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A&E Home Video presents
Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons (1983/1987)

"The basis should be clear, even to your lordship. It is vital that justice be done to the gentleman I have the honor to represent."
- Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: January 04, 2005

Stars: Leo McKern
Other Stars: Peggy Thorpe-Bates, Marion Mathie, Julian Curry, Peter Blythe, Samantha Bond, Peter Bowles, Patricia Hodge, Rosalyn Landor, Jonathan Coy, Robin Bailey, Maurice Denham, Maureen Derbyshire, Edward de Souza, Eric Dodson, Bill Fraser, Nicholas Gecks, Denys Graham, Denis Lill, Richard Murdoch, Joanna Van Gyseghem, Moray Watson, Ann Way
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 10h:41m:13s
Release Date: December 28, 2004
UPC: 733961716641
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+A- C+

DVD Review

Four years after its second season, a further six episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey were produced in 1983, and another six in 1987, which comprise the third and fourth season contained in this four-disc set from A&E.

The series was created by John Mortimer, a writer and son of a famous divorce attorney who took up the bar as a way to support his authoring efforts. Mortimer drew from his 36-year career to create the courtroom antics seen in the series, which lampoons the British legal system, while also addressing many of the then-current issues facing British society. Despite a disheveled appearance, Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern) is a man of exacting detail, able to sift through the often obfuscated evidence and testimony to root out the truth. Well versed in literature, he often takes off on extended diatribes quoting his favorite verse, and equally critical of the pomposity of the court, is not immune to uttering commentary under his breath during the course of his defense, eloquently revising himself when caught in the act. His relationships with the judges that preside over him are confrontational at the best of times, but his battlegrounds in the Old Bailey (England's preeminent court) are no less strained than his home life with wife Hilda, whom he refers to as She Who Must Be Obeyed. Hilda's father was once head of chambers, and she harbors a desire to see her husband make something of himself, a feat Rumpole has yet to muster.

Rumpole is one of the more senior members of the chambers at number three Equity Court, where the staff of lawyers receive their assignments. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rumpole is content to remain a simple barrister, with no aspirations of "taking silk" (applying to the Crown to become Queen's Council), or "sitting" (becoming a judge). Instead Rumpole wades through the quagmire of sordid cases put before him, always up for a murder or other scandals, much to the chagrin of some of his colleagues, who would prefer a more dignified clientelle. Rumpole's obsession with finding the truth is matched only by his love of cheap wine, and one will find him soused given the opportunity, whether in good taste or not.

While the bulk of the cast returns, there are a few changes present in the third season, the first being Guthrie Featherstone's (Peter Bowles) appointment to the bench, which limits his appearances in the series to only one episode per season, albeit showcases. This also opens the door for Peter Blythe's arrival as the conservative and Christian, "Soapy" Sam Ballard—a fitting replacement as a thorn in Rumpole's side. Rumpole's new junior, the overly emotional Fiona Allways (Rosalyn Landor), adds another pretty face to chambers, setting up a few storylines.

The fourth season sees more changes, this time with Hilda's character getting a new actor in Marion Mathie, who I'll admit having a hard time getting used to, as her portrayal is a lot more ambiguous in intention than Peggy Thorpe-Bates' version, so trying to read her is more challenging. Fiona is replaced by the liberated and proficient Elizabeth Probert (Samantha Bond), and Nicholas Gecks joins the cast as Charles 'Hearthrug' Hearthstoke, a conspiring young attorney looking to update the workings of his new chambers. As with previous seasons, Rumpole of the Bailey continues to bring highly entertaining courtroom drama, laced with copious amounts of humor and intrigue. McKern is at the top of his form, and Mortimer's stories cover a wide range of crimes and personal adventures, with the unlikely hero displaying the style that makes him so appealing.

Rumpole and the Genuine Article

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." - Rumpole

When a painting sold at auction as that of a famous artist is suspected of being a forgery, Rumpole is hired to defend the alleged forger. Meanwhile, Featherstone's ascent to the bench is jeopardized when he lets slip that he has been selected, and Hilda is unimpressed with her husband's latest female acquaintence.

Rumpole is back in fine form, getting to the truth of the matter, with a few jabs at Featherstone thrown in for good measure.

Four scales of justice out of five.

Rumpole and the Golden Thread

"I think you're getting a little too old for adventure." - Hilda

Rumpole gets entangled in a web of adgendas when he leaves chambers for Africa after being summoned to defend an old pupil, now a prominent politician, on a charge of murder. However, his Old World presence is not quite what he had expected it to be for, as a pair af warring factions await the verdict.

Those who judge Rumpole's appearance as a pedestrian attorney underestimate his abilities to see justice done, despite his client's wishes.

Justice is done!

Rumpole and the Old Boy Net

"No objection to prostitution, have you?" - Rumpole

Rumpole takes a new junior under his wing in a case involving a blackmail charge against the hosts of a bordello for society's elite, however a court rule barring the disclosure of the accuser's name has Rumpole in a stir. Hilda is giddy at the prospect of Rumpole finally becoming next head of chambers, a position all but assured by her husband's seniority.

This episode introduces Rosalyn Landor as Fiona Allways, the latest member of chambers, and Peter Blythe as Sam Ballard. Rumpole's first encounter with Fiona is priceless.4.5 scales.

Rumpole and the Female of the Species

"A fellow looks so much better in a skirt." - Rumpole

The battle of the sexes comes to chambers as Fiona's appointment meets resistance, prompting Rumpole to take up the cause with a little behind the scenes manipulation. Portia resigns to take second in a robbery case when a sexist client demands Rumpole's services... but the case isn't over yet.

