462 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 3 MAY 2019
Mortimer was a gifted wit and raconteur, and in 1985 he was the key
speaker at the annual general meeting of the Vancouver Bar Association.
He was described in these pages as “a superb after-dinner speaker. He was
funny. He was incisive. He was legal. He was risqué. His humour was
pointed and very English.”
Mortimer’s Englishness is forever preserved with his being credited with
having adapted Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for television, although
in John Mortimer: The Secret Lives of Rumpole’s Creator (The Unauthorised
Biography) (2005), author Graham Lord quotes director Michael Lindsay-
Hogg as saying that the team “discarded John’s commissioned material so
that in the end John didn’t write a single word of the television version of
Brideshead”. This revelation (whether true or not) was said to have deeply
hurt Mortimer in his final few years. Readers interested in the scandalous
details of Mortimer’s well-known philandering are directed to Lord’s biography.
An unlikely ladies’ man, Mortimer (who was divorced from “Penelope
1” in 1971 and married “Penelope 2” in 1972) is said to have had countless
affairs, despite his rather unkempt presentation and the fact that he was not
exactly a looker. It should be said that Mortimer managed to stay married to
Penelope Gollop until his death.
While Lord’s book may well have saddened Mr. Mortimer for personal
reasons, he would most likely have defended the right of Mr. Lord to publish
even “the naughty bits”. As he once said:
If you said everything which shocks people should be censored then you
would have to censor the gouging out of Gloucester’s eyes in King Lear,
and lots of the Bible, and a lot of modern art…I also think it’s rather good
for people to be shocked. That doesn’t mean to say that freedom is not
risky. It’s very risky, like deciding whether to send your children on a
cycling holiday in Europe. They may get mugged or raped or have an
accident, but they’ve got to be free in the end to make their own lives.
The risks of freedom in writing and viewing are less than the risks of having
government authorities dictating what people should read or write,
and the law is inappropriate to decide those things. People have to decide
for themselves—and you can always turn the television off.
Unless, we suggest, it is a rerun of Rumpole of the Bailey.