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A&E Home Video presents
Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Seasons Five, Six, and Seven (1988,1991, 1992)

Erskine Brown: It's my practice, Rumpole.
Rumpole: Oh, still practicing? I'd have thought you'd have the hang of it by now.

- Julian Curry, Leo McKern

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: March 09, 2006

Stars: Leo McKern
Other Stars: Marion Mathie, Julian Curry, Peter Blythe, Peter Bowles, Patricia Hodge, Jonathan Coy, Robin Bailey, Abigail McKern, Maurice Denham, Maureen Derbyshire, Eric Dodson, Bill Fraser, Christopher MilburnNicholas Gecks, Denys Graham, Denis Lill, Richard Murdoch, Joanna Van Gyseghem, Ann Way
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some nudity)
Run Time: 15h:37m:58s
Release Date: July 26, 2005
UPC: 733961730661
Genre: television

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

DVD Review

Leo McKern makes his final appearances in his signature role as A&E bows the 18 episodes that comprise the fifth (1988), sixth (1991) and seventh (1992) seasons of Rumpole of the Bailey, available in this six-disc collection, or as part of the Rumpole of the Bailey Megaset.

McKern is in his element with creator Sir John Mortimer's iconic character, personifying the underachieving (according to his wife, Hilda) meat-and-potatoes junior barrister, whose nose for the truth rivals only his taste for cheap wine. Rumpole must not only contend with the judges faced at the Old Bailey, but with the collection of fellow barristers enshrined in the chambers of Number 3, Equity Court, and the ever present, and dominating presence of his wife, affectionately known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed." The tension between Horace and Hilda is palpable, but despite outward appearances, there is a bond that neither wants to admit. While Rumpole grimaces at Hilda's constant chiding, she also demonstrates her attachment to her husband through her preposterous belief he is having affairs or is otherwise content to live without her.

The cast is impeccable, and Rumpole's associates are well represented throughout, which adds to the richness of the atmosphere. The relationship between Claude Erskine-Brown (Julian Curry) and wife, Phyllida (Patricia Hodge), is put to the test, as Claude's roaming eye gets him into trouble, and the power struggle in the family is entertaining, especially with Claude perpetually in his wife's shadow and junior in position. Both actors are brilliant in their roles, as is Peter Blythe as Sam Ballard, the pious and proper head of chambers is a perfect thorn in Rumpole's side, always erring on the side of idiocy, with Rumpole at the ready to derail any conspirings that might be going on. Rumpole's junior, Liz Probert manages to get into mischief in several episodes, usually at Claude's expense, and Peter Bowles (as Guthrie Featherstone) manages to entertain Rumpole through his many failings, both as judge and husband. Uncle Tom's (Richard Murdoch) antics continue to be a sore spot in chambers for some.

This set introduces a few new regular characters, including McKern's real-life daughter, Abigail taking over the role of Liz Probert, Christopher Milburn as Dave Inchcape, and Camille Coduri as secretary Dot Clapton, another to catch Claude's eye. Also look for cameos By Mortimer in Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent, Rumpole at Sea and Rumpole on Trial.

The writing continues to be brilliant and consistent, weaving the storylines together in flawless fashion, although there are a few episodes that are a little too convenient in how key evidence is come upon. The series maintains continuity from episode to episode, as past indiscretions crop up from time to time to haunt the perpetrator. Despite the odd misstep, Rumpole of the Bailey delivers a courtroom drama of the highest calibre, laced with humor, and a good deal of ribbing the justice system. There will never be another Rumpole.

Rumpole and the Bubble Reputation

Although not his forte, Rumpole defends a tabloid newspaper against a romance novelist suing for libel, after the paper suggests her puritan characters stand in sharp contrast to the author's own licentious behavior. Horace is on the hook for boarding poor Erskine-Brown after his advice to investigate a strip club lands Claude's picture in the paper, much to Phyllida's displeasure.

Rumpole's enthusiasm for his windfall is tempered when he learns the real reason for his hiring, while Claude squirming is a joy to behold.

4 Scales of Justice out of 5

Rumpole and the Barrow Boy

After being embarrassed at the bank, Hilda is determined to see Rumpole take silk, and to prove her point, leaves him. Horace is engaged defending the only upwardly mobile member of the Timsin clan, after he is accused of insider trading. In chambers, scandal is brewing after a cheque entrusted to Henry fails to be deposited, and Claude is busy trying to get Ballard's endorsement for joining a private club.

Any time Hilda is on the war path, it makes for an entertaining episode, but despite Rumpole's glee in having a peaceful household for a change, it is short lived.

Rumpole and the Age of Miracles

Coinciding with Ballard's appointment as chancellor for the Church of England, Rumpole is called upon by his nephew, a priest accused of adultery, to defend him in the ecclesiastical court. With Ballard on the bench, an uncooperative defendant and Erskine-Brown prosecuting, it's up to Rumpole a few miracles of his own. The key to Rumpole's success lies in his devious use of Ballard's convictions.

Rumpole and the Tap End

Featherstone finds himself in hot water when he excuses one of the Timsins on a charge of attempted murder due to being located at the tap end of the bath during the infraction. Incensed at the apparent lack of justice for those of her sex, Hilda threatens to take up the bar in their defence.

It's always fun to see Guthrie attempt to undo his mistakes, and this is no exception.

Rumpole and Portia

When Portia is promoted to the bench s Recorder, Rumpole sees an opportunity to use her home life as a reasoning position while defending an antiques dealer accused of selling arms to a know terrorist. Meanwhile Liz probert counsels Claude after spying Portia in a seemingly compromising position. Rumpole's home life is disrupted by Hilda's annoying cousin, prompting a bit of skulduggery to be rid of him.

