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The Dock Brief aka Trial and Error (James Hill, 1962)
Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey Eminent barrister and distinguished author and playwright, he was one of the great characters of contemporary British life The barrister, playwright and author Sir John Mortimer, who has died aged 85, was a man for all the seasons that touched his Chilterns garden, where he lived as profusely as he wrote, in a spirit of unjudgmental generosity. His greatest achievement was to create, in Rumpole of the Bailey, a lawyer whom the world would love. Though born in Hampstead, north London, John grew up in the house at Turville, near Henley, Oxfordshire, that he never really left. His father was an irascible, blind barrister, the Mortimer of Mortimer on Wills, Probate and Divorce. His mother, devoted and stoic, read aloud the sad, true stories of cruelty and passion between the wars contained in his father's briefs for the divorce court. John, an only child, was sent to the Dragon school at Oxford, in a class with the historian EP Thompson and a "sour-faced boy who wouldn't share his tuck", who grew up to become a severe circuit judge and model for Rumpole's adversary, Judge Bullingdon. Home from Harrow, the teenager wracked his imagination to stage theatricals that his father might "see" – his contribution to the stiff upper-lipped family pretence that Clifford Mortimer was not blind. In Henley, he encountered with interest the bookshop-owning lesbians who had taken opium with Cocteau, and a prim, elderly lady who had, in her youth, urinated regularly upon pioneering sexologist Havelock Ellis. He determined to be a writer, and on leaving school joined the Crown Film Unit, devising accounts of industrial and military Britain in wartime. But Clifford had other ideas, a clash captured in A Voyage Round My Father, the account by John of their relationship that first surfaced on BBC radio in 1963: "Father: ... if you were only a writer, who would you rub shoulders with? (with contempt) Other writers? You'll be far better off in the law. Son: I don't know. Father: No brilliance is needed in the law. Nothing but common sense, and relatively clean fingernails. Another thing, if you were a writer, think of your poor, unfortunate wife... Son: What? Father: She'd have you at home every day! In carpet slippers... Drinking tea and stumped for words! You'd be far better off down the tube each morning, and off to the law courts... the law of husband and wife may seem idiotic at first sight but when you get to know it, you'll find it can exercise a vague, medieval charm. Learn a little law, won't you? Just to please me. Son: It was my father's way to offer the law to me – the great stone column of authority which has been dragged by an adulterous, careless, negligent and half-criminal humanity down the ages – as if it were a small mechanical toy which might occupy half an hour on a rainy afternoon." When Britain's other 1960s playwrights examined their fathers – Peter Nicholls despairingly in Forget-Me-Not Lane, David Mercer bitterly in After Heggarty - A Voyage Round My Father stood out, not only for its stagecraft and for Alec Guinness's central performance, but for the unquestioning love distilled in its lines for this man who had refused to show any to his son. Many young people ruin what would otherwise be talented and useful lives by devoting themselves to law, and John at the time felt himself to be one of them (he was always remarking on the irony of leaving the artificial atmosphere of the court at 4.30pm for the real life of theatre rehearsals). Yet practice of law, although it sapped the early development of his writing skills, eventually gave him the experience which produced his greatest character. After Brasenose College, Oxford, and at war's end, love and law came hand in hand. He was called to the bar in 1948 and in the following year married Penelope Fletcher, taking on her four existing children and adding two of their own. They wrote a travel book together, With Love and Lizards (1957) and novels separately, as he struggled to develop a practice. Soon he discovered a real talent for divorcing people (in those barbaric, fault-finding days before divorce reform), and for the arcane Chancery world in which time and talent is expended in deciding the validity of a will written on a duck egg, or the charitable status of a legacy to Trappist nuns. After the series of half-hour radio plays, John adapted A Voyage Round My Father for television (1969, with Mark Dignam and Ian Richardson as father and son), then the stage (1971, with Guinness and Jeremy Brett) and then back into a film for television (1982, with Laurence Olivier and Alan Bates). It returned to the West End stage in 2006 with Derek Jacobi and Dominic Rowan. However, John's first stage success, A Dock Brief – set in the cells, where an incompetent barrister counsels himself and his convicted client – was rooted in his own nervousness about failure and his permanent terror aGreenpeace hosts 'green' carpet screening of 'An Inconvenient Truth'
Environment champion Representative Neric Acosta holds a ‘Clean Energy Now!’ banner at the Greenpeace ‘green carpet’ screening of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ last November 22, 2006 in SM Megamall. Greenpeace organized the free screening of the movie to encourage as many policy and decision makers, members of the press, to take part in the important conversation about climate change and help shape the kind of interventions now needed, both at the individual and political levels, to help avert this global catastrophe. © Greenpeace / Gigie Cruz-Sy
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