Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail; Rumpole and the Dear Departed; Rumpole and the Man of God by John Mortimer,
BBC Radio 7, 18 April 2009
What more can be said about John Mortimer's masterly comic creation that
has not already been said before? Horace Rumpole, bon viveur, defence counsel extraordinaire, scourge of all judges, and ruled
by his wife Hilds ("she who must be obeyed"), lives on in the memory in Leo McKern's memorable television characterization.
In this radio version from the 1980s, directed by Peter King and Ian Cotterell, Maurice Denham played Rumpole. Physiognomically
he might have been too slight for the role; but his voice possessed that well-marinaded quality, suggesting many years
spent in Pomeroy's drinking red wine and smoking cheap cigars. Margot Boyd's Hilda despaired of her husband most of the time,
but it was evident that she loved him. In these half-hour playlets Mortimer had little time to devote to the supporting cast;
despite the efforts of radio stalwarts such as Denys Hawthorne, Patrick Barr and Michael Spice, they did not make much impression.
But perhaps that was not necessary. Each episode was introduced by Rumpole, who told
the story as if reading out from his diaries. Throughout the ensuing action we were given a running commentary of his observations
on the characters and their potential motives, as if Rumpole were compiling their defences in court. He became a controlling
presence, guiding the listeners' responses while reminding us that the entire story was being filtered through his consciousness.
This technique was very different from the television series, where McKern was only one of a gallery of character actors in the
cast. In the radio version it was very much Rumpole's show. Not that it mattered: Mortimer writes such good stories that they
provided consistently enjoyable listening.