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  1. #1
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    BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Rumpole's creator Mortimer dies



    Sir John Mortimer,who created Rumpole of The Bailey,also wrote the play A Voyage Around My Father and wrote the screenplay for the tv adaptation of Brideshead Revisited has died aged 85.

    Mark

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    They're dropping like flies! Pinter, McGoohan, Kitt, Montalban, Vine and now Sir John Mortimer. Very sad, but like the others, he has left us with many happy memories. RIP sir.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK Windthrop's Avatar
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    name='batman']They're dropping like flies! Pinter, McGoohan, Kitt, Montalban, Vine and now Sir John Mortimer. Very sad, but like the others, he has left us with many happy memories. RIP sir.


    and not forgetting the great Jack Douglas



    RIP John - a great writer and adapter of others work as well as a larger than life figure, an establishment fugure who could be quite anti-establishment. He will be missed.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    name='Windthrop']and not forgetting the great Jack Douglas



    RIP John - a great writer and adapter of others work as well as a larger than life figure, an establishment fugure who could be quite anti-establishment. He will be missed.


    Ironically, two days before BBC4's John Mortimer Night.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    BBC NEWS

    Friday, 16 January 2009

    Obituary: Sir John Mortimer

    BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Obituary: Sir John Mortimer










    Sir John Mortimer in 1968

    Sir John Mortimer used his legal career to inspire his best-loved works



    Sir John Mortimer, who has died aged 85, was a celebrated barrister, author and raconteur. He often used his legal exploits to fuel his writing, and his most famous courtroom creation was Rumpole of the Bailey.



    "I was raised , educated and clothed almost entirely on the proceeds of cruelty, adultery and neglect," he said of his upbringing as the son of a successful divorce lawyer.



    Sir John's prodigious career was shaped by two events at a young age. His father lost his eyesight, and it became the youngster's duty to describe the world and keep his blind father entertained.



    His father made it clear he expected his only son to take over his legal practice, and so Sir John began a career in law, later becoming a Queen's Counsel.



    He first came to the public eye when he successfully defended Oz magazine against charges of obscenity in 1971.



    He had already acted for Penguin Books when they published Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence. Later, he successfully defended the Sex Pistols when their Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols album resulted in an attempted prosecution.



    Permissive society



    Sir John became a beacon for the permissive society, but also defended high moral standards. "Liberty is allowing people to do things you disapprove of," he said.



    Already the author of several plays and novels, Sir John wrote Voyage Round My Father in 1971. A loose set of anecdotes about his childhood and late father, the play was later adapted into a successful television film starring Laurence Olivier.



    Leo McKern as Rumpole of the Bailey

    Leo McKern first appeared as Rumpole in the 1975 BBC television play

    Two instalments of autobiography, Clinging to the Wreckage and Murderers and other Friends, followed.



    Displaying his offbeat view of life, Sir John revealed in the latter how he found murderers "really the most relaxed people" he had come across.



    "Generally, they had disposed of the one person that was irritating them," he said.



    Sir John rose at 5am each morning to write, and his prodigious workload brought him success in many fields.



    As well as the adaptation of Voyage Round my Father, he brought his own novels Summer's Lease and Paradise Postponed to television.



    'Breakfast with a fraudster'



    In 1981, he translated Evelyn Waugh's classic novel Brideshead Revisited into a phenomenally successful television series, and wrote the film screenplay of the 1999 film Tea with Mussolini.



    A celebrated member of the literati and one-time chairman of the Royal Court, Sir John led a self-professed double life for many years.



    He described a typical day as "breakfast with a fraudster, down to the cells to see a murderer, and off to rehearsals at the end of the day".



    When he left the Bar, Sir John channelled his adversarial energy into his character, Rumpole of the Bailey, portrayed on screen by Leo McKern.



    After making its debut as a BBC television play in 1975, Rumpole became an ITV series in 1978 and brought its creator fame across the world. In 1980 it was adapted for radio with Maurice Denham in the lead role, with Timothy West picking up the part in 2003.



