Obituary: Rhonda Baker

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The Independent Online
Rhonda Baker had always been a rising star in the firmament of entertainment law, but the publication in 1995 of her book Media Law: a user's guide for film and programme makers made her more widely known to the international film and television production community as a friend and guide to those who, while well versed in the arts of shooting takes and setting up, were less acquainted with the complexities of the documentation required to achieve funding and production. Baker's book encouraged them to get some of the way by themselves.

Born in 1959 in north London, Rhonda Baker was fiercely loyal to her family and her roots. Her striking good looks, with a pale complexion and dark hair, made it difficult to ignore her Irish antecedents. Her flashes of born wit and keen readiness to participate (to the full) in any good time going, further tokens of these, were sometimes mixed with the more melancholy side to her Celtic background.

Her seemingly effortless rise in her profession started with a scholarship to the North London Collegiate School in Edgware, a school distinguished by its academic prowess and devotion to hard work; she achieved both. She had an insatiable interest in the Hollywood greats (Bette Davis was an especial role model) and in drama. But law, with its combination of hard intellect and practical application, appealed to Baker, and in 1977 she gained an exhibition to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to read under the aegis of John Collier.

Her tutor's respect for her abilities was confirmed by the prizes she subsequently carried away in her Bar finals. But the Bar, despite the offer of a tenancy, and however much its social habits and intellectual camaraderie appealed to her, was not an opportune place for a single young woman struggling for financial independence. As she said, "I loved being at the Bar, but I couldn't afford the drinks."

She applied for a position to a firm of solicitors, Denton Hall, well- known internationally for its media practice, with the aim of combining her legal skills with her knowledge and love of the media. She thrived as a solicitor and was soon respected for her fearless views on any given subject, professional or otherwise; her irreverence about the self-importance that distinguishes some legal practitioners; and the continuing drive for perfection in her work.

In 1988 she moved with colleagues to S.J. Berwin & Co, to establish the firm's media and communications practice. In 1990 the practice recognised her talents by making her a partner at the precocious age of 30. In the following two years, Rhonda Baker gained friends and laurels for her work in the film and television world; no query was too slight, no legal analysis was too complex, no document too lengthy for her to deal with, and with clarity, speed and remarkably mature judgement. But behind the veneer of the professional young woman there remained a warm and sympathetic personality, that always sought to help a friend or colleague in any kind of difficulty.

In November 1992, however, a routine visit to her doctor aroused suspicions of breast cancer. After her recovery from the necessary operation, she conceived the notion of writing a handbook combining some legal and practical wisdom for the struggling independent producer, a breed whose numbers had been greatly increased by the advent of Channel Four Television and the independent quota requirements of the new Broadcasting Act. In a world where media as business was becoming more important, her aim was to make the production community more efficient.

The publication launch party of Media Law: a user's guide for film and programme makers in 1995 was held on the eve of her return to hospital for more treatment. The book became a word-of-mouth success with producers, and legal practitioners. The first edition has since sold out, but a second edition is promised.

Rhonda Baker's illness did not diminish her enthusiasms for music, painting, dress- making, and, above all, writing. She completed one novel and numerous short stories; another draft novel has been discovered. A management manual for S.J. Berwin & Co, completed in the final year of her illness, contains characteristically wry and forthright tips on best practice for solicitors, ranging from dress codes to telephone manners.

She was ably assisted in all her endeavours by her two black pugs, George and Stanley, much loved (it is rumoured) because they were the only two creatures on God's earth more strong-minded than their mistress.

Rhonda Elizabeth Baker, solicitor and writer: born Bushey, Hertfordshire 11 July 1959; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1982; barrister-at-law 1982-84; assistant and solicitor, Denton Hall 1984-88; partner and consultant, S.J. Berwin & Co 1990-97; married 1987 Simon Laycock; died London 25 June 1997.