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Rumpole of the Bailey

By Erik Macki

Before there was Quincy and The Practice, there was Rumpole. Rumpole of the Bailey is, quite simply, one of the finest television series, and it has served as a model for all law dramas that followed it. Edgy and satirical, Rumpole is based on John Mortimer's books of the same name. Esteemed actor Leo McKern portrays the antihero Rumpole, a determined and committed criminal defense barrister whose clients have included three generations of the Timson family, among others, at the Old Bailey (criminal court). As champion of the downtrodden, the self-righteous Rumpole loves to get in trouble with his wife, his peers, the head of chambers, and judges, to name but a few. A connoisseur of Wordsworth, cigars, and cheap liquor, McKern's usually disheveled Rumpole belies the character's dry sense of humor and astute skill as a barrister. His wife, the upwardly mobile Hilda, is played by Peggy Thorpe-Bates, known for her Miss Toliver in Alcatraz Island, and Justice Sir Guthrie Fetherston is played by Peter Bowles, known for his Richard DeVere in TV's To the Manor Born.

This four-disc set includes all 12 episodes from the first two seasons in their original sequence of stories, plus Rumpole's Return, the 1982 two-hour special that started off the third season. Typical of British drama, production values are low, while the caliber of scriptwriting and acting is unsurpassed. A rare example of a television serial that is as appealing and engaging on its 10th viewing as it is on its first.

Partial Episode Guide

Volume 17: First, in "Rumpole and the Alternative Society," Rumpole heads to the west of England to visit his old friend Sam "Three Fingers" Dougherty from their days together in the RAF and to defend Kathy Trelawney in court, charged with selling marijuana to an undercover investigator. Second, in "Rumpole and the Course of True Love," Rumpole must defend a melodramatically romantic teacher charged with having an affair with a student, while Guthrie tries to become a judge.

Volume 18: In "Rumpole and the Quacks," Rumpole battles the formidable Phillida in court to defend his doctor, accused of sexually molesting a patient. Next, in "Rumpole for the Prosecution," Rumpole takes on a rare role as prosecutor to investigate a policeman who may not have been properly charged for murdering a girl.

Volume 19: In "Rumpole and the Children of the Devil," Rumpole again defends the Timsons as their daughter Tracy Timson is put into the custody of a social worker when her parents are accused of Satanism. Meanwhile, Rumpole's wife Hilda is stressed out about the Scales of Justice Ball and having to dance on her birthday. Next, in "Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice," Rumpole defends Detective Gannon, who changed a teenager's confession for murdering a policeman.

Volume 20: First, in "Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle," Rumpole flirts with a beautiful violinist but is caught off guard when she asks him to defend her jealous husband, charged with murdering her accompanist. Meanwhile, Claude raises concerns that Henry has sexually harassed their secretary. Next, in "Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Johnson," the barrister must defend a teenager charged with theft even after an important brief is burgled from Rumpole's house.

Volume 21: In "Rumpole and the Family Pride," Rumpole and Hilda are invited out to a relative's castle for the weekend--but Rumpole's concerns turn out justified as they find out the castle's owner is charged with murdering a transient woman who has been living on the estate. Then, in "Rumpole on Trial," Rumpole is defended in a hearing for taking a stand against Justice Oliphant by Hilda's friend Sam Ballard.


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I love to watch my Rumpole videos. If I'm feeling a little down, I just pop one into the Video recorder and I am transported to Equity Court, Pomeroy's Wine Bar and Gloucester Rd. I just wish I had more upcoming episodes to look forward to.


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Aired: 1977-1992

Cast: Leo McKern, Peggy Thorpe-Bates, Peter Bowles

Network: PBS

Genre: Legal Drama

Theme song

Image courtesy of PBS

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