Vintage Rumpole

A seasoned troupe of actors performed two radio plays, Rumpole on Trial and Rumpole and the Right to Privacy, for this year’s Kalisher Scholarship fundraising event, writes Melissa Coutinho.

Sunday, 15 May 2011 was a beautiful balmy evening that saw Middle Temple host what has become an annual Kalisher Scholarship fundraising event. We were entertained by a seasoned troupe of actors, some of whom had generously given their time at previous events: Martin Shaw, Maggie Steed, Philip Franks, Patricia Hodge, Anthony Howell, Maxine Peake (fresh from Silk), Duncan Bell, Daniel Hill, Tim Frances, Nicholas Le Prevost and Mark Farrelly.

Very fittingly, given that all the actors shared the experience of having done legal drama, they performed two episodes of Rumpole: Rumpole on Trial and Rumpole and the Right to Privacy – two radio plays which show Sir John Mortimer at his typical best. They are vintage Rumpole; the underpaid “Old Bailey hack” who will never prosecute but always defends. In the usual format, each of his trials involves a victory and a defeat, where following the unexpected the world becomes a familiar place once more, no better nor worse than before, but with a silver lining to every cloud.

Doing the right thing

In Rumpole on Trial, Rumpole is facing the possibility of disciplinary action, following a complaint by a colleague who has voiced objections to the small cigars and glasses of red wine that Rumpole enjoys in his room in chambers. They may even slap an ASBO on him, which will not help his cause of being appointed a QC, a cherished dream of his wife, She Who Must be Obeyed. His practice is a welcome distraction and he enjoys defending the ancient right of young boys to play football while having misgivings about his wife Hilda’s growing friendship with a High Court judge. 

It turns out that his staunch insistence on doing the right thing will come at a personal cost. His refusal to countenance the imposition of ASBOs on the football playing boys (a joyous freedom that symbolically parallels his own harmless indulgence in cheroots and Chateau Thames Embankment) without first insisting on proper legal procedure means that he uncovers vice activity that embarrasses the Establishment. It costs Rumpole his appointment as Silk, but he is sanguine about this as his fight for justice has had an unexpected side effect. His wife relinquishes the thought of joining the Bar, a career move that would have meant he never had a moment’s peace. It was beautifully acted with some lovely lines.

Exposing double standards

During the interval there was the chance to see the sketches of the cast that were later auctioned by Anthony Arlidge QC.

In Rumpole and the Right to Privacy, Rumpole leaves the Old Bailey to defend an editor of a local newspaper who is accused of breaching a successful businessman’s right to privacy. Once again, Rumpole – in his insistence on representing the underdog – falls foul of his wife’s opinion. The question what embarrassments people should be able to read about in newspapers, is introduced by the couple reading the morning paper over breakfast. While double standards are exposed, the serious question of the right to privacy as far as newspapers are concerned is dealt with in a humourous way. It tellingly remains topical today.

The evening raised funds for the Kalisher Scholarship Trust. The Trust, which was set up in memory of the late Michael Kalisher QC who died in 1996, is in its 14th year of operation. It funds candidates whose financial need is matched by the passion for the Criminal Bar that Michael enjoyed. It allows one prospective barrister to undertake the BPTC year without financial cost, as well as offering bursaries and a number of other awards.

Aptly using the works of another barrister who proclaimed his fondness for the Bar, the trustees were particularly pleased that Sir John Mortimer’s plays were used for the fundraising. They thanked Jeremy Mortimer who gave permission on behalf of Sir John’s estate for them to be used.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to the Trust should contact the Secretary Max Hardy via www.thekalishertrust.org or
max.hardy@9bedfordrow.co.uk ?

Melissa Coutinho.

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Melissa Coutinho

Melissa Coutinho is a lawyer for the Government Legal Service An accredited arbitrator, qualified PPM practitioner and a magistrate, she also writes and lectures on medical products and their regulation.