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Mortimer, Sir John: Playwright. Born: 1923, Died: 2009.

Published 5 February 2009

Barrister and author Sir John Mortimer was best known as the creator of Rumpole Of The Bailey, the novels which spawned a successful TV series. But he was also an acclaimed playwright and played an important part in bringing freedom of expression to the London stage.

A trained barrister, Mortimer was an ardent defender of free speech during the 1960s and appeared for the defence during the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He also helped bring an end to the Lord Chamberlain’s stage censorship powers with the 1968 Theatres Act. Mortimer went on to use his knowledge of legal proceedings to create the much-loved character of barrister Rumpole. Originally written in 1975 as a BBC Play For Today, Rumpole grew into a series of novels and a hit ITV television series starring Leo McKern.

A prolific writer for stage, screen and literature, Mortimer’s autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father, which was staged most recently by the Donmar Warehouse in 2006, told of how his life was dominated by an over-bearing blind father, a barrister who lived by his own rules. The piece, written in 1963, originally for radio, depicted the creation of his character as he moved from youth to adulthood, and aided his reputation as a writer.

In addition to writing original pieces, Mortimer also adapted work for television, most famously the 1981 11-part adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and the 1998 adaptation of Cider With Rosie. Mortimer also wrote the film Tea With Mussolini, which starred theatrical dames Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith.

Mortimer’s work was last seen in the West End in early 2008 when Legal Fictions, a double bill comprising his first play The Dock Brief and Edwin, played at the Savoy theatre starring Edward Fox and Nicholas Woodeson.

Mortimer received a knighthood in 1998.


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