John Mortimer Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

During a time of revolution in English drama, John Mortimer was more a traditionalist than an innovator. Nevertheless, he made two enduring contributions to the stage: Demonstrating the artistic and commercial viability of the one-act comedy and writing a memory play that stands as a landmark work of the period. As a novelist, he wrote family chronicles in the Victorian manner for late twentieth century readers. Further, inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle, he created in Horace Rumpole a detective whose international popularity rivals that of Sherlock Holmes. Finally, his television scripts have enhanced the stature of the genre.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Clifford Mortimer first attracted attention on the English stage in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as a writer of one-act and full-length comedies of manners and farces that traced what he called “the tottering course of British middle-class attitudes in decline.” He gained his widest audience, however, on television, notably with an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited and with the teleplays he fashioned from his own Rumpole of the Bailey stories, his novels Paradise Postponed and Titmuss Regained, and his autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father.{$S[A]Lincoln, Geoffrey;Mortimer, John}

He was the only child of Clifford and Kathleen Mortimer. His father was a barrister who wrote a standard reference work on probate law and who continued to practice long after he went blind. In the play A Voyage Round My Father and in his autobiography, Clinging to the Wreckage, Mortimer wrote of his relationship with his quick-tempered father. His experiences from 1937 to 1940 at Harrow School in Middlesex and from 1940 to 1942 at Brasenose College, Oxford, are reflected in the play as well and treated in detail in the autobiography. During this period, he developed his left-wing sympathies, his dislike for the English upper classes, and his generally anti-establishment views, all of which are central to Paradise Postponed and Titmuss Regained.

Because of his bad eyesight, Mortimer did no military service in World War II; instead he worked as an assistant director and scriptwriter with the Crown Film Units. In 1948 he was called to the bar; he became Queen’s Counsel in 1966 and Master of the Bench, Inner Temple, London, in 1975. Until 1983 he practiced law while writing novels, film scripts, plays, and journalistic pieces. Though much of his early legal work involved divorce litigation, he later became a leading figure in freedom of speech and press cases; partly through his efforts, for example, the Lord Chamberlain’s stage censorship powers were abolished in 1968, and in 1970 he successfully defended Oz magazine against charges of pornography. He married Penelope Fletcher (a novelist known first as Penelope Dimont and then as Penelope Mortimer) in 1949. After their divorce in 1972, he married Penelope Gollop.

Perhaps because of his early success with radio dramas, Mortimer’s first works for the theater were one-act plays, and he continued to write them into the 1980’s, demonstrating both their commercial and artistic viability. Though his short farces such as Mill Hill and Marble Arch are mere whimsies, The Dock Brief is a Chekhovian one-act play of enduring merit that he originally wrote for radio and then adapted for the stage in 1958....

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