Roger Hewland

It is with much sadness that we report that Roger passed away on Friday, 13th October, after a period of ill health.

Do you have memories of Roger or Gramex you would like to share? Please send your tributes to They will be very gratefully received. (Owing to my work commitments, it may take a little time for me to respond. Apologies in advance.)

Antonio E. Méndez-Vigatà

In 1986 I moved to London in order to pursue my graduate studies at the Architectural Association. At that time, since many collectors were switching form lp's to cd's, the UK was a true paradise for people like me, with a low budget and a keen interest in classical music records. The trove was marvellous which many of the recordings offered were not available in Mexico, my home country.

I vividly remember the first time I went up the stairs of the Gramex shop at Waterloo station, seen the unwelcoming sing "No riff raff", entering into the shop and being amicably greeted by a gray haired gentlemen, who started inquiring about who I was, from where I came from, and what my classical music tastes were. Very soon I became a regular and started a friendship with several fellow customers and members of the staff, such as John Hughes, John Hopkins, Dave, Neal, amongst others. All of them, very knowledgeable about recordings and classical music in general. The shop seemed more like a club than a commercial venture, at noon, many people would spend their lunch time browsing at records or chatting. During my three years stay in London I accumulated more that 2,000 lp's and about 300 CD's, which I mainly acquired from Roger, and that are part of my record collection.

In time, I was also invited to take some day trips with him, searching or helping him select and acquire records from collections in the countryside. In 1989 I returned to Mexico, since then every time that I visited London I made a point of going to Gramex purchasing some records, and having a chat with Roger.

I really regret Roger's passing, a charming and generous man, as well as the closing of Gramex, which undoubtedly was in the 1980's the most interesting and best stocked second hand classical music shop in London.

Please give my condolences to his family - I don't know if Tony, his brother is still alive - and to his friends.

Al Waterson

I was going through some old drives and came across this interview I did nearly a decade ago! I went on your website to investigate, only to find Roger had passed quite recently and so I thought you may like to see it. I got involved in this via Bob Morris but I'm not sure who is actually conducting the interview, as it's not him.

I also found some cutaway shots.

Jon Dee

A recently posted video features a collector talking about Gramex and Roger (at 07:30).

Although it's sad to get confirmation of Roger's passing, it took me back to that time when I was a regular visitor to the shop. Apart from the bargains I could get there (I mainly collected contemporary classical music which Roger would often price low!) I enjoyed being in the company of him, the staff and other customers. I remember when he did start putting a few music books on the shelves, and Roger saw me looking at one and said "Remember that line in Steptoe & reading leads to Communism!"… typical Roger!

I also visited the Lower Marsh shop throughout the 90’s more than once a week, so statistically we were probably both in the shop at the same time on more than one occasion! Before its relocation, I had already been regularly visiting the shop in the late 80’s when it was in York Road, which was literally outside one of the exits of Waterloo Station. If I remember correctly you entered through a single door, and then went up a flight of stairs to the shop on the first floor. At the top of the stairs, before you turned right into the shop, Roger had put a sign which said (if I remember it correctly)

No Dogs
No Riff Raff
No Hugo Wolf

That was typical of Roger’s sense of humour. In the same way that he teased you about Mozart, I saw him do the same with other customers regarding Wagner. As you have said, Roger was a wonderful and endearing man, but Gramex was more than just a shop. You just knew that every person in there was a true music lover who probably ended up buying more recordings than they had intended to do so going in. It was predominately a male customer base, and I suspect a lot of them were spending more money than their partners would have been happy about! If you were a regular customer, Roger (and some of the other staff) would work out a total, only to then reduce it by a significant amount to encourage you to visit again… a technique that worked on me!!

For anyone who didn’t have the pleasure of spending time with Roger, here is an interview which conveys how he always was… this is him not ‘putting on an act’ for the camera…

Henry Lamprecht

I walked down Lower Marsh on 25 July 1995 as a young and impressionable 17 year old and this little magical shop caught my eye… Gramex!

I entered the shop and I was greeted with a cheery "hello" from a smiling chap with grey hair. I recall him asking me what I liked... I declared my undying love for Mahler and Strauss and Wagner and Roger said two things; "Oh well, you have appalling taste and we can try and educate you" and by the end of my shopping spree he said: "don't worry, you are a collector now and you'll be back soon". And he wasn't wrong! On that first visit Roger took pity on me and let me have a complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for £20 (it was the Solti on Decca and I still have it!)

