Cecil Rolph Hewitt (C. H. Rolph), the middle child of the three sons of Frederick Thompson Hewitt, a City of London police officer, and his wife, Edith Mary Speed, a seamstress, was born on 23rd August 1901, in Southwark. His mother died in 1900. After being educated at local county council schools he left at the age of fourteen and became a counting-house clerk at a ladies' dress and coat manufacturers in London.
Hewitt lost his job in 1917. According to his biographer, Anthony Howard: "Out of work and already something of an autodidact at sixteen, Hewitt initially tried to become a junior reporter - he had learned shorthand at school - but failed to find any openings. Through the good offices of his father, who had meanwhile become a chief inspector, he secured a post instead with a firm of chartered accountants in Victoria Street, only to bring about a family crisis conclave when it was established that to be accepted as an articled clerk would require a premium of £500. Even on a chief inspector's pay this was not a realistic option, and, although his father toyed with the idea of surrendering his life endowment policy in order to make it possible, the young Hewitt was anxious to prevent the putting into effect of any such self-sacrificing gesture, and announced his intention of following his father into the police. Turned down on medical grounds by the Metropolitan Police - he later came to believe mainly because at nineteen he was a year under the age at which that force normally liked to recruit - he then blundered into applying to join the quite separate force of the City of London police, which accepted him. It was a decision that immediately prompted his father to resign on the rather over-fastidious ground that father and son could not possibly serve together in the same relatively small law enforcement body overseeing the Square Mile."
Hewitt made good progress in the police force but developed a strong desire to become a journalist. However, as a serving policeman he was not allowed to publish his views in the press. "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." Therefore, using the pseudonym, C. H. Rolph, he began submitting articles to newspapers and magazines. He specialised in writing about "cases of injustice, the rights of the individual against authority, the treatment of offenders, the workings of the legal system, and the whole mid-twentieth-century campaign for penal reform".
In 1946 Hewitt retired from the police force and the following year he was recruited by Kingsley Martin, to the staff of the political weekly the New Statesman. He also contributed to The Police Review and latterly for the New Law Journal. In 1954 he served as the secretary of the Herbert Committee (named after its chairman, Sir Alan Herbert), which brought together publishers and booksellers to press for a reform of the law on literary censorship. The committee's recommendations formed the basis of the Obscene Publications Act (1959), which required works to be considered in their entirety rather than with reference to specific passages. He was also active in the Howard League for Penal Reform, the National Committee for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, and the Albany Trust (of which he was chairman).
C. H. Rolph was also a prolific author, publishing no fewer than twenty-eight books. This included Crime and Punishment (1950), Personal Identity (1955), Women of the Streets (1955), Common Sense About Crime and Punishment (1961), Hanged By The Neck (1961), The Trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1961), All Those in Favour? (1962), Books in the Dock (1969), Kingsley: the Life, Letters and Diaries of Kingsley Martin (1973), Living Twice (1974), London Particulars (1980) and Further Particulars (1987).
He also appeared on BBC Radio. George Steedman later wrote: "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."
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 expensive."
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.