An erstwhile “friendly acquaintance” who fell out with Rumpole of the Bailey’s creator over this biography strips back the man’s jovial veneer to reveal dark and adulterous activities.
Former Sunday Express editor Lord (NIV: The Authorized Biography of David Niven, 2004) delivers a tell-all exposé of the beloved writer and barrister. Indicating early on that Mortimer has a propensity for grossly exaggerating the truth, he briefly dispenses with his formative years and then tries to glean as much information as possible about his eventful life. Mortimer’s marriage to fellow writer Penelope Fletcher is painted with a lurid palette, the nadir of their tortured relationship coming when he impregnated both Fletcher and actress Wendy Craig while also trying to conduct an affair with another thespian, Shirley Anne Field. Such incidents are typical, contends Lord, who catalogues his subject’s various infidelities in great detail and often using words that may bemuse non-U.K. readers (e.g., “he rogered her”). But the author also takes time to document Mortimer’s glittering professional achievements, carefully steering the narrative through his work as a barrister, which saw him successfully fighting against a ban on Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn and supporting ’60s counterculture publication Oz in a slightly less triumphant case. But Mortimer’s wandering eye continued to get the best of him; Lord neatly divides the text among relationship woes, the barrister’s strong socialist leanings and the birth of his children (including the actress Emily Mortimer), before delineating the events that turned an authorized biography into an unauthorized one.
Breathless prose and many juicy revelations—an absorbing read.