Rumpole of the Bailey PBS, Thursdays (through April 21), 9-10 p.m., check local listings. Stars: Leo McKern, Marion Mathie, Peter Blythe. Writer: John Mortimer. Producer: Jacqueline Davis. The crusty ``old darling'' of the Old Bailey is back.
Writer John Mortimer has once again extended the life of Horace Rumpole in six new ``Mystery!'' episodes.
Leo McKern plays Rumpole so impeccably that it is difficult to distinguish the actor from that long-winded, rumpled, eccentric, but still somehow lovable bore. McKern's Rumpole resembles W.C. Fields and Don Quixote far more than a dashing hero like James Bond.
Marion Mathie has replaced the ailing Peggy Thorpe-Bates as Bailey's autocratic wife, Hilda - ``She Who Must Be Obeyed'' - and in the initial episode of this new series she is so outraged at the old man's telling a blue joke at an official banquet that she requires him to find quarters away from home temporarily. Meanwhile, Horace manages to solve mysteries while annoying everybody with whom he comes in contact.
But plots don't really matter in Mortimer's Rumpole series. What matters is character, fun, and eccentricity - tilting at bureaucracy, hypocrisy, and pomposity.
If by some slight chance you have until now escaped falling under the spell of this grumpy, warmhearted, cold-reasoning man who calls everybody ``old darling,'' you are in for a special treat. Chances are Horace Rumpole will become your ``new darling.''
Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.