Obituary: C. H. Rolph
Tuesday 15 March 1994
CECIL ROLPH HEWITT was first a policeman in the City of London Police, but foremost he was a writer, CH Rolph. As he explained to me in his deep gentle voice, 'The quickest way to get sacked from the police without a pension was to write for the public prints, especially to write about police matters, and more especially to do that in a left-wing weekly, so I had to change my public name.
'But I didn't want to get lost, so I juggled these absurd names of mine and called myself CH Rolph in the New Statesman.' This, one gathered, was why everybody knew him as Bill - it seemed quite logical. There was nobody else anywhere writing like CH Rolph, so when the Spectator sought to emulate its rival, and Bill was short of cash, he wrote for them under the new rebus of RH Cecil, until he soon discovered that the name was already used by a rather distinguished judge who wrote novels.
Thus he was maintained principally by Kingsley Martin's New Statesman, which did not pay him riches but gave him fame so that when the brilliant post-war Radio Features Department of the BBC under Lawrence Gilliam put Jenifer Wayne to work to make a series called This is the Law consisting of what would nowadays be called drama-docs, educating the pre-
television British society in the law, she had Bill Hewitt as her adviser on the police and the law. The programme was an outstanding success. To quote Hewitt again: 'I advised Jenifer on This is the Law and when it was finished I advised her to marry me. I was delighted to find she was still taking my advice.' The Somervillian daughter of the headmaster of Marylebone Grammar School and the much less formally educated journalist had a close and happy marriage of mutual affection and respect.
The rivalry between Scotland Yard and the City Police was deep, with the Met unable to stomach the autonomous and rather gentlemanly enclave in the middle of their empire. In the 1950s the Met were perhaps not as scrupulous as they are now and three of their officers were found guilty of a rather shabby crime. Hewitt was doing a topical talk for us on the then European Service of the BBC and naturally did a straight account of this story of justice but unfortunately based his piece on the Times Law Report of the case, which had mentioned four defendants. Scotland Yard were tipped off and their lawyers, who must have seen a chance to snatch something from the jaws of their recent defeat, slapped a writ for libel on the BBC and Hewitt in the interests of the fourth man, demanding the considerable sum of pounds 2,250.
The BBC caved in completely without a fight. I as the editor concerned was ordered to plead culpa mea maxima culpa and Bill Hewitt by his contract was ordered to pay 10 per cent of the damages, which he actually could not afford. However a quick contract for a series of talks on his beloved London solved that problem and we were left unharmed and contemptuous of our betters.
For the flavour of his writings many readers will be able to disinter from their shelves The Week-End Book, the delight of every fairly sober citizen of the Thirties, and find therein a sequence called 'The Law and How You Break It', which, though out of date in places, is still a good and typically humorous summary for ordinary people, in 15 short pages. His conclusion was written long before the affair outlined above but is apposite: 'The law may be likened to a whimsical lady. It is an advantage to have knowledge of her character, but her embraces are to be avoided, for they are apt to be both ill-timed and
Bill Hewitt was a good writer, and a good man, who never fought trivial battles and never avoided great ones when justice and freedom were at stake. His 32-foot diapason of a voice, quiet, deliberate, beautifully paced to let the meaning come through at a proper speed, was a model which modern radio would do well to emulate and leave the frantic patter to the box.
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