For the next 22 years I regularly popped in to Gramex and spent very little on buying thousands and thousands of CDs (I did resist Roger's attempts to get me to buy one of the Edison gramophones with the wax cylinders).

At the end of one particularly extravagant and successful shopping spree, I remarked that I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to smuggle all my new purchases into the house and that my other half would probably divorce me. With a twinkle in his eye, Roger said: "bring him along next time, I'll turn him into a collector too". I did... and Roger did turn him into a collector! (With the help of the endless cups of tea!)

I have missed the political chats since the shop closed and my bank manager has been a much happier person. I miss dear old Roger very much and I miss Gramex. It wasn't a shop, it was an institution and Roger an absolute legend.

This is all part of a world that has gone now... music is piped into our homes on electronic boxes with tinny sound through the internet. A complete Orwellian nightmare where we are fed sanitised and consumerist drivel. I blame the bloody Tories! (I hope that was a rant worthy if Roger).

Henry Lamprecht
Doughty Street

From Ben Basing


I was queuing to get into a Prom somewhere on a South Kensington pavement in the summer of 1985 when I restarted a conversation with the horn player I'd met in the same way a few days earlier. He mentioned a shop, next to Waterloo station, up a flight of stairs with a sign at the top saying 'No Riff Raff'. Apparently the proprietor, I knew he was called Roger before even entering the shop, had a reasonable stock of second hand CDs. (CDs reached England on 1st April 1983; in the summer of 1985 the vast majority offered to the second hand shops of Berwick Street were so obviously the proceeds of shoplifting the proprietors were unwilling to buy them).

A few days later I was able to visit, when I actually saw it – the 'No Riff Raff' sign was confirmation that I was in the right place, so an encouragement to enter. I scanned the CD shelf to check out the selection, enough to keep me occupied for several minutes… until some unknown benefactor arrived with more stock. At Roger's request his bag was emptied onto the carpet and we customers scrabbled. I picked a few discs and asked the price – I think this was £4 each, virtually all CDs cost £10 in normal shops. Nothing I bought was checked.

On subsequent visits I noticed discs were priced at £5 each, 'Five CDs, that's £20', er, yes… and so it continued, in my case for thirty years, a few cups of coffee and endless conversations about opera singers who couldn't act or the deplorable politician we obviously cannot mention. I was actively encouraged to buy bargains elsewhere, which Roger bought from me including Phantom of the Opera which he accurately assessed would go to a tourist within the week. He once offered me a cash advance to snoop for bargains in Moscow, even though he never knew my name.

He never will now, but I'll not forget his.

From Danny French

I was shocked and beyond upset to learn of Roger Hewland's passing, and if I may I'd like to give my sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

I discovered Gramex in its last two years, but in no time at all it became my favourite place, and Roger became one of my favourite people.

The last time I went into the shop, nobody else was there and Roger was asleep in his chair, snoring loudly. As I came down the stairs, he stirred briefly, mumbled a greeting, and went immediately back to sleep, leaving me browsing in silence. Eventually a staff member from the bookshop upstairs came creeping down the stairs, in search of teabags I believe, and Roger eventually woke up. He immediately looked at his watch, declared it to be lunch time, and breezed out the door leaving me in charge of the whole shop. Returning later with a bag full of bars of chocolate, he threw a load of Cadbury Flakes at me and we ended up munching chocolate and chatting about pretty much everything - wartime single-sided records, 78s that don't play at 78rpm, Roger Beardsley, everything. I'm a big introvert and very nervous around strangers, but I never felt a hint of nerves that day - Roger made me feel like part of the family. Other customers came and went and joined in, some were regulars, some were new, some were buying, some were selling. Everyone was so nice, but Roger was the sun around which we all naturally orbited.

When I was finally done, he totted up my final bill then looked at me, full of wonderment... then he said "That's a bit much, how about a £30 discount?!"

I paid my bill, I said "Thank you and I'll see you again soon!"

I am so, so sorry I never did.

One in a billion. I will never forget that bloke, and only regret that I didn't get the chance to know him better.