    Sir John was the quintessential champagne socialist, a champion for reform and permissiveness, who nevertheless lived in the wealthy Chilterns and backed the monarchy and fox-hunting.



    Despite failing health, he remained active well into later life, attending the February 2008 launch of his play, Legal Fictions, in a wheelchair.



    He told The Times: "One of my weaknesses is that I like to start the day with a glass of champagne before breakfast. When I mentioned that on a radio show once, I was asked if I had taken counselling for it."



    Large and idiosyncratic



    He remained disappointed by the modern Labour Party, saying, "we don't ask for much, but it would be nice to have a spoonful of socialism".



    Sir John Mortimer

    Sir John remained active in public well into his later life

    He was married twice, the first time to author Penelope Mortimer. After their marriage collapsed, her autobiography detailed infidelities and rows.



    Sir John would say only that "marriage between two writers is always difficult".



    His second wife, Penny, was a model booker when he met her, and 23 years his junior. Sir John was able to explore this true life theme of age difference in his novel The Sound of Trumpets.



    Although he constantly borrowed from his life to enhance his writing, he remained as large and idiosyncratic as any character he created.



    In his novel, Felix in the Underworld, the book's central accusation is that the novelist expects others to live out dramatic moments for him.



    From the clapboard home of his childhood to the wooden benches of the High Court, the same could not be said of Sir John Mortimer.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    << Ironically, two days before BBC4's John Mortimer Night>>



    Details of BBC4's John Mortimer Night can be found here:



    http://filmdope.com/forums/br...ight-bbc4.html

  7. #7
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    I've got a compilation book of the Rumpole stories. They're a lot of fun. Sorry to hear of Mortimer's passing.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: England cornershop15's Avatar
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    I know he'd been ill for a long time but this is still (more) sad news. Apart from Rumpole and Voyage, I'd also like to mention 'The Dock Brief', something I haven't yet seen, which had a wonderful main cast in the film version. It has a thread at the Forum. He was always interesting whenever I saw him interviewed.

  9. #9
    GRAEME
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    Ah, sad news - and 'tis the end of sweet Rumpole too...



    There had been a few cracking Rumpole novels in recent years - I'd love to see an adaptation of The Penge Bungalow Murders, but who could fill McKern's shoes?



    Mortimer was a stout defender of civil liberties and a fierce critic of this unsavoury and reactionary government. He will be missed.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    name='GRAEME']

    Mortimer was a stout defender of civil liberties and a fierce critic of this unsavoury and reactionary government. He will be missed.


    I couldn't have put it better myself.

  11. #11
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    Agree 100% on his stance on equality campaigns in their many forms, that they all start out wanting to be equal, and end up wanting to be on top... Also with his dismissal of political correctness.



    Rest in Peace Sir John - Cheers, old darling!



    Respect.



    Smudge



    EDIT: His idea of starting the day with a glass of bubbly was damned good too- and his habit of being up with the lark.

  12. #12
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    name='GRAEME']Ah, sad news - and 'tis the end of sweet Rumpole too...



    There had been a few cracking Rumpole novels in recent years - I'd love to see an adaptation of The Penge Bungalow Murders, but who could fill McKern's shoes?



    Mortimer was a stout defender of civil liberties and a fierce critic of this unsavoury and reactionary government. He will be missed.


    I thought someone was bringing back Rumpole with Jim Broadbent playing him.

    Ta Ta

    Marky B

  13. #13
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    I had the pleasure and privilege of working with JM on a couple of occasions. He had a wicked sense of humour and a daunting intelligence. I'll miss him lots.

  14. #14
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    He wrote lots of marvellous stuff...but it's claimed that the Brideshead script was actually the work of producer Derek Granger and a Granada TV colleague.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: United States torinfan's Avatar
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    RIP Mr. Mortimer



    Too many people are dying on us

  16. #16
    GRAEME
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    name='Marky B']I thought someone was bringing back Rumpole with Jim Broadbent playing him.

