Sense of Place: London

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The television saga Rumpole of the Bailey, starring Leo McKern as barrister Horace Rumpole, ran from 1978 to 1992, and the books continued until the recent death of author (and lawyer) John Mortimer.

Rumpole's main locus in quo is the "Bailey" — that is, the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, where he always defends, never prosecutes. Most days, Rumpole leaves the mansion flat (25b Froxbury Court) that he shares with his wife Hilda (known to him as She Who Must Be Obeyed). It is allegedly one of the clifflike Victorian blocks that line Gloucester Road in west London (you'll look for it in vain). He takes the tube to Temple by the Thames River. It's just a short stroll through Temple Gardens to his chambers in the Inner Temple, a campus of tree-lined courtyards, fountains and gardens where the legal profession has hung out since the 13th century. Visitors can stroll around or drop in at the 12th century Temple Church. (See pictures of London.)

Before starting work, Rumpole fortifies himself with a full English breakfast at the Tastee Bite, a place of Formica-topped tables, fried food and steaming tea urns. His young pupil Phillida Trant chose this venue to confide that she was pregnant, and Hilda's friend Dodo once popped in just as Rumpole was demonstrating manual strangulation on another lady pupil, Liz Probert. The Tastee Bite is fictional, but Bailey's Café, at 30 Old Bailey, is a good spot to sample the kind of fry-up Rumpole would have enjoyed.

The Old Bailey itself (the court is called after the street) is a forbidding structure built in 1902, sporting on its dome the gilded figure of Justice familiar from the TV program's titles. Anybody may sit in the courts' public galleries, unless a case is being tried in camera. Turn up at 9:30 a.m. and queue. Call (44-20) 7248 3277 to find out when the courts are open, or to ask about the rare tours. (See 10 things to do in London.)

Tours are more readily available at the 127-year-old Royal Courts of Justice, which loom over the Strand. They're home to the High Courts and the Court of Appeal, and film crews and protesters frequently hang around the Gothic entrance. Tours can be arranged by calling (44-20) 7947 7684.

Rumpole often goes to prison to visit temporary or permanent guests of Her Majesty. Brixton in south London or Wormwood Scrubs ("the Scrubs") in the city's west already look grim on the outside. Their even starker interiors can be viewed by arrangement with the police — just throw a brick through a jeweler's window to get their attention. Any fan sufficiently dedicated to follow this procedure won't flinch from the dreary pilgrimage to two other Rumpole haunts: the Uxbridge Magistrates' Court and the supremely ordinary south London suburb of Penge, site of one of our hero's greatest triumphs: the Penge Bungalow Murders.

After a hard day in court, Rumpole repairs to Pommeroy's wine bar where he knocks back several glasses of "Chateau Thames Embankment." It's modeled on the El Vino wine bar,, at the bottom of Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street (although there are four other branches). The bar in fact boasts a distinguished wine list — absolutely no "cooking claret" — and traditional food such as steak-and-kidney pie. Flashes of inspiration occasionally strike Rumpole in these convivial surroundings, but more often than not he returns home to Gloucester Road and discusses the mysteries of his current case with Hilda, who naturally solves them for him — or at very least a subplot. Cue theme, roll titles.

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