BBC Radio 4, 19-26 May 2009
The BBC's infatuation with Mortimer's old rogue continues. No sooner
had a season of half-hour dramas starring Maurice Denham concluded on Radio 7, then the Afternoon Play slot responded
with a two-part adaptation by Richard Stoneman, with Timothy West in the title role. This is the second time West has played
Rumpole, following an outing in 2008 with Prunella Scales as Hilda.
This story had old Rumpole looking nostalgically back on his early career at the
Bar, when he worked for an old and very self-important Q.C. Wystan (Geoffrey Whitehead) as his junior clerk. The adaptation
employed a flashback structure where old Rumpole commented on young Rumpole's (Benedict Cumberbatch's) behaviour, as he faithfully
acceeded to Wystan's authority, yet outwitted him to such an extent that Rumpole eventually took on and won the case for the
defence, on behalf of a young man Simon (Ewan Bailey) wrongfully accused of murder.
Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders reminded us of author Mortimer's
old-style socialism, in which right inevitably prevails and intelligence and guile triumph over hidebound tradition. The play
said nothing new; it wasn't meant to. Rumpole has been around for to long now (it's been over three decades since his first
appearance on BBC's Play for Today), that he has become an institution, rather like Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.
No doubt producers in the future on radio and televisiom will remake some of the classic episodes and re-broadcast them for
future generations. Rather like the old wine he quaffs at Pomeroy's Wine Bar, whether a case has been won or lost, you
know what to expect when you watch or listen to Rumpole (even if that's no bad thing).