Rake and Rumpole: Mavericks for Justice




I have put up a new paper on SSRN comparing Rake's Cleaver Greene and Horace Rumpole of the Bailey. They offer contrasting views of professionalism, among other things. To make sense of this I use Mary Douglas's ideas of Purity and Danger (or taboo). 

The abstract reads: 
My thesis is that lawyers regularly fall into two categories in various media— either saints or sinners; heroes or villains; conventional or maverick, representing the sacred and the profane. The classic saint is Perry Mason who was rather dull but a dependably good lawyer. Over the last twenty years or so, television has emphasised the sinner and the maverick. TV shows such as L.A. Law and Ally McBeal have played up the quirky aspects of lawyering, edgy, serendipitous, even whacky. And while US shows identify individual lawyers, they mostly operate in the context of a firm with partners who can function as a brake when needed. 

In the Anglo-Australian context the barrister tradition thrives. Here the individual lawyer is pitted against bigger opponents such as business or the state. There is considerably more space for outré personality traits and idiosyncrasies to flourish. The British series Rumpole of the Bailey and the Australian Rake illustrate two variants of a similar theme—the maverick against the powerful. The Bar as a profession represents a clubbable environment where class, status and education signify one’s position in the hierarchy. Horace Rumpole and Cleaver Greene, even though well educated, are portrayed as archetypes of Groucho Marx’s maxim, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” They are barristers in spite of themselves, fiercely independent, clever, and ethically fluid. They seek a form of ethics bound to justice rather than ideas of discipline and governmentality. 

These two television series are not contemporaneous: Rumpole was filmed in the late 20th century and Rake in the early 21st. Nevertheless, they speak to each other over the years in small but detectable ways. Both the protagonists are Australian. Leo McKern (Rumpole) and Richard Roxburgh (Rake) are acclaimed actors of their generations with a range of roles, but both have been captured by these particular characters. Rumpole appears in both television and book form with the result that McKern’s physical representation became that of Rumpole. And although Rumpole has been performed in radio by other actors, no visual depiction has yet replaced the original. There is one connection that occurs in early episode. Cleaver Greene is a witness in a bungled robbery and his former lover, Scarlet, a Crown prosecutor, decides to cross-examine him instead of letting her junior do it. This breaches ethical conduct. As her questions cause Cleaver to squirm, he bursts with frustration and shouts at his somnolent counsel, “Oi, Rumpole”, in order to get him to object. It is the only time when the two shows acknowledge each other.

There are stark differences between the two shows despite the time differences. English lawyer shows tend to concentrate on the courtroom with the outside world only barely registering (Robson 2017). Rumpole of the Bailey is an exemplar of this. We see him at home with Hilda and we see him in chambers and Pommeroy’s Wine Bar drinking Chateau Thames Embankment, reciting Keats, but the majority of each episode is in court. Rumpole is also more genteel; on the whole people are decent to each other as befitting stereotypes of British society at this time. Rake, however, spends possibly more time outside the court than in and is far less genteel: many bad things happen to Cleaver as befitting the narratives of a more rough and tumble society in Australia. This is certainly so as the series progresses. Much of Rake revolves around Cleaver’s relationships, dysfunctional and functional. One other distinguishing aspect is how much of Rake is taken up with Cleaver’s own legal problems. The first few episodes show him in a tax tribunal because of his own non-payment. Cleaver is desperate to delay the proceedings as long as possible using all sorts of wiles—dodgy witnesses, half-destroyed evidence, and eventually succeeding when, as the judge is about to find against him, the judge conveniently has a heart attack and dies. As this chapter is taken up with comparison I dip in and out of the characters; for a sustained analysis of Rake as a larrikan see Lili Pâquet’s chapter in the same volume. 

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