Leo McKern McKern was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1920. After an accident at age 15 he lost his left eye. He first worked as an engineering apprentice, then as an artist, followed by serving in the Australian Army during World War II. During the war, he made his first stage appearance in Sydney in 1944.
Having fallen in love with actress Jane Holland, McKern moved to the United Kingdom to be with her and they married in 1946. He soon became a regular performer at London's Old Vic theatre and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now called the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) in Stratford-upon-Avon, despite the difficulties posed by his glass eye and Australian accent. In 1949, he played Forester in Love's Labours Lost at the Old Vic.
McKern's film debut came in 1952's Murder in the Cathedral. His other notable film appearances included the Beatles film Help! (1965), the Academy Award-winning A Man for All Seasons (1966), Ryan's Daughter (1970), and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981). He was given the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Travelling North (1987). In Monsignor Quixote (1989), he co-starred as Sancho Zancas with Alec Guinness as Father Quixote.
McKern was one of several Number Twos in the 1960s cult classic television series The Prisoner. Along with Colin Gordon, he was one of only two actors to play Number Two more than once. He first played the character in "The Chimes of Big Ben" and later reprised his role in the final two episodes of the series, "Once Upon A Time" and "Fall Out".
In 1975, he made his first appearance as his most famous character, Horace Rumpole, whom he played in Rumpole of the Bailey for seven series on television until 1992. John Mortimer, the writer and creator of the show, created the part with McKern in mind and had to persuade the actor to continue playing the character. McKern enjoyed the role but had shown concern regarding the fame and how much his life was becoming intertwined with Rumpole's. In the later series, his daughter Abigail McKern joined the cast as Liz Probert.
McKern became an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1983. He told his daughter Abigail that he suffered from stage fright, which became more difficult to cope with as he grew older. He had also worried that his stout frame would not appeal to audiences.
His final acting appearances came in the film The Story of Father Damien (1999) and on stage in 2000. Suffering from diabetes and other health problems, he was moved to a nursing home near Bath, Somerset in 2002. He died there a few weeks later at the age of 82. McKern was survived by his wife Jane, daughters Abigail and Harriet, and a grandchild.