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Dock Brief


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A: John Mortimer Pf: 1958, London Pb: 1958 G: Com. in 1 act S: Cell below the courts, England, 1950s C: 2mWilfred Morgenhall is a washed-up lawyer whose dream has come true: he has lived all his life waiting to be called as the ‘dock brief’, a barrister appointed by the court to represent a defendant. His client Fowle is a bird-fancier charged with the murder of his wife. Clearly he has a better grasp of the law than Morgenhall and instructs him about the defence, most of which will rest on the intolerable nagging of his wife. Morgenhall dreams of his brilliant court performance, but in the event is unable to utter a single word, because ‘a tremendous exhaustion overcame him’. However, his client is acquitted on the grounds that his defence was so incompetent that he did not receive a fair trial. Morgenhall is devastated, but his client reassures him that the brilliance of his ‘dumb tactics’ saved him. The two men leave whistling and dancing, with the now buoyant Morgenhall promising to be his new friend's legal adviser.

A: John Mortimer Pf: 1958, London Pb: 1958 G: Com. in 1 act S: Cell below the courts, England, 1950s C: 2m

Mortimer, himself a lawyer, repeatedly wrote comedies ‘on the side of the lonely, the neglected, the unsuccessful’. Originally performed on radio, Dock Brief depicts the paradoxical triumph of a failed lawyer, and in the gently amusing comedy, it is easy to overlook, as Mortimer does, that an unrepentant murderer goes free.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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