Monday, September 19, 2005

Mortimer’s Miscellany

On Saturday Mrs TofE and I toddled along to the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton (named after Clifton College alumnus Sir Michael, and surely one of the poshest school theatres in the world), to watch Rumpole-creator John Mortimer deliver his ‘Miscellany’.

It was an old-fashioned ‘entertainment’ in aid of deafblind support charity Sense, and featured the man himself – wheelchair-bound and ancient, but perfectly lucid – along with venerable actresses Joanna David and Rohan McCullough. A motley trio of musicians (cello, Clive Conway on flute, and bizarrely, Jon Lord from Deep Purple on piano) played inoffensively tinklesome interludes, and a very graceful lady provided expansive sign-language interpretation from stage left.

Anyway, Mortimer and the aforementioned venerable actresses gave us a scattergun selection of poetry (Betjeman, Byron, EE Cummings etc – met with suitable audience ‘how-true’ hmmms of approval), excerpts from Rumpole and A Voyage Round My Father (met with appropriate chortles) and other various readings (met with hmms or chortles as required).

But of course the best bits were Mortimer’s lengthy anecdotes from his days as a barrister, many of which were gloriously fruity and some of which may even have been true.

He claimed that the worst sorts of cases were divorce proceedings, because his clients would be forever telephoning him in the middle of the night with complaints like “You’ll never guess what the bastard has done now – stolen the toast rack!” and so forth.

Murderers were much better, because as Mortimer put it, “generally speaking they’d got rid of the one person who was really bugging them, and a sort of tranquillity descended.”

Anyway, he also told this yarn, which is a hoary old chestnut if ever there was one, but he told it better than anyone else I’ve ever heard before. And now you can tell it too, after-dinner or otherwise…

The story goes that Mortimer was representing a lady who was the victim in a sexual assault case. An important part of the thing hinged on what exactly it was that the accused had said to the victim, prior to the alleged assault.

However, when asked to recall it, the lady, being shy and embarrassed, claimed to be quite unable to repeat it in front of a packed courtroom. Eventually, after much sympathetic cajoling, she was persuaded to write it down on a piece of paper, whereupon it would be passed along and read by the jury.

So she writes it down, and of course it is along the lines of “Every act in the history of human sexual congress will pale into insignificance compared to the deeds I would like to perform viz a viz your good self” – though expressed in somewhat cruder language.

So this note is passed to juror number one, who reads it, passes it to number two, who reads it, passes to number three and so on down the line.

Now juror number twelve is a mature gentleman who during these shenanigans has managed to drift off into a deep, peaceful sleep. And next to him, juror number eleven is (naturally) a pneumatic blonde. So after she has read it, she gives him a sharp jab in the ribs and passes the note.

Thus, the whole courts watches in delight as the old duffer is startled awake, takes the note, reads it with evident growing surprise and satisfaction, looks at the blonde, winks, and tucks the paper into his blazer pocket.

After a few minutes stunned silence, the judge asks juror number twelve if he wouldn’t mind proffering the note for the rest of the court’s attention. Whereupon the old duffer replies “It’s a purely private matter, M’Lord.”

(Sadly, the sign-language interpreter didn’t do this story.)

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