Saturday 17 January 2009

Sir John Mortimer R.I.P.

The death of Sir John Mortimer reminded me of the pleasures I have had from his writing over the years. As a law student, my first encounter with his work was watching a double bill of his plays – one of which was the highly successful ‘Dock Brief’. At around the same time, he created Horace Rumpole, the barrister brilliantly brought to life by Leo McKern in the deservedly popular tv series. I watched pretty much all the Rumpole shows, and enjoyed them enormously.

In his professional life, Mortimer conducted many criminal cases, and although his writing covered a wide range of forms and themes, he often dealt with crime. I haven’t read so much of his non-Rumpole work, but I do like, and can warmly recommend as a nice dip-in compendium, The Oxford Book of Villains.

This is a compilation which dates back to 1992. It contains an assortment of extracts from literature; Crippen, naturally, makes an appearance in the book, and Mortimer comments in his introduction that the doctor was ‘kindly, modest and hospitable’.

Here is a flavour of Mortimer’s light, urbane style from that introduction: ‘Murderers form a long section in this book and I would recommend you not to read it all at once, but to vary it, perhaps with an occasional con man or a few seducers and cads…villains are those who have been cursed with an unreasonably high degree of optimism. Deterrent sentences have little effect, because the true villain never thinks he’s going to be caught. In the days when you could be hanged for stealing a handkerchief, handkerchiefs were hardly safe in anyone’s pocket.’


Nan said...

I hadn't heard. I'm actually crying for a man I'd never known, but whose writing has enriched my life, and given more joy to my husband and I than any readers could ever expect. I just kind of hoped he'd go on and on.

Martin Edwards said...

He was a British institution, in many ways, Nan. I only wish I'd met him - he must have been a fascinating chap to have a conversation with.

Ali Karim said...

I am also very sad, especially his watchful eye on 'establishments' mission creep, has now shut. Mortimer worked hard in ensuring the liberatrion values of our society were valued and not trampled upon.

The Mission Creep, of Right Wing values is now gathering pace, thanks to the so-called 'credit crunch', and other factors.

I guess Bill Hicks will be welcoming Mortimer, and they will be looking down on us with alarm.

You only need to watch Alex Jones' 'Terrorstorm' or 'Zeitgeist' via YouTube / Google Video to understand what is happening to us. Despite Zeitgeist I + II's flawed ethos; human nature never looked so worrying now that guardians such as Sir John Mortimer and Bill Hicks are no longer with us.

It makes me very sad