THE ADVOCATE 459
VOL. 77 PART 3 MAY 2019
By D. Michael Bain
SIR JOHN MORTIMER, Q.C.*
Sir John Mortimer, Q.C., the creator of Rumpole of
the Bailey, died on January 16, 2009, at the age of
85. Mortimer was a successful barrister at the bar of
England and Wales who was also heralded for his
plays, screenplays, novels, biographies, autobiographies
and adaptations of books for the screen, stage,
radio and television.
Mortimer was born on April 21, 1923, in Hampstead,
a North London suburb, although he preferred
to maintain that he was born in central London at his father’s flat in
the Middle Temple just off Fleet Street. Mortimer’s father, Clifford Mortimer,
Q.C., was a successful barrister who specialized in divorce and probate
cases. In 1941, the young Mortimer (who had attended Brasenose
College, Oxford) was admitted as a student to the Inner Temple, where he
practised with his father, who was overbearing, verbally abusive and prone
to fits of rage. Among his father’s stranger peculiarities was the fact that
although he became blind, he never acknowledged his condition and did
not allow anyone to mention it. He continued to practise the law by having
his wife read to him his legal briefs (salacious details and all) on the train
ride into London—much to the amusement (or offence) of the other passengers.
The young Mortimer assisted his father and eventually inherited his
practice. He also managed to turn these difficult experiences into a wellknown
semi-autobiographical play, A Voyage Round My Father, which in different
stage versions has featured Sir Alec Guinness and Sir Derek Jacobi as
“Old Mortimer”. He was played on screen by Sir Laurence Olivier.
* Reprinted from (2009) 67 Advocate 247–250 and 267–268.