    Ta Ta

    Marky B




    That would be interesting - Jim would be sufficiently different to Leo and he is a fine comic actor. There is loads of Rumpole that hasn't yet been televised.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    name='GRAEME']That would be interesting - Jim would be sufficiently different to Leo and he is a fine comic actor. There is loads of Rumpole that hasn't yet been televised.


    There have been some excellent radio adaptations - first with Maurice Denham and more recently with Timothy West and Prunella Scales.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    Is daughter Emily Mortimer the actress ?





    From The Times London

    January 17, 2009



    Obituary: Sir John Mortimer: creator of Rumpole of the Bailey





    Mortimer: 'A defender not only of murderers but also of free speech', he played a starring role in a series of show trials - such as the Gay News trial in 1977 - which tested the censorship laws



    John Mortimer never tired of describing himself as the best playwright who ever defended a murderer at the Old Bailey. And it was true that the legal world, which he had entered reluctantly, served him well as a writer.



    Being a lawyer gave him a cachet, as the only playwright-QC, a subject — many plays, and his most famous character, the barrister Horace Rumpole, had courtroom backgrounds — and a refuge: if a play did not prosper, he could always retreat to chambers and take another brief.



    Apart from inventing Rumpole, a deliberate move to create an immortal character like Sherlock Holmes or Maigret “to keep me in my old age”, he won acclaim for radio plays (The Dock Brief took the Prix Italia in 1957); for his autobiographical and nostalgic play A Voyage Round My Father; and for the first of three volumes of memoirs, Clinging to the Wreckage — a true masterpiece of the genre.



    His large and sometimes rumpled figure, like that of his Rumpole character, was instantly recognisable; he exuded a universal bonhomie and revelled in a party-going social life even when conducted from the confines of a wheelchair. He liked nothing better, as life went on, than addressing audiences, performing his cabaret act, Mortimer’s Miscellany, so widely that there could hardly be anyone in the land unfamiliar with his oft-told anecdotes, eg, about the hopeless Irish drunk who was let off by a judge if he promised to renounce alcohol: “And I really do mean that: not even the teeniest weeniest little dry sherry before dinner.”



    Many of his most amusing stories came from his sometimes irascible father, whose terrifying interrogatives (“Is execution done on Cawdor?”) and aper�us (“All schoolmasters have second-rate minds”) became so familiar from Mortimer’s work that not even Mortimer himself could recall whether his father had actually said them.



    John Clifford Mortimer was born in 1923 in Hampstead, the only child of Herbert Clifford Mortimer, a barrister specialising in probate and divorce, and his wife Kathleen. Both had lived in South Africa. The boy was sent to Mr Gibbs’s prep school in Sloane Street (where Peter Ustinov was a fellow pupil) and then to board at the Dragon School, Oxford, whose eccentricities — in particular those of the headmaster, “Hum” Lynam — were guyed in his later plays.



    Mortimer always claimed that the opportunity to play Richard II in 1937 in the Dragon’s annual Shakespeare play was the high point in his life, and reviews in The Draconian testify to his outstanding performance. It is odd, therefore, that Mortimer — who spent his solitary childhood constructing sets for his toy theatre, and performing solo versions of Hamlet or Macbeth for his parents—– never again took to the boards. At Harrow he spoke in debates, formed a one-man communist cell, wrote and painted, and by dint of long hours in the Vaughan Library, became extremely well read.



    He went up to Brasenose College, Oxford, at 17, to read law at his father’s insistence. With his deteriorating eyesight, Mortimer senior wanted his son in chambers as soon as possible. Mortimer would have been better suited (having, in his housemaster’s words, “bohemian tendencies” and “antinomian views”) to reading English, but his father was adamant.



