager on Thames television back in the late 1970's, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have since watched various repeats on satellite TV over the years and have also read many of John Mortimer's Rumpole stories and listened to the audio books and always enjoyed them all. Recently I noticed that this box set of all the Rumpole episodes and specials was for sale on Amazon at a very reasonable price, for so many hours of good television. So I therefore paid my money and purchased the box set and I was not disappointed. I have already watched the first three series and can only say "Brilliant!". The stories are still as good as ever and each actor looks like he or she was born to play his or her part. Leo McKern is wonderful as Rumpole and the scenes with Hilda in the "so called mansion flat" are TV gems. The scenes in Equity Court are also very funny - Rumpole refusing to conform and tow the line. He is his own man and always will be, resisting at all cost the attempts of various people to try to change him into what they would like him to be or do (such as Head of Chambers, more respectful to Old Bailey judges, take silk and become a QC (Queer Customer), become a non smoker in chambers or just even buy a new hat!). There are also so many other great characters - Guthrie Featherstone QC MP, Claude Erskine Brown and Mr Justice Roger (The Mad Bull) Bullingham to name but three - in one series. If you enjoy good television programmes and you only buy one DVD collection - then BUY THIS ONE. If you are already a Rumpole fan you will not be disapppointed. If you have never watched it - do so now and see what you've missed. Final praise must of course go to John Mortimer for creating such a wonderful character and then giving him so many interesting briefs to work on. Well Done John - I raise a full glass of Chateau Fleet Street Red to you sir. Finally never forget Leo McKern - a great actor of many films and programmes but forever "Rumpole of the Bailey" to me.Read more ›
A five star drama full of wonderful charecters ranging from those south london villians the Timpsons to the Mad Bull himself. The series is a brilliant parody of the British legal system and class system. Rumpole is an unparalleled eccentric who must rank as one of the great literary creations of the 20th century.All in all this series represents a great investment but as a hearing impaired person I must deduct a star for the lack of subtitles!