Leo "Rumpole" McKern, 1920–2002

LONDON (AP) - Leo McKern, the Australian actor who gained fame as a curmudgeonly barrister in “Rumpole of the Bailey,” died Tuesday at the age of 82, his agent said. McKern, who had been ill for some time, died at a nursing home near his home in Bath in western England, said his agent, Richard Hatton.

McKern starred as Horace Rumpole in 44 episodes between 1975 and 1992, playing a crafty lawyer giving to quoting poetry, swilling “Chateau Thames Embankment” at Pomeroy’s wine bar, and dueling at home with his wife Hilda - “she who must be obeyed.” The distinctive appearance of McKern’s fleshy face was due in part to a glass left eye, the result of an accident when he was a 15-year-old engineer’s apprentice. “Rumpole,” created by British lawyer John Mortimer, won a global audience, and McKern resigned himself to the inevitable typecasting. “With Rumpole one comes to be reconciled to the fact that it isn’t half a bad thing to be stuck with,” he once said.

Born Reginald McKern in Sydney, he moved to Britain in 1946, two years after making his stage debut. Some of his early British stage appearances came at the Old Vic Theater between 1949 and 1952, and at the Shakespeare Memorial Theater at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1952-54. In 1967, McKern appeared in the second episode of “The Prisoner,” the cult television show starring Patrick McGoohan. McKern appeared as No. 2, the authoritarian figure who died at the end of each episode, to be replaced by another actor in the next.

McKern’s film roles included “The Mouse That Roared” (1959), “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), The Beatles’ “Help!” (1965), “A Man for all Seasons” (1966), “Ryan’s Daughter” (1971), and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1983). His last film role was as a bishop in “The Story of Father Damien” in 1999. His reminiscences, “Just Resting,” were published in 1983, the same year he was awarded the Order of Australia.

Sigh. I was hoping for one more series. He had a good innings.

Damn! The good ones keep dying.
I loved McKern as Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons. He lost in court to Paul Scofield’s Sir Thomas Moore, but he got revenge by winning all those times as Horace Rumpole of the Bailey. I still haven’t seen all of the Rumpoles, but the ones I have are excellent. He also read several of them on audiotape (for Durkin-Hayes and for Penguin Audio), and did so with considerable gusto. His readings are far vetter than the other readers.

The above blurb left out one of his best roles – he was the most frequent #2 in The Village in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. (And I think they screwed up – no way is McKern in Lawrence of Arabia).

Most frequent, as in, twice, IIRC.

:frowning: Definitely.

He was certainly best known as Rumpole, but I’ve seen him in a wide range of roles… and he was one of those actors who give it everything they’ve got; I never saw him in a part he didn’t take seriously, from Thomas Cromwell (and he won that case, Cal!) to a power-crazed computer in Space: 1999.

He’ll be missed.

He was a charming and talented man.


More than that. – “The Chimes of Big Ben” and the last two episodes for certain. I’m pretty sure there were others. My copy of The Prisoner Companion is at home. (And I screwed up – the OP did mention this role).

Yeah, but only because Richard Rich (John Hurt) lied. More was winning until then. Rumpole would never have accepted a victory like that.

Wasn’t he also in The Day The Earth Caught Fire?

Don’t forget Ladyhawke!


(Heh. I occasionally call my missus “She Who Must Be Obeyed”…)

how sad that I can now use my favorite “Rumpolism” for such a talented man-
he’s fallen off the twig.

A very sad day…

I’m pretty sure I saw every Rumpole.

Thanks for the memories.

sigh One of my birthday presents this year was a collection of Rumpole books, most delightfull. The series was of course, utterly enjoyable, he will be missed.

I recall when they brought Rumpole out of a Florida retirement. I’m sure I’m bollixing this terribly, but I recall dialogue something like this:

Secretary: But wasn’t the climate wonderful?
Rumpole: Certainly. [glowering] If you happen to be an orange.

All my favorites are leaving us…I think I’ll go have a glass of the house plonk as tribute to a great actor.

Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep and feed and know not me.
Tis not too late, to seek a new world Push off, and sitting well in order, smite The sounding furrows: for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset and the baths Of all the western stars until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Tho much is taken, much abides; and tho`
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven: that which we are, we are
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Leo McKern, RIP.

I am very saddened by this news. I can hear his voice now, in my imagination. What a great fellow. What a contribution he has made.

Yes, playing the newspaper editor, I believe. The IMDb (imdb.com) lists his character’s name as Bill Maguire.

The IMDb lists only those three episodes.

I believe that the last two episodes of “The Prisoner” were really one double episode, if you take my meaning. The old “to be continued” trick. So you could say he was in three one-hour episodes, or two complete stories. Whatever. He certainly wore a good turtleneck.

He was a favorite, and I salute him as well. I’ll never forget him in Help! yelling “Kyeelee!!!” (or however the Hell you spell it)…Timmy

Me too. (My missus that is, not yours) One Christmas I even got her a sweatshirt with that emblazoned across the front.

I shall dearly miss ol’ Rumpole. :frowning: