Obituary: C. H. Rolph

Click to follow
I met C. H. Rolph (Bill Hewitt) 35 years ago, when we both belonged to the executive committee of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, writes Antony Grey (further to the obituary by George Steedman, 15 March). Later, I became the society's Secretary and Bill was a very supportive Chairman during the hectic campaigning years of the mid-1960s which bore fruit in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

Homosexual law reform was only one of the many forward-looking causes for which Bill Hewitt worked unremittingly during his journalistic years at the New Statesman, to whose staff Kingsley Martin had shrewdly recruited him in 1946. Bill had realised that writing about the law and society was even closer to his heart than policing; and he found his ideal niche at Great Turnstile. His erudite and finely crafted articles became essential reading for everyone - whatever their political persuasion - who was concerned ahout penal reform and problems where the social shoe pinched, such as mental health and prostitution.

Bill did not spare himself by staying inside a writer's ivory tower. Though he regarded committees as a necessary chore rather than an enjoyable way of life, he served on a great many during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s - notably those concerned with abolishing the death penalty and theatre censorship; reforming the laws on homosexuality and obscene publications, and compensating the victims of crime. He was for many years on the executive of the Howard League, and at the request of the then Home Secretary, James (now Lord) Callaghan, he drafted a keynote government White Paper, 'People in Prison' (1969). He was one of the first members of the Parole Board.

After he retired from the New Statesman, 'CH Rolph' remained very much alive, pursuing a busy writing career until within a month of his death and recording numerous 'talking books' for the blind. We kept in constant touch, and he kept me amazed at the freshness and liveliness of his mind. The zest and charm of his writing endured well into his nineties, despite the sorrow of his wife's death in 1982 and the encroaching burden of old age, which he viewed with philosophical detachment. He was, he said, 'a very lucky old man'. Those of us who counted him as our sage and friend were very lucky too.