John Clifford Mortimer was born on April 21, 1923, in Hampstead, London, to Clifford and Kathleen May Smith Mortimer. His father was a barrister who went blind when Mortimer was still young but continued to practice law. Mortimer studied at Harrow School in Middlesex from 1937 to 1940, and at Brasenose College, Oxford, from 1940 to 1942. Because of his poor eyesight, he was exempted from military service during World War II and worked as an assistant director and scriptwriter with the Crown Film Units. He was called to the bar in 1948, and in the years since has practiced law in London while writing for radio, television, the theater, film, and newspapers. He became Queen’s Counsel in 1966 and Master of the Bench, Inner Temple, London, in 1975. As a barrister, he has been a leading figure in freedom of speech and press cases; in part as a result of his efforts, the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship authority was abolished with the passage of the Theatre Act of 1968, which—according to Mortimer—raised the status of playwrights “to the most carefully protected of all public performers.” Mortimer married Penelope Fletcher (a novelist, known first as Penelope Dimont and then as Penelope Mortimer) in 1949. They were divorced in 1972, and Mortimer remarried in the same year, to Penelope Gollop.
A regular contributor to The Times of London, Mortimer entered the intellectual world from four directions at once: As a barrister, he held forth in...
(The entire section is 405 words.)