John Mortimer Radio Plays

This page is at an early stage; and any information will be gratefully received. John Mortimer has had extensive experience of Law, he has produced a number of excellent radio plays over a period of about 50 years, is the father of Jeremy Mortimer, the radio producer, and is the creator of "Rumpole".

Summary by ND of an article written by Nesta Pain in 1961:

It was about six years ago that I first asked John Mortimer if he would be interested to write for radio. I knew and admired his work as a novelist and knew that he was a barrister. I thought he might write a dramatic programme with a legal setting. We discussed the idea and he was interested. But he was busy.

Weeks passed, and months, and I heard nothing. I rang him up from time to time but still no script arrived. Then, two years later, a friend told me that John had an idea for radio. I rang him and found that it was true.

Laid out in a couple of pages, the plot of The Dock Brief sounded strange. An elderly unsuccessful barrister gets a dock brief to defend a murderer (impossible, as any barrister, including John Mortimer, will tell you). The barrister, who has not had a brief for years, goes to see his client and instead of trying to find out the facts, he spends his time rehearsing imaginary scenes in court in which he ties the witnesses in knots, melts the hearts of the jury and dazzles the judge. The fantasy is shattered when the pair are summoned to court and reality has to be faced. When the case is over, the barrister cannot hide from his despair; but soon his fantasy life reasserts itself and the play ends on a note of wry gaiety.

The play is a minor masterpiece and was awarded the Prix Italia in 1957. It was also on television and later performed at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and the Garrick.

An interesting result of the play is that John now prefers to write for performance rather than writing novels.

Nesta Pain


1957 The Dock Brief*
1982 Edwin
1984 Mr. Luby's Fear of heaven*
.........The dandelion killer*
.........The Spinster's Hoard*
c1990 A collection of eccentricities
1999 Know what I mean?
2000 The summer of a dormouse*
2002 Ceremonial in three flats*
2003 Rumpole and the Primrose Path*
2003 Rumpole and the scales of justice*
2003 Rumpole and the vanishing juror*
2004 Every Breath You Take
2004 Lie Down, Comic, 60m*
2008 Mr. Luby's Fear of Heaven, remake*

1980 RUMPOLE episodes (all in VRPCC collectionsS)
Rumpole and the Expert Witness 22/09/1980
Rumpole and the Course of True Love 29/09/1980
Rumpole and the Perils of the Sea 06/10/1980
Rumpole and the Age for Retirement 13/10/1980
Rumpole and the Case of Identity 15/09/1980
Rumpole and the Fascist Beast 08/09/1980
Rumpole and the Show Folk 01/09/1980
Rumpole and the Defence of Gutherie Feat 25/08/1980
Rumpole and the Man of God 18/08/1980
Rumpole and the Rotten Apple 11/08/1980
Rumpole and the Gentle Art of Blackmail 04/08/1980
Rumpole and the Dear Departed 28/07/1980
Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt 21/07/1980

Roy Moore has contacted me and supplies the following information about a series entitled "John Mortimer Presents: The Trials Of Marshall Hall." 

Roy writes:

...the individual plays which make up at least part of the series are as follows: 

961119 - The Black Trunk
961126 - The Camden Town Murder
961203 - A Hint Of Arsenic
961207 - A Death At Christmas
961214 - The Case Of The Green Bicycle

"Sensational British Trials" included the following titles, two of which (#) already appear in your listings:

The Case Of The Dandelion Killer #
The Case Of The Spinsters Hoard #
The Case Of The Fire In Room 66
The Case Of The Deadly Nightcap
The Case Of The Liverpool Poisoner
The Case Of The Villa Madeira

....Many thanks, Roy - N.D.

Asterisked items known to exist in VRPCC collections


The Dock Brief....1957
Legal cases- with Michael Hordern, David Kossoff", 16.05.57, 3rd Prog, 60 min. Produced by Nesta Pain.

By John Mortimer; R4; specially commissioned by the BBC to mark its 60th Anniversary, first broadcast as The Monday Play on 18th October 1982. 60m. Cast:

Sir Fennimore Truscott QC....Emlyn Williams
Lady Margaret Truscott.........Sylvia Coleridge
Thomas Marjorie Banks........Michael Gough
Director: John Tydeman. (info from Margaret Hobbs)

Mr. Luby's fear of heaven....1984
15 Sep 84; afternoon theatre. With John Gielgud, Peter Woodthorpe, Maddi Head. Mr. Luby wakes up in hospital with no idea of where he is - until he sees the angels on the ceiling. c1980? Rebroadcast by ABC, c1998. Anyone know who produced this?