Rumpole and the Quality of Life

While suffering a new diet, Rumpole becomes Ballard's second defending a young woman accused of murdering her elderly husband. Claude's relentless advances inspire Liz to ply her womanly charms in getting a new, and gay, barrister, admitted to chambers.

Claude's interview of the prospective new chamber member is simply priceless.

Rumpole a la Carte

A dinner out at a posh restaurant becomes the center of attention. While Rumpole bemoans being deprived of his steak and kidney pud, at the next table, Claude is dished up a side of live mouse, but is reluctant to serve as a witness due to his companion at dinner—a lady other than his wife. Rumpole is charged with defending the arrogant chef against the health and sanitation violations. At home, Rumpole has to endure another of Hilda's cousins.

Once again, Claude's squirming is delightful.

Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent

A worker attempting to cross a picket line is killed with a brick, and Rumpole is engaged to defend the trade unionist responsible. Featherstone is ready to strike over new provisions for solicitors in court, and Hilda decides a strike is in order at home, which will affect Rumpole's access to supper.

A nice melange of strike themed grievances are aired in this episode.

Rumpole and the Right of Silence

After attending a soiree at his niece's university, Rumpole is called upon to defend a professor unwilling to provide an alibi when a colleague is killed. His sleuthing also extends to Ballard, whose suspicious behavior is threatening his marriage.

Claude's interview of the prospective new chamber member is simply priceless.

Rumpole at Sea

A quiet cruise vacation with the wife is scuttled when Rumpole learns that nemesis, Judge Graves, with whom he has just had a major spat, is also on board, causing Rumpole to seek cover. But when a politician's wife goes missing, Rumpole is there to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Rumpole and the Quacks

With Phyllida leading the prosecution, Rumpole defends his family doctor, who is accused of over examining one his female patients. Erskine-Brown is in the dog house when Portia becomes convinced her husband has placed an ad in the personals with hopes of dating other women.

Rumpole for the Prosecution

After the police decide not to press charges against one of their own, Rumpole takes on a private prosecution for the family of a young real estate agent murdered on the job. Portia believes Claude is going through a mid life crisis when he is caught nicking a brief, and Ballard asks Rumpole to prosecute.

This is a rare case of Rumpole prosecuting, and also demonstrates the part of English law that allows private citizens to bring criminal cases before the court.

Rumpole and the Children of the Devil

The Timsins are once again in trouble, this time accused of being devil worshippers, which results in the daughter being seized by the state. Rumpole takes to juvenile court to return the girl to her family. Meanwhile Erskine-Brown is scheming to bring new blood to Equity Court, but the addition would mean sharing Rumpole's office, a situation he is greatly opposed to. Hilda is determined to have Rumpole escort her to the Scales of Justice ball, he is unenthused about the prospect.

Rumpole and the Miscarriage of Justice

After sentencing a man to life in prison for the murder of a police officer, Featherstone finds himself up for review when the case is reopened on charges of tampering with evidence. Rumpole is enlisted to defend the officer charged with altering the confession.

Guthrie's presence is always good for a laugh, especially when Rumpole can get the better of him.

Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle

While revelling in the flirtations of a young violinist, Rumpole reluctantly defends her husband for the murder of the couple's musical partner. After overhearing suggestive remarks, Erskine-Brown accuses Henry of sexual misconduct, sending Ballard on a moral crusade to clean up chambers.

Never underestimate Rumpole's ability to see through the distractions!

Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Jonson

Phillida champions to help her husband take silk, after rumors circulate in chambers that he hasn't got the bottom for the job. Rumpole takes the case for a teenager accused of stealing from the elderly, only to find his own apartment burgled and evidence absconded. The director of a local reform house urges Rumpole to enter a guilty plea in an effort to save the boy.

Portia's cunning is brilliant.

Rumpole and the Family Pride

So much for a quiet vacation. Rumpole and Hilda visit a castle owned by a distant member of her family, only to become embroiled in a case of murder, with their host as the accused. Can family secrets, and the pride of the aristocracy keep Rumpole from uncovering the truth?

Rumpole on Trial

Has Rumpole finally gone too far? when Erskine-Brown overhears Rumpole consulting his client against Justice Oliphant's orders, it lands Rumpole in a disciplinary hearing, and Hilda looks to Ballard to help clear him of the charges. ballard feels chambers is faced with imminent scandal when Dot shows up with her nose pierced.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: For the most part, the image quality is very good, with nice saturation, solid blacks and a good level of detail. Only the occasional dropout or rolled frame detracts from the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is fine from a technical perspective, with no signs of distortion or other anomalies. Dialogue is clear for the most part, although accents and location audio sometimes obscure what is being said.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 108 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Episode introductions by John Mortimer
  2. John Mortimer cameos
  3. Prop trivia
  4. Essays
Extras Review: Like the previous two Rumpole sets, each episode is prefaced with "opening remarks" from author John Mortimer, outining the case, and any trivia about its origins. Each episode contains six indexed chapter stops, and each disc has a "play all" feature.

The final disc contains the extras, including McKern's Memories (17m:45s), a retrospective on the series by Leo McKern's daughter and costar, Abigail, a fitting tribute to the man we've come to know and love from his 17-year adventure as Rumpole.

Spot the Barrister (1m:16s) highlights John Mortimer's Hitchcockesque cameos in several episodes, while Newspaper Evidence (:31s) uncovers the truth about one of the props used in the series.

Mortimer's biography and selected bibliography is reprised, as are the essays on th Old Bailey and the list of the official executioners of Newgate Prison.

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

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The final three seasons of Rumpole of the Bailey offer more of the series' classic mix of courtroom drama and witty humor. Sir John Mortimer's introductions add to the presentation, and Abigail McKern's tribute to her father adds a personal touch to this concluding set. A toast, and farewell to you, dear Rumpole!


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