    Billeted in wartime Christ Church, skinny, bespectacled and effete-voiced, he wrote poetry and began to affect outfits in flamboyant purple velvet and to embark on intense friendships, particularly among the aesthetes. His Oxford years ended abruptly in July 1942 when he wrote florid letters to a handsome Bradfield sixth-former visiting Oxford, and the letters were found by the boy’s housemaster. The young man, who later became a distinguished judge himself, was expelled from his school and Mortimer was told by the Dean of Christ Church not to return. This “small scandal” was soon expunged from his memory, but resurfaced in the themes of several plays he later wrote, including one about his schoolday hero, Lord Byron.



    Pronounced medically unfit for the Armed Forces, back in the family home, a modest house built by his father in 1932 in the deeply rural Thames Valley, he embarked on his first (unpublished) novel. But he had to fulfil the approved war work requirement to get his degree. Jack Beddington of the Crown Film Unit lived near by: he arranged for 19-year-old Mortimer to join the unit at Pinewood, making propaganda films. This supplied him with a cast of characters and plenty of dialogue and plot to inspire his first novel, Charade, published to high critical praise in 1947.



    His father, now blind and dependent on his wife to read his briefs aloud and lead him into court, welcomed his son into No 1 Dr Johnson’s Buildings in the Temple immediately after he was called to the Bar in January 1948. The following year Mortimer married the bewitching Penelope Dimont, n�e Fletcher, a fellow novelist five years his senior, who was living near by and, when they fell in love, was already pregnant with her fourth daughter. Both Mortimers had novels published that year. So the couple set up home in a Temple flat with a ready-madefamily; their own daughter Sally arrived in 1950.



    This teeming, often chaotic household — which moved in 1952 to a more spacious Victorian house at Swiss Cottage — became the setting for a dramatic, volatile, competitive marriage, which two novelists living in 1950s Hampstead were almost bound, by trendy convention, to pursue.





    Though a loving stepfather, Mortimer — busy dealing with divorce cases by day — was an unfaithful husband, incapable of saying no to a lucrative film script or resisting a seductive starlet. His wife, by common consent the superior novelist, was driven to distraction by his behaviour and, after 1955, when their son Jeremy was born, the marriage struggled not to unravel.



    While, in magazine features, “The Writing Mortimers” were photographed with their brood of six, both were cannibalising the marriage as material. In 1956 they spent the summer in Italy and wrote a joint book, With Love and Lizards. The following year their writing diverged: he went into playwriting with The Dock Brief; she was signed up by The New Yorker.



    One of his short plays, What Shall We Tell Caroline?, shared the bill with another, slightly less promising young playwright, Harold Pinter. A young director, Peter Hall, was engaged to direct Mortimer’s first full-length West End play, The Wrong Side of the Park, and Hall suggested Wendy Craig to play the part of the pregnant young woman. Mortimer embarked on an affair with Craig: she gave birth in November 1961 to their son, Ross, whose paternity was kept secret for 42 years. But Penelope Mortimer was fully aware of the facts and made excellent use of this marital blow, producing from it her best novel, The Pumpkin Eater — later filmed with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch playing the Mortimers.



    Mortimer’s output became prodigious; it was his low boredom threshold, he said, that drove him, with an air of effortless productivity, to write film scripts — John and Mary and Bunny Lake is Missing — and dozens of plays for stage, radio and television. At Kenneth Tynan’s invitation he translated for the National Theatre the Feydeau farces A Flea in Her Ear and A Little Hotel on the Side, which reduced audiences to helpless laughter.



    In 1966, five years after the death of his father and after taking part in a lengthy probate case, Mortimer took silk and “turned to crime”, switching his legal speciality to criminal defence. He claimed to regard the law as a maze of absurdity from which its victims had to be rescued. But he never really devoted himself to advocacy, or took cases entirely seriously. At the same time, he was enjoying in his forties a delayed adolescence in London’s summer of love.



    As 1970 dawned, at a new year party, he met Penny Gollop, at 23 half his age, who was tobecome his second wife, and the mother of two more daughters — Emily, now an established Hollywood film actress, and Rosie, born in 1984.



