I was very saddened to read that Rumpole creator John Mortimer died. Not only am I a fan of his books, but I had the pleasure of meeting, interviewing, and profiling John Mortimer for British Heritage Magazine back in 1996 … not to mention sharing champagne with him while we chatted.
Needless to say, I sipped very slowly.
We spoke about everything from feminism and God to computers and murderers. Here are some excerpts from my Mortimer profile:
Judges, according to Mortimer, “take themselves too seriously,” while prisons are a “university of crime.” Mortimer speaks from experience; he earned considerable acclaim as a barrister, especially for his successful defenses in censorship cases. He also represented many divorce clients and accused murderers during his barrister years. According to Mortimer, he much preferred the murderers.
I asked Mortimer which was more difficult to write, comedy or tragedy. “Comedy,” he answered without hesitation. “It is very easy to make people cry, be sad, be miserable. Farce is an incredibly difficult genre. Comedy requires enormous imagination. There are quite a lot of great tragedies, and there aren’t many great comedies.”
Mortimer was equally emphatic about the relative difficulties of his two careers. “Writing is much, much harder than being a lawyer. If you’re a lawyer you can rattle on doing things other people can do. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to do something which nobody else can do. Except writing has less disastrous results. If you write a bad book, no one goes to prison, which is rather a relief.”
Mortimer appears to relish making comments that would tend to provoke a rise, or at least a laugh. Indeed, he laughs easily and often, a condition I found quite contagious. When asked if it’s possible for men and women to communicate without gender getting in the way, he said, laughing, “No. Thank God for it. Vive La Difference.” He added with another chuckle, “I think women don’t want to be sex objects, but I’d love to be a sex object. My own ambition is to be loved only for my body.”
Mortimer, like Rumpole, enjoys making fun of feminists. Yet I sensed that behind his flippant love-me-for-my-body remark was a man who, again like Rumpole, measures women when it matters on merit alone. I suggested that while many women enjoy being sex objects, they don’t want gender to interfere with their careers. “Absolutely,” Mortimer responded, “and so it shouldn’t.”
You can read my entire John Mortimer interview here.
(Cross-posted on my general Humor Blog.)