The dandelion killer and The Spinster's Hoard
Dates nk; famous trials, presented by John. Mortimer and dramatised by Michael Butt. 30 min each.

A Collection of Eccentricities
Not sure what this is...presented by Linda Smith, produced by Kate Rowland, R3, 90min. My source says "writing team: Linda Smith, Fiona Shaw, Tom Kelly, Katie Hims, Lavinia Murray, Parv Bancil, Kathryn Hunter, John Mortimer. Recorded at Wilton's Music Hall." Date nk.

Afternoon Play: 1,000 Years of Spoken English ....1999
30 Nov 99. A double bill. In `Know What I Mean?' by John Mortimer, Patricia Hodge and Michael Kitchen star in the story of a marriage between a barrister and a management consultant which is threatened by a caller. In `The Verger Queen' by Neil Bartlett, starring Bette Bourne, a verger in a historic church is disturbed by a tour party which sparks memories of hundreds of years of the church and the coded world of a once secret sexual culture.

The Summer of a Dormouse....2000
Written for Paul Scofield, with Alex Jennings, Imelda Staunton",,R4,60 min. Friday play 1 Sep 00. Dir. Marilyn Imrie. An elderly man stands in the darkening garden of a vicarage by the sea and looks back on a life which seems to have passed as swiftly as Lord Byron's dormouse summer. Cast list:

Henry Troutbeck Pottinger: Paul Scofield
As a Younger Man: Alex Jennings
As a Boy: Joe Roberts
Mavis Whitney: Imelda Staunton
Felicity Rouxcastle: Joanna David
Rev Henry Pottinger: Oliver Ford Davis
Dawn Pottinger: Gemma Jones
Mr Rouxcastle: John Rowe
The One Man Band: Willy Brown Uniband
Accordian Player: Kevin Street
.... (info from Margaret Hobbs)

Ceremonial in 3 flats....2003
Jubilee holiday play, 4 Jun 02.With Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge. Domestic story.

Rumpole And The Primrose Path ....2003
R4,1415, 24 Sep 03. The many passionate devotees of the cases of Horace Rumpole, barrister at law, can rejoice: despite scurrilous rumours to the contrary, put forward at the beginning of this first in a new series of stories, Rumpole proves to his colleagues, clients, and his wife Hilda that he has certainly not yet set forth on the primrose path to the eternal bonfire. He's very much alive and well, and as adept as always at getting to the heart of a crime. Rumpole exposes criminal practices at the nursing home where he has been sent to recuperate after a heart attack, which has left him in dire need of claret, cheroots and good company. With Timothy West, Prunella Scales, Michael Cochrane, Nigel Anthony, Sophie Thompson, Joanna David, Carole Boyd, David Shaw-Parker. Directed by Marilyn Imrie.

Rumpole And The Scales Of Justice....2003
R4, 1415, 1 Oct 03. When Rumpole is called upon to defend a senior member of the police force in court, his relish for the tragedy of Shakespeare's Othello, and his old acquaintances among the south London criminal fraternity prove very useful, and help him balance the scales of justice in favour of the oft maligned defence barrister. With Timothy West, Prunella Scales, Michael Cochrane, Geoffrey Whitehead, Ewan Bailey, Ian Masters, David Shaw-Parker, John Rowe. Directed by Marilyn Imrie.

Rumpole and the Vanishing Juror....2003
R4, 1415, 8 Oct 03. Rumpole's admiration for the integrity of the Old Bailey jury is legendary, but in this story he encounters a juror in a murder trial who has a personal and very dramatic agenda. With Timothy West, Prunella Scales, Sophie Thompson, and Bruce Alexander. Directed by Marilyn Imrie. (....the above remarks on "Rumpole" are paraphrased from Radio Times)

Lie Down Comic....2004
R4, 2 Jan 04, Fri play, 60m. The story of a comedian who befriends one of his female fans. She is dying and raging against it. The two initially don't hit it off, but eventually find inspiration in each other's company. They end up talking about their shared fear. With Sinead Cusack, Tom Hollander, Alison Pettitt and Tilly Gaunt; director Marilyn Imrie. Additional material by Kevin Day.

31 Dec 08; remake of the classic play by John Mortimer. Mr. Luby wakes up in an Italian hospital, underneath the big toe of God. Is he in heaven, or what? Stars Jeremy Irons, Stephen Critchlow, Marsha Fitzalan, Chris Pavlo, Donnla Hughes, Dan Starkey, Flaminia Cinque. Producer Jeremy Mortimer.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity Website

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