The English court is supposed to be a serious place, but court officials are required to wear wigs and robes. This is such a comical element in a legal system wrapped in such pomp and circumstance. Does the nature of your lawyer’s wig predict the outcome of your case? Who feels secure in justice when their defender is wearing a clown rug? Rumpole of the Bailey delves into the comic aspect of the pretensions found in the judges and barristers of London. Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern) is a legal mind who doesn’t suffer fools, but will endure free drinks. He quickly became the most popular English legal figure thanks to the series running on PBS as part of Mystery.
Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series – Megaset contains all the Thames episodes. The first appearance of Rumpole was part of the BBC’s Play For Today. However the network brass decided against making it a series. Thames, the home of Benny Hill, did see Rumpole as a character that could be a legal icon. The major reasons for the success of the series was the superb writing of John Mortimer (A Voyage Around My Father) and the deft acting of Leo McKern in the lead role. McKern had been in movies and TV for decades, but he was far from a household name outside of being Number 2 for three episodes of The Prisoner. This changed when Rumpole began airing in the late ‘70s. He and the character merged.
Rumpole is far from the stuffy legal minds that work around the Old Bailey. He’s witty and grumpy, relishing his time in the courtroom scrapping for his clients. The lack of fat paydays bothers his legal firm and his wife, as he’s not in it for the money. They know he could have been bigger and moved up the ladder to be a major player or become a judge. But that is not why he got into the game. He doesn’t want to get stuck with the gavel. He gets a certain amount of glee from getting his hands dirty with gritty cases. He hates to plea bargain. He lives to win.
His home situation is rather uncomfortable because he’s not a slick lawyer like his associates. The wife wants things. He likes to refer to her as “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” but he rarely takes her career advice. They are enjoyably naggy together. Peggy Thrope Bates played the wife for the first three seasons and Marion Mathie for the last four seasons. Both women are convincing in their frustrations with his attitude toward work.
The hour long episodes easily juggle Rumple’s case investigation, office situation and domestic life. It’s a well rounded view of a well rounded man. Mortimer’s scripts allow his barrister to shine no matter where he is. No case is beneath him which adds to the excitement. He’ll represent a girl on a commune busted for dope. A soldier accused of killing his commander in Germany isn’t out of his scope. A priest nailed for shoplifting requires Rumpole’s salvation. It’s a colorful array of clients that keeps the 42 episodes and TV movie that keep things lively and not merely bogged down in the legal aspects, Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series – Megaset contains the cream of British legal series. You might want to buy a wig to fit in with the action.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The early episodes were shot so the locations were done on 16mm and the studio scenes were captured on video. Later in the series they swapped over to all video. The transfers look fine. Don’t wait around expecting a Blu-ray release. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0. The sound levels allow you to catch the nuance in Rumpole’s approach to winning a case.
Interview with John Mortimer (18:03) is a longer talk with the writer about how the show came about.
Rumpole’s Return (103:30) brought back the lawyer from his retirement in Florida. The movie comes between the second and third seasons.
McKern’s Memories with Abigail McKern (17:45) is Leo McKern’s daughter recounting her time on the show. She took over the role of Liz Probert from the woman who went on to play Miss Moneypenny. She’d never worked with her dad until the series.
Spot the Barrister (1:15) points out John Mortimer’s various cameos in still shots. Kind of a Where’s Waldo answer key.
Newspaper Evidence (0:30) gives the close up of a prop newspaper.
John Mortimer Biography is text about the creator.
Selected Bibliography and Credits lists the books of John Mortimer.
About the Old Bailey explains how the Old Bailey is named after Old Bailey Street.
Official Executioners of Newgate Prison gives to their careers. William Calcraft got his start at the prison selling pies before a public execution.
Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series – Megaset is essential viewing for fans of both British TV and legal dramas. Rumpole is with few legal peers on TV. Even Perry Mason and Matlock made a nice amount of cash on their cases. Rumpole is more interested in the clients than their checkbooks. Because of the character focused nature of the episodes, you’ll can rewatch them even if you know the real culprit.
A&E Home Video presents Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series – Megaset. Starring: Leo McKern, Marion Mathie, Peggy Thorpe-Bates, Peter Bowles and Patricia Hodge. Boxset Contents: 42 episodes on 14 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 5, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.