Mortimer, John, 1923-2009.

Alternative names
Birth 1923-04-21
Death 2009-01-16

Biographical notes:

British author and playwright.

From the description of John Clifford Mortimer papers, circa 1969-2007. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 85182862

English lawyer, playwright, and novelist.

From the description of 1.5 linear ft. (Boston University). WorldCat record id: 70969336

Epithet: Kt.; QC; playwright and novelist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000205.0x0003e0

English playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and lawyer.

From the description of John Clifford Mortimer Papers, 1957-1967. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122365923

John Clifford Mortimer, the only child of Clifford and Kathleen May Smith Mortimer, was born in Hampstead, London, on April 21, 1923. He was educated at Harrow School (1937-40) and Brasenose College, Oxford (1940-42, BA 1947), and, like his father, he became a barrister in 1948 after serving as a scriptwriter and assistant director for the Crown Film Units during World War II. Mortimer's first novel, Charade, was also published in 1948, and within ten years he had published six more novels. His third radio play, The Dock Brief, which was produced by the BBC Third Programme in 1957, won the Italia Prize and was produced on the stage in 1958, along with the first play he wrote for the stage, What Shall We Tell Caroline? Among his subsequent stage plays are The Wrong Side of the Park (1960), The Judge (1967), A Voyage Round My Father (1970), and Collaborators (1973). He also wrote translations of Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear (1966) and Cat among the Pigeons (1969). Besides writing for radio and television, Mortimer also wrote screenplays for The Running Man (1963), John and Mary (1969), and other films.

Unlike his playwright contemporaries, the “angry young men” of the 1950s, Mortimer came from an upper-class background, wrote about the middle classes in decline, and followed established theatrical traditions. He is better known for his one-act plays than his full-length ones, and he is perhaps best known for his Rumpole of the Bailey novels and television series, and for his television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Mortimer continued to work as a lawyer and became a Queen's Counsel (1966) and Master of the Bench, Inner Temple (1975). In a celebrated case in 1970 he successfully defended the publishers of Oz against pornography charges.

Mortimer married twice, first to author Penelope Fletcher Dimont (1949, divorced 1971), and second to Penelope Gollop (1972-), and he had two children with each.

More information about John Mortimer and his work may be found in the following sources: Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, volume 21 (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981-); Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 13 (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1982); and the International Dictionary of Theatre, volume 2 (Chicago: St. James Press, 1992-96).

From the guide to the John Clifford Mortimer Papers TXRC99-A24., 1957-1967, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center University of Texas at Austin)

Biographical Information

John Clifford Mortimer was born on April 21, 1923 in London, England, the only child of Clifford and Kathleen May (Smith) Mortimer. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford from 1940 to 1942, earning a BA in 1947. During World War II, Mortimer served as a script writer and assistant director for the Crown Film Units. The son of a barrister, Mortimer was called to the bar in London in 1948, coinciding with the publication of his first novel, Charade .

Perhaps best known in America for his stories featuring barrister Horace Rumpole, Mortimer is renowned in his native England as both a barrister and a playwright/author. One of his most celebrated cases came in 1971 when he successfully defended the publisher's of the underground magazine Oz, on a charge of obscenity. Mortimer has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including a knighthood in 1998.

Mortimer's works, fiction and non-fiction, reflect on current issues of the day including racial tension found in Rumpole and the Fascist Beast (1979), terrorism and civil rights in Rumpole and the Reign of Terror (2006) and numerous journalistic essays on the current state of politics in Britain, crime and the royal family. He does not limit his writings though to fictional barristers or current day concerns, but has written several autobiographical works including the play A Voyage Round My Father (1970) about his parents and his childhood, and books Murders and Other Friends (1994), Summer of a Door Mouse (2000), and most recently Where There's a Will (2003).

John Mortimer was married to writer Penelope Fletcher Dimont in 1949, divorcing in 1971 and marrying Penelope (Penny) Gollop in 1972.

More information about Sir John Mortimer can be found in his autobiographical works, his unauthorized biography John Mortimer: The Devil's Advocate, by Graham Lord and an authorized biography written by Valerie Grove to be published by Viking in 2007.

From the guide to the John Clifford Mortimer papers, circa 1969-2005, (The Bancroft Library.)


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  • Detective and mystery stories, English
  • English literature--20th century
  • Authors, English--20th century
  • Novelists, English
  • Television plays, English
  • Novelists, English--20th century
  • Dramatists, English--20th century
  • English drama--20th century
  • Legal stories
  • Rumpole, Horace (Fictitious character)
  • Lawyers as authors
  • Crime--Fiction
  • Screenwriters
  • Screenwriters--England
  • English drama
  • Theater--20th century
  • Dramatists, English


  • Authors, English
  • Dramatists, English
  • Novelist, English


  • England (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)