"Rumpole, you must move with the times."
"If I don't like the way the times are moving, I shall refuse to accompany them."
Emily Mortimer, writer and director of the BBC's current Sunday night drama The Pursuit Of Love, is also the daughter of John Mortimer, lawyer and writer of the Rumpole Of The Bailey books and TV series. In an interview with The Radio Times, buried at the bottom, is the news that she is writing a new TV reboot of Rumpole Of The Bailey, this time with a female lead as Rumpole. And that she is co-writing the new adaptation with her sister Rosie Mortimer.
She and her sister Rosie have been working on an even more emotional adaptation than the Mitford story: a new version of Rumpole, in which their father's crumpled, claret-drinking QC is a woman.
Rumpole of the Bailey was an ITV series that starred Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole, an elderly London barrister who defended a broad variety of clients, often underdogs, and his skill at defending his clients is legendary among the criminal classes. A hard drinker and cigar smoker, with a love of the law and the constitution and country which framed it.
Rumpole Of The Bailey began in another form, Infidelity Took Place, a one-off television play for the BBC's 1960s television anthology drama series, The Wednesday Play written by John Mortimer and broadcast on 18 May 1968 about a happily married couple who decide to get divorced to take advantage of the more beneficial tax situation they would enjoy were they legally separated, with John Nettleton playing a Rumpole prototype character. Several years later, that inspired his new Wednesday Play Rumpole of the Bailey, which the BBC looked at turning into a series but was abandoned when management changed.
So ITV popped up and grabbed the series. It ran for seven series from 1978 until 1992, with a new series every three or four years. And now, thirty years after the previous series, we are to have a brand new Rumpole Of The Bailey with a female Rumpole, from the daughter of the series' original writer and creator, who has just had a big drama hit on the BBC. I can see how that might appeal – to anyone but Rumpole.