Horace Rumpole (played by the late Leo McKern) is an untidy, ageing London barrister who defends in criminal cases. His clients rarely cut elegant figures. He is fond of red wine, poetry, and fair dealing, and is not looked on as a great success by his wife ('She Who Must Be Obeyed'). Rumpole has had a few triumphs, and the Penge Bungalow murders are often on his mind... Rumpole shares Chambers at Number 3, Equity Court, with a mixed group of barrister colleagues, including Guthrie Featherstone (Peter Bowles) and Phyllida Trant (Patricia Hodge). He also takes pupils - notably Fiona Allways (played by Rosalyn Landor) and Liz Probert. The creator and writer of the series, Sir John Mortimer, received an Edgar Allan Poe Award for crime and mystery for Rumpole.
Rumpole defends a business man who is accused of trying to murder his partner. After a squabble with 'She Who Must Be Obeyed', Rumpole finally leaves home - but Hilda doesn't seem to miss him very much...
Yet another of the Timsons needs Rumpole's services as an advocate, this time to answer charges of fencing stolen liquor. Rumpole accepts Ms Liz Probert - a radical left-wing activist - as a pupil, though not without certain misgivings.
Rumpole defends an elderly woman charged under the Official Secrets Act - she is claimed to have have leaked (so to speak) information revealing excessive British government expenditure on tea.
Rumpole defends a man charged with running massage parlours as brothels, and his former colleague in chambers Mr Justice Featherstone finds himself in an embarrassing position. The prospect of appointment as a Judge is dangled in front of Rumpole - and it is suggested that he might wish to handle the defense of his present case with suitable discretion, so to speak... The troublesome Heathstoke is working to move number 3 Equity Court into the twentieth century and tries to oust both Rumpole and Henry, the chambers clerk.
Rumpole travels to West Germany to defend a British soldier facing a court-martial charged with the murder of his sergeant.
The Timsons are in trouble again, and in need of the services of their favourite 'brief'. The old firm is back in business, but as he unravels the mystery of who carried the gun in a bungled robbery Rumpole is unaccountably wearying of it all. After investing with his turf accountant on a valuable four-horse accumulator, Rumpole makes up his mind that it's time to hang up his wig for the last time - but not before telling a few home truths to his old adversary, Mr Justice 'Mad Bull' Bullingham. Meanwhile, the gods have ideas of their own. Hearthstoke is still giving Henry and Dianne a rough time and he even contrives to infuriate Phyllida.