Obituary: Desmond Hawkins

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The Independent Culture
LEONARD MIALL'S obituary of Desmond Hawkins [8 May] gives a full account of Hawkins's early life and his work at the BBC, but only a cursory one of what he did after his retirement, writes Jeremy Knight.

Hawkins's interest in Thomas Hardy led him to become interested in the young Shelley. Having found a cache of documents relating to the family of Harriet Grove, with whom Shelley had an affair, he edited her diary and recorded the affair in Shelley's First Love, published in 1992, the bicentenary of Shelley's birth.

He became fascinated by Shelley and the unconventional life of the Shelley circle, often seeing comparisons with his own experiences in the Bohemian literary circles of the 1930s.

In 1995 he persuaded the editor of the New Dictionary of National Biography to commission him to write 500 words on Captain John Pilfold, Shelley's uncle. He took to the task with gusto, visiting Horsham Museum to see the family papers we hold. He willingly took up the suggestion that, if there was sufficient material, a booklet on Captain Pilfold - a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, totally forgotten in the town of his birth - should be published.

In 1998, the day after Desmond Hawkins's 90th birthday, Pilfold appeared, two days after another book by him on Thomas Hardy - it was his 27th work. The 40,000-word book and the exhibition on which it was based inspired the leader writer of Horsham's local paper, the West Sussex County Times, to suggest a monument should be built in the town to the captain.