    Mortimer was a defender not only of murderers but of free speech. He took a libertarian stand against the view that published works could tend to corrupt and deprave, starring in a series of celebrated show trials that linger in the memory under their offending titles: Last Exit to Brooklyn (the appeal), the Oz Schoolkids’ issue, the Little Red Schoolbook, Inside Linda Lovelace, and the landmark Gay News trial of 1977, when the charge against Denis Lemon, who had published James Kirkup’s poem about the dead Christ, was blasphemy.



    But he also accepted lesser-known cases, defending seedy purveyors of pornographic books and magazines and blue movies. Mary Whitehouse, the doughty Christian soldier marching against the rising tide of permissiveness, became a familiar adversary, while Mortimer collected about him a circle of bien-pensant expert witnesses who could be relied on to testify that a work was harmless, or that pornography-induced masturbation was of benefit to society. On one occasion the Rev Chad Varah (obituary, November 10, 2007), challenged in court to deny that the work in question might encourage adultery, asked: “Why are you quoting this ancient desert lore at me? What is wrong with adultery?”



    Prosecutions of this type, featuring the Obscene Publications Squad, fizzled out in the 1980s; a quarter of a century later many of the works thereby catapulted into the spotlight, including Oz 28, hardly seem worth defending. The Lovelace book was real dross, later revealed to be the work of Ms Lovelace’s exploitative and bullying manager. But at the time such cases provided entertainment for the public and, for lawyers, enlightenment (“What is this cunnilinctus?” asked Judge Michael Argyle during the Oz trial) along with copious fees.



    Well might Mortimer have appeared to be enjoying himself as he addressed juries with charm and wit. His tactics, also used by Rumpole, were either to flatter and cajole jurors with “this is only a fleeting moment in your life — you will soon leave here and forget the events in Acacia Avenue — but for my client this moment will affect the rest of his life”; or to belittle the case in hand, comparing its insignificance to the great events unfolding elsewhere (“since this case began, men have landed on the moon”).



    In porn cases he would deploy the “aversive” argument — that nobody could be titillated by this piece of writing, only repelled, or at the very least put off sex until Thursday week. Once, when he congratulated the jury on sitting through a very boring case, the judge intervened: “It may surprise jurors to know that the sole purpose of the English judicial system is not to amuse Mr Mortimer.”



    It was in 1970 that A Voyage Round My Father — originally for radio, then a TV play — reached the West End, with Alec Guinness and later Michael Redgrave playing Mortimer senior. He followed this with Collaborators, another accurate picture of the first Mortimer marriage.



    In the mid-1970s Rumpole arrived as a Play for Today, and never departed, despite many farewells, including the death of Leo McKern, the actor who brought the Old Bailey hack so brilliantly to life. Fifty Rumpole stories were televised in 20 years, each series issued in book form.



    With televisual fame, which impelled Mortimer to give up the Bar in 1984, came national-treasure status. Having sat on the Arts Council sub-committee that ended the rule of the Lord Chamberlain as theatre censor, Mortimer chaired or sat on the board of the Royal Court Theatre (overseeing its rebuilding), the National Theatre, the Royal Society of Literature and the Howard League for Penal Reform. In the 1990s he chaired the plinth committee — to decide what work should occupy the vacant space in Trafalgar Square.



    For the last 35 years of his life Mortimer lived in his father’s old house, replicating his habits, maintaining the 20 acres of garden, championing local causes (conserving the Thames Valley’s wildlife, and Henley’s cinema and cricket ground, and opening Turville village school as a holiday centre for inner-city children) ignoring his physical infirmity and continuing to produce, in longhand despite failing eyesight, a new book every year.



    His journalism was prolific: most notably he supplied excellent profiles (Lord Hailsham, Joan Collins, Graham Greene, Lord Denning, Arthur Scargill, Christine Keeler) to The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, and innumerable book reviews. In leader-page polemics for the Daily Mail, he would wax sentimentally Blimpish about Dickens, Christmas, hymns and the countryside.



