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The Dock Brief (US title Trial and Error) is a 1962 black-and-white British legal satire directed by James Hill, starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough, and based on the play of the same name written by John Mortimer (creator of Horace Rumpole).

The Dock Brief
Trial and error dvd cover.JPG
Cover of 1999 DVD version
Directed byJames Hill
Produced byDimitri de Grunwald
Written byScreenplay: Pierre Rouve
Play: John Mortimer
StarringPeter Sellers
Richard Attenborough
Beryl Reid
David Lodge
Frank Pettingell
Music byRon Grainer
CinematographyEdward Scaife
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studio
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer (USA/UK)
Release date
  • 20 September 1962 (1962-09-20) (UK)
Running time
88 minutes
77 minutes (DVD)
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film had its world premiere on 20 September 1962 at the Plaza Theatre in London's West End.[1]

Richard Attenborough was nominated for the 1963 BAFTA Award for best British actor for his role.


In a cell under the Old Bailey, two men meet. One is Wilfred Morgenhall, an unmarried barrister who never gets any cases and is overjoyed to have won this dock brief, the defence of an accused individual with no lawyer (at public expense). The other is his client Herbert Fowle, an insignificant man who just wants to plead guilty to murdering his wife and get it all over.

Flashbacks show that the wife was impossible to live with and Fowle, who avoided her as much as possible, hatched a plot to get rid of her by taking in a male lodger. The lodger found her amusing and attractive, until one day he went too far and Mrs Fowle threw him out of the house. In despair at his plot having failed, Fowle killed her.

Morgenhall role plays various defences, in the process raising Fowle's will to fight. But when the case is called, he botches it and Fowle is found guilty. Morgenhall goes to visit him in prison, where he learns that Fowle has been reprieved because his defence was so poor. The two leave together, two lonely and inadequate men who have become friends.



According to MGM records, the film made a profit of $141,000.[2]

Other adaptationsEdit

1957 radio playEdit

The BBC produced a radio version of the play on 16 May 1957 for the Third Programme. Michael Hordern played Morganhall and David Kossoff played Fowle.[3]

1957 BBC television versionEdit

Following on from the success of the radio adaptation, the BBC produced a version for television. It aired in September 1957 and again featured Hordern as Morganhall.[4]

1960 Australian television versionEdit

The play was filmed for Australian TV in 1960 directed by Ray Menmuir and starring Reg Lye and Moray Powell.[5][6][7]


Morgenhall: "Now you're the only case I've got, and the most difficult."

The New York Times: "Charming, comic...robustly amusing." (quoted from the DVD cover)


  1. ^ The Times online archive 20/9/1962 page 2
  2. ^ The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Dock Brief - If Men Played Cards as Women Do Notes". The Actors Company Theater. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  5. ^ "The P.M.G.'s private eye". The Australian Women's Weekly. 27, (37). Australia, Australia. 17 February 1960. p. 68. Retrieved 22 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Courtroom for Two". Sydney Morning Herald. 25 January 1960. p. 12.

External linksEdit