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Timothy West takes on the role of Rumpole in these two thrilling dramas featuring the wily magician of the Old Bailey at his implacable best
John Mortimer was born on 21 April 1923. His father was a successful divorce lawyer, and was to be a considerable influence on his son's life. Schooled at Harrow, Mortimer went on to study law at Brasenose College, Oxford. On finishing his degree, he was called to the Bar in 1948 and entered his father's chambers. At first he followed his father and specialised in divorce cases, but he soon switched to criminal law, as he maintained that murderers and the like were nicer to work with than divorcing spouses. In 1966 he became a Queen's Counsel, and he continued to work as a barrister until 1979. A lifelong champion of free speech, he has argued for the defence in some of the most famous obscenity trials in Britain, including the one brought against the underground magazine Oz for its notorious 'School Kids' issue. John Mortimer started writing before he became a barrister. His legal career inspired his fiction, however, with his first radio play, The Dock Brief (1957) dealing with the subject of an ageing barrister who is asked to defend a man accused of murdering his wife. It won the Italia Prize and was adapted for the stage, television and a film starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough. He also had great success with his autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father, which ran in the West End starring Jeremy Brett and Alec Guinness. It was subsequently adapted for TV starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Alan Bates. He first wrote about Rumpole in a BBC TV Play for Today called Rumpole of the Bailey. Centring on a lovable Old Bailey hack with a penchant for cigars and claret and a domineering wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the play was an instant hit, and in 1978 the first Thames Television series was aired under the same name, starring Leo McKern as Rumpole. It became hugely popular, and five more series followed. The first collection of Rumpole stories was published in 1978, and was followed by a further twelve volumes. His other novels include the trilogy of Titmuss novels, Paradise Postponed, Titmuss Regained and The Sound of Trumpets, and he has also written three volumes of autobiography (Clinging to the Wreckage, Murderers and Other Friends and Summer of a Dormouse) and numerous TV and film adaptations, including Brideshead Revisited, Cider with Rosie and Tea with Mussolini. John Mortimer received a knighthood for his services to the arts in 1998 in the Queen's birthday honours list. He died in 2009.