Friday, November 23, 2012

Rumpole Misbehaves

According to Wikipedia an Anti-Social Behavior Order or ASBO “is a civil order made against a person who has been shown, on the balance of the evidence, to have engaged in anti-social behavior.  The orders, introduced in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998, were designed to correct minor incidents that would not ordinarily warrant criminal prosecution.  The orders restrict behavior in some way, by prohibiting a return to a certain area or shop, or by restricting public behavior such as swearing or drinking alcohol.”  To Sir John Mortimer (1923 - 2009), who was famous for being a civil rights lawyer as well the creator of the fictional lawyer Horace Rumpole, the ASBO was an outrageous assault on the historic civil rights of the English people.  Hence, in his last completed Rumpole novel, Rumpole Misbehaves (2007) (published in Britain as The Anti-Social Behavior of Horace Rumpole), Mortimer uses his favorite creation to attack and parody the ASBO.

Actor Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole

Rumpole’s first client is twelve year old Peter Timson who has an ASBO issued against him for disturbing the resident’s of a posh neighborhood by playing football (soccer) on their street.  Rumpole’s second client is Graham Wetherby, a young government bureaucrat who is accused of strangling a prostitute.  The relationship between these two seemingly unrelated cases provides fine reading in the great Rumpole tradition.

Horace and Hilda (Leo McKern and Marion Mathie)

Of course, it would not be a Rumpole story without hilarity.  The fun really starts when Rumpole’s neighbors in Chambers at Number 4 Equity Court take out an ASBO against Rumpole for drinking alchohol in Chambers, eating in his office in violation of office policy, and smoking in the building.  Rumpole’s nemesis on the bench, Mr. Justice Bullingham (or as Rumpole calls him “Mr. Injustice Bullingham) still has the hots for Hilda and threatens to break up the Rumpole marriage.  She Who Must Be Obeyed has decided, once again, that she wants to read for the bar and Rumpole finally decides that he will apply to “take silk” as a Queens Counsel.

Although the earlier installments of the series were much better written than this, for fans who can’t get enough of Rumpole this is great fun.  Sadly, although Rumpole never retired and stayed, apparently ageless, in his early to mid seventies for thirty years, with Mortimer’s death in 2009 at age 85, Rumpole has finally argued his last case.  But, just like Holmes and Watson will always be waiting for a new client at 221 B Baker Street, Horace and Hilda will forever bicker at the Froxbury Mansion Flat and Horace will perpetually irritate his colleagues at No. 4 Equity Court.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror

A respected Pakistani doctor living in England is arrested and imprisoned on the suspicion of being a terrorist.  Citing national security concerns, the government refuses to release any specific information to the accused’s attorneys regarding the particulars of the evidence against him.  The case appears hopeless and it is almost certain that the accused will remain incarcerated indefinitely without trial.  The accused’s desperate wife turns to an experienced criminal barrister for help.  What will happen next?

When the experienced criminal barrister is Horace Rumpole we can expect hilarity along with a painless lesson in the highest ideals of British Justice.  Published in 2006 when Rumpole’s alter ego and creator John Mortimer was 82 (Mortimer died in 2009 at age 85) this novel was Mortimer’s criticism of the anti-terrorism laws passed by the government of then Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Author John Mortimer with the latest installment of his most famous creation.

Rumpole, who has been about age seventy something since the mid 1990s, never changes.  Neither does his wife Hilda and the entire cast of characters who practice law at Number 4 Equity Court.  In this outing Hilda buys a laptop computer which she hides away in a spare bedroom while she writes her memoirs.  There is a lot for Hilda to write about since Judge Bullingham, who Rumpole calls “The Mad Bull,” is actively pursuing Hilda after divorcing his wife.

Rumpole, of course, still doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on and takes notes with a fountain pen.  The Shakespeare and Wordsworth quoting barrister has what the government considers to be quaint notions about the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  Witness Rumpole’s exchange with the “New Labour” Home Secretary:

‘Let me ask you this, Mr. Rumpole.  How do you take notes in court nowadays?’

‘I use a pen and my notebook.’  I gave him a truthful answer.

‘A pen!’  The Bristol accent rose to a high pitch of contempt.  ‘Would that be like . . . a quill pen by any chance?’

There were laughs from the audience, but I put him right.

‘No.  It’s a fountain pen.’

‘Really.  How very professional.  So you’re not computer literate?’

‘I’m literate.  I know very little about computers.’

‘That’s the trouble with your sort of lawyer, Mr. Rumpole.  You can’t move with the times.  Things like jury trials and the presumption of innocence may have been all very well in their day.  But times change.  History moves on.  We need quicker and more reliable results.  Modernize, Mr. Rumpole.  That’s what you need to do.’

Needless to say when it comes to the sacred rights guaranteed to Englishmen since King John issued Magna Carta, Rumpole will never compromise.