“Let us now praise great men….” Ecclesiasticus: 44: 1
The writer, barrister, playwright, babe magnet John Mortimer died in January 09.
Mortimer was a hero in his sphere. A hero has left the stage. Writer, family man, babe magnet, his father's son, lawyer, defender of freedoms, wit, raconteur, champagne socialist....all of this and much more.
Mortimer lived well in the world. Perhaps above all things, he was committed to his writing. He wrote every day alongside his busy legal practice. Commentators such as Melvyn Bragg feel that Mortimer's writings, particularly 'Rumpole of the Bailey' will last and will be read in 200 years' time. That's quite a legacy.
John Mortimer also created a wonderful family legacy. In later years he bought back his father's house in Suffolk and his extended family gathered around him. Sons, daughters, children, grandchildren, wives, ex-lovers - all of them gathering around and no doubt continuing to gather around in the family estate now that he has passed on. That's quite a legacy.
John Mortimer was a babe magnet. He was funny and witty and mischevious. This seems to have made him highly attactive to women all his life. When he was about eighty he discovered that he had a son he didn't know about. His son Ross was a result of a fling Mortimer had had with the actress Wendy Craig. Ross was welcomed into the extended family as one of their own. Mortimer said that he had wanted Wendy Craig to play a leading part in one of his plays at the time. With a completely straight face he reflected that he may have kind of 'over-persuaded' her. 'Over-persuaded'!
John Mortimer was a defender of liberties. He hated to see limitations imposed on personal freedom. He was called upon to defend free speech in several key legal cases of the day. The Oz trial, the obscenity case against the novel 'Last Exit to Brooklyn' and others were all causes celebres in which Mortimer featured as a leading light.
Mortimer was not always right in his defence of personal liberty. He was not particularly right about pornography, which he saw as harmless. But his ability lay in seeing both sides clearly and choosing to support one side in particular and make that his public stance. It wasn't a moral position as such in my opinion - it was an elected stance based on his strong aversion to limits imposed on personal liberty. But Mortimer's position was a strong one precisely because it wasn't primarily moral or moralistic in nature. It was a chosen position, defined out of his predilections as a person. In this sense Mortimer was feline. He was cat-like, padding carefully through the flowers and undergrowth and choosing his own track. For me, this is another factor that equipped John Mortimer to live well.
His writing gave him detachment, his attractiveness and sensuality gave him an unconventional but successful extended family, his attitudes gave him balance. A moralistic attitude might have denied him this balance, might have made him preachy, shrill or disillusioned. He was none of these things. He steered an interesting course.