Born in Sydney, Australia, Leo McKern lost his left eye in an accident at the age of 15. Although he had a glass eye, he served in World War II as part of the Royal Engineering Corps in Victoria. McKern moved to England in 1946 at age 26 where he performed for with the Old Vic (3 years) and the Royal Shakespeare Company (2 years). In a career that lasted more than 50 year, his credits include appearances on stage, film and television. He could handle serious and comedic roles as well as Shakespeare with equal skill and flair.
In 1952, he made his film debut in "Murder in the Cathedral". In 1966, he won the role of Thomas Cromwell in "A Man for All Seasons "(1966) about the conflict between Sir Thomas More and King Henry VIII. In 1965, he was Clang, the high priest, in the Beatles' movie "Help". In all, he appeared in over 60 films.
In 1975, McKern earned his best known role as the title character in "Rumpole of the Bailey" a television series written by Sir John Mortimer. Rumpole is a barrister (criminal lawyer) who practices in the Old Bailey in London. Mortimer was so pleased with McKern's portrayal of his character that he convinced McKern to continue as "Rumpole" for seven series which ended in 1992.
McKern was awarded the Order of Australia in 1983.
After the death of actor John Houseman in 1988, McKern became the spokesman for Smith-Barney, a brokeragecompany/investment bank.
McKern was married to actress Jane Holland whom he married in 1946. They had two daughters. Their daughter Abigail appeared with her father in the "Rumpole" series as barrister Elizabeth 'Mizz Liz' Probert.
McKern died in 2002 after a long illness.