The Biography of the Creator of Rumpole of the Bailey
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An authorized biography of the peripatetic, priapic and enormously prolific octogenarian who still rises at dawn to the pages of blank foolscap he fills with astonishing speed and craft.

British journalist Grove (Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger, 1999, etc.) gained Mortimer’s permission to interview him continually, to peruse his papers and to interview his intimates. She was there to celebrate with him when he learned in 2004 that he had a son, born to actress Wendy Craig in 1961. No mere book can contain the titanic Sir John. His professional life seems preternaturally productive: myriad pieces of journalism and scripts for theater, TV, cinema and radio as well as novels. (Grove summarizes some of the fiction, though she says oddly little about the hugely successful Rumpole series.) Oh, and until 1983 he appeared regularly in court to argue legal cases, favoring issues of free speech and often representing those charged with pornography. The list of his writings runs to five pages (only one less than the extremely skimpy endnotes). His sex life has been nearly as prodigious. (He even made a move—sort of—on his biographer.) A serial adulterer, Mortimer wed twice. First wife Penelope was a gifted novelist in her own right, best known for The Pumpkin Eater (1962). They were divorced in 1971, and four months later he married the much younger Penny, who has remained to help him through the indignities of his 80s, making possible much of his continuing creative life. Grove explores Mortimer’s childhood as the son of a noted legal scholar (subject of his play A Voyage Round My Father), education at Harrow and Oxford (where he had sexual attractions to other lads), beginnings as a writer and transformation into rumpled Sir John, an icon in contemporary English culture.

Scholars will deplore the dearth of documentation, but general readers will delight in this tale of a randy rapscallion who found time between dalliances to create some enduringly popular works of fiction and drama.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-670-01880-2
Page count: 542pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2008