    In 1981 he had been credited with the vastly successful 13-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for Granada TV — but this proved, after many awards and accolades had been heaped upon him, to have been a re-adaptation by the producers and the director Charles Sturridge, who had reverted to Waugh’s own words and “shot the book”, despite keeping his byline on the production.



    However, Mortimer wrote several other excellent adaptations, including a play about Unity Mitford from David Pryce-Jones’s biography, and John Fowles’s The Ebony Tower. He had the bizarre experience of watching the TV film of A Voyage Round My Father being shot at his home, Laurence Olivier enacting his father’s deathbed scene exactly where he had previously watched his father’s life ebbing away.



    His novel-writing resumed in the 1980s with Paradise Postponed, charting the political developments in post-war Britain, with one eye on TV serialisation; but like the clever but indolent schoolboy he had once been, in later novels he began to be satisfied with what he could get away with. Though compassionate and amused, he was incapable of looking under the skin of his characters any more than he could analyse himself, or escape from the anecdotage he spun around himself.



    The champagne he allegedly drank in the mornings was often left untouched. He was haunted by the figure of Trigorin in The Seagull (“We must write”) knowing that he would never be regarded as highly as Chekhov. But not even afternoon melancholia could diminish his genial bonhomie, and he was happiest when surrounded by friends at the Tuscan villa — the setting for his novel Summer’s Lease (filmed for television with Sir John Gielgud) — which he rented every summer from the late Leonard Ingrams, brother of Richard.



    In 1986, along with his wife Penny and Harold Pinter and Pinter’s wife Lady Antonia Fraser, he formed the 20th June Group: a gaggle of playwrights and novelists who met to discuss how Thatcher might be overthrown. This attracted, as he confessed, a good deal of well-deserved hilarity. After the longed-for victory of the Labour Party in 1997, Mortimer was rewarded for his support with a knighthood, but immediately turned on Tony Blair for his attacks on tolerance, personal freedom and hallowed tenets of the legal system such as trial by jury.



    He took his high-profile, wheelchair-borne presence on the Countryside Alliance marches in support of fox-hunting, wrote why-oh-whys for the Daily Mail, and was so incensed when his wife was rebuked for smoking at Chequers by Cherie Blair that he took up smoking after 40 years of abstinence.



    At his 80th birthday party, a leggy chorus line in toppers and fishnet tights — including Candida Lycett-Green, Martha Fitzalan-Howard, Joanna David, Kathy Lette, his wife Penny and others from his regular harem — serenaded him with Hello, Johnny.



    Because he wrote so much, and performed in public so often, Mortimer was usually viewed through his own mocking and idealised version of himself, and if confronted with challenges to his truthfulness, the old devotion to freedom of speech appeared to desert him.



    “Telling lies is a very good idea sometimes,” he instructed his grandchildren in one of his last nonfiction books, Where There’s a Will. Horace Rumpole selected, for his gravestone, the epitaph: “The defence rests”. Mortimer decided that this would suit him equally well.



    In his last years he continued to feel like Trigorin and kept on producing books. Last Christmas he published his Mortimer’s Miscellany, the collection of poems and jokes from his road-show, and (though hardly able to see) he was four chapters into a final Rumpole. He died at home, surrounded by his family.



    He is survived by his wife Penny and their two daughters Emily and Rosie, and by his daughter Sally and son Jeremy by the late Penelope Mortimer; by his son Ross Bentley, and by four stepdaughters from his first marriage.



    Sir John Mortimer, QC, playwright and novelist, was born on April 21, 1923. He died on January 16, 2009, aged 85

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: UK EHV_Emmetts's Avatar
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    R.I.P. Sir John.



    Another passing. This is becoming a very sad start to 2009.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: England cornershop15's Avatar
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    Reminds me of January 1990 - Gordon Jackson, Terry-Thomas, Ian Charleson, Ava Gardner ...and (on the same day as Ava) Gordon Kaye's near-fatal accident during the last big storm.

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