"RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY," Thursday, 8 p.m. (28) (50) (58); 9 p.m. (15)--Leo McKern can do many things well in front of a camera. Yet he never was quite as credible as Sidney Reilly's arms-dealing nemesis on "Reilly: Ace of Spies"--and certainly not as lovable--as he is playing that crusty barrister Horace Rumpole in "Rumpole of the Bailey."
And now, coincidentally, as the masterful "Reilly" again retires from PBS (where the series has aired), it is being succeeded on "Mystery!" by another batch of repeat "Rumpole" episodes from Britain's Granada Television. One McKern for another.
Thursday night, as we pick up the story of our fine literature/food/wine/cigar-loving hero in the two-hour repeat of "Rumpole's Return," the British barrister has had it up to here with retirement and Florida sunshine and American ways. Back to London he goes, back to the passions he left behind, back to the horsehair wig and the courtroom, back to those murders and legal duels that make John Mortimer's creation and this enduring series such dependable, delightful viewing.
The supporting cast of Peter Bowles as Guthrie Featherstone, Patricia Hodge as Phyllida Erskine-Brown and Peggy Thorpe-Bates as Hilda Rumpole supplies the kind of highly competent performances that viewers of British TV on PBS now take for granted.
McKern is grand as Horace Rumpole, one of TV's most likable and intriguing continuing characters, at once simple and cerebral, crafty and vulnerable, and a man who knows what he wants--and doesn't always get it.