Plenty of fun as both Claude and new addition, Ballard, fall prey to Rumpole's mischief, prompting an unexpected move for Portia.

Classic Rumpole.

Rumpole and the Sporting Life

"I have descended among you like a creature from outer space." - Rumpole

Fiona convinces Rumpole to head to the countryside where her sister has admitted to accidentally shooting her philandering husband, but there is something about the case that doesn't quite fit. Rumpole uses his dogged eye for detail to get to the truth of the matter.

Rumpole takes shots at the country court in this one.

Four scales out of five.

Rumpole and the Last Resort

"I sometimes think my bills are sent out by a carrier pidgeon, with a broken wing and no sense of direction." - Rumpole

Rumpole's mounting debt inspires a bit of trickery to collect on an outstanding legal bill, but his courtroom theatrics don't sit well with either the judge or his own chambers. Meanwhile, Rumpole's approach to a case involving a shady travel agency has some unexpected drama, with the defense dying to get to the bottom of the story.

Hilda gets to do her own bit of manipulating in this one.

Four scales of justice.

Rumpole and the Old, Old Story

"A fine fool you made of yourself tonight." - Hilda

The fourth season opener finds Rumpole's inappropriate stories at a dinner function rubbing both a judge and Hilda the wrong way, forcing Rumpole to take up new residence at chambers. Ballard is quickly on the case, looking for an opportunity to catch Rumpole in an impropriety. Portia makes an offer she regrets. Rumpole defends a business partner charged with attempted murder.

This episode introduces Marion Mathie, who replaces Peggy Thorpe-Bates as She Who Must Be Obeyed.Four-and-a-half scales.

Rumpole and the Blind Tasting

"The purpose of wine is not to get you blotto." - Erskine-Browne

After Erskine-Brown offers to educate Rumpole in refining his palate for plonk, Rumpole defends another of the Timsons family in what appears to be a clear cut case of possession of stolen property, in the form of a stash of vintage wine. But while Rumpole may not have the nose of a connoisseur, he can sniff out a scam when he sees it.

Ms. Elizabeth Probert (Samantha Bond) joins Rumpole as his new junior.

Four scales.

Rumpole and the Official Secret

"Secrets. In God's name what would we do without them?" - Rumpole

Rumpole is called to defend a woman accused of selling state secrets—namely the annual tea and biscuit budget—to a gossip column, drawing attention from the highest law makers in the country. With his wife's busy schedule keeping them apart, Erskine-Brown invites Ms. Probert to the opera, asking Rumpole to cover for him.

Once again Rumpole's instincts lead him to the heart of the matter.

Four scales of justice.

Rumpole and the Judge's Elbow

"I don't judge people, that's not my trade. I defend them." - Rumpole

Featherstone's innocent visit to a massage parlor has him up in arms when a prostitution case makes its way to court, with Rumpole defending—it seems the learned judge paid by credit card, the receipts of which may be amongst evidence. The latest addition to chambers is ruffling more than a few feathers with his plans, and Hilda is once again expecting great things for her husband after a bit of scuttlebutt reaches her ear.

This one is a lot of fun as Guthrie squirms. Enter Nicholas Gecks as Charles 'Hearthrug' Hearthstroke, a young barrister determined to upgrade the efficiency of chambers, including retiring the antiquated Rumpole.

Five scales.

Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim

"Here's to crime!" - Rumpole

When the body of a regiment's Seargeant is found outside a night club wearing a dress, Rumpole is summoned to Germany to defend a young man accused of murdering his commander.

Amid the contrasted politeness of a military tribunal, Rumpole struts his stuff as only he can.4 Scales of Justice

Rumpole's Last Case

If this is Rumpole's last case, almost anything can happen." - Charles 'Hearthrug' Hearthstroke (Nicholas Gecks)

Two more of the Timson clan are accused of murder during a botched robbery, with Phyllida and Hearthstroke taking one client, and Rumpole the other. Horace receives a racing tip that will leave him on easy street, prompting a very direct and nonflattering address towards his nemesis, Judge 'Mad Bull' Bullingham (Bill Fraser).

Great fun to be had in the Old Bailey in this episode.

4.5 scales.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is respectable for a television series. Colors are well saturated, with decent black levels. While detail is usually quite good, some scenes are a bit soft. There are shortcomings in the videotaped source, such as whites blowing out on occasion, the odd rolling bars, and a few dropouts here and there.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio quality is very good throughout. Dialogue is for the most part easy to make out, however there are a few places where the location audio makes it harder to discern. Technical issues, such as background noise, are minor and source related.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Episode introductions by John Mortimer
  2. Interview with John Mortimer
  3. About the Old Bailey
  4. Official Executioners of Newgate Prison
Extras Review: Each episode features opening remarks by author John Mortimer, outlining the story and how it came to be. These run from a half minute to over two minutes each. The episodes feature six chapter stops, and each disc has a "play all" option.

The fourth disc contains the bulk of the special features, including a very nice 18-minute interview with Mortimer, in which he covers most of the bases surrounding how the series came to be, and notes on the different characters.

A short Mortimer biography and selected bibliography is included, as are brief text essays on the Old Bailey and a list of the official executioners of Newgate Prison.

The four discs are housed in a sturdy carboard box inside thinline cases, each with a brief episode synopsis on the back.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Twelve more installments of Rumpole of the Bailey make for another wonderful collection satirizing of the British legal system, with Leo McKern firmly embodying the outspoken title character. The added introductions and interview with John Mortimer enhance the set. Recommended.


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