RIP mate.

Warmest regards,
Danny French

A tribute to Roger, by David Saldanha

This news of Roger's death on 13th October 2023 is heartbreaking. Roger was a giant of the record industry. He ran Gramex, in Waterloo in London, for almost 50 years.

Roger was a real character, a dyed in the wool socialist. 13th October was Margaret Thatcher's birthday! He was forever expounding against her and he would have loved the dark humour of dying on her birthday. He has reclaimed the date which will henceforth forever be Roger's anniversary. He and customers would sit in huge leather armchairs, putting the world to rights. He was a very warm soul with a great sense of humour. Roger was also incredibly knowledgeable with an overwhelming love of music which oozed out of him, silenced only when he was talking about history or the eternal politics.

As Roger himself said, the place was more like a club than a shop. Customers also loved being teased by Roger, who had a very sarcastic sense of humour. He once described that sense of humour to me as "You're so rude, you could not possibly mean it!". When his shop was in York Road, Roger had a sign in the window saying "No riff raff"! I really wish that I had seen that.

Another story I love is when I was the victim of a burglary and had a lot of opera CD's stolen. I went to Gramex and told them about the burglary and asked if anyone had recently sold them CD's of Alfredo Kraus. "Alfredo Kraus?", exclaimed Roger, "Marvellous singer!". Too transported by the thought of wonderful music making to think about the burglary! I would sometimes see him with his bike at Feltham station which I believe he was still riding until at least the age of 85. He lived in the same house in Feltham his entire life. He was born on New Year's Eve, 1932 and recalled listening to Chamberlain's declaration of war, on 3rd September 1939, sitting in the kitchen with his mother when he was six.

My work frequently took me to Feltham and I used to love taking the same journey as Roger from Feltham to Waterloo and then entering the magical house that was Gramex, enjoying convivial conversation, buying wonderful music at great prices and having a good laugh. If one was buying a few CD's, Roger would always round down the total, reducing the price of CD's which were already a great bargain. It was a genius selling technique of his. He once gave away a CD to one of my sons on his first visit there. If you were selling records to him, he would pay you half of what he intended to sell them for so that each of the parties made the same sum from the sale. So typical of his egalitarian nature.

I once saw Roger flipping through a pile of Caruso 78's, saying as he did so '... 81, 79, 83, 78, 76, 80, 77 ...' : He was stating, from memory, the exact speed at which each of the records should be played for them to play at the correct pitch.

Roger Hewland opened Gramex in York Road, Waterloo in 1981, having worked at its predecessor, Gramophone Exchange in Wardour Street, for two and a half years until June 1981. Gramex moved to Lower Marsh, first number 84 (1990) then number 25 (1993), and finally moved to number 104 in 2015. It closed its doors in November 2017 and that was only because the building had been sold from underneath dear Roger who surely otherwise would have been selling records right up until his physical departure from this world.

After Roger was forced to close his lifelong love, his record business, I kept in touch with him by phone. We used to have great chats about politics, opera and music, all of which we agreed on completely. The last time I spoke to him was on 6 June 2023, D-Day. Roger would have been 11 at the time of the Normandy landings.

Roger died exactly one week before the 75th anniversary, today, of his buying his first record with his first wages on 20 October 1948, before King Charles was born. What a life that led to with Roger touching and enriching the lives of thousands upon thousands of people through their memories of him and the music they bought from him.

Roger tells the story of his first ever record purchase in this lovely four minute film of him and Gramex from 2011 which really captures both him and the shop:

There is an image of that clock showing that very time. It shows the shop and clock much as Roger would have seen them on that day:

Roger refers to the Love Duet from Madame Butterfly with Joan Cross and Webster Booth. I have only been able to find one with Joan Hammond and Webster Booth. Here is the record label:

Roger says that in the evening, the first thing he listened to was second side. On this recording, that would seem most likely to be from 3m54s onwards:

Today, the 75th anniversary of Roger's buying his first record was handsomely celebrated, from Roger's point of view, with Labour's two record breaking by election wins, taking the seats of that unmentionable former "PM"'s most loyal acolyte and the MP, the lies about whom eventually brought that "PM" down. That acolyte's seat had been held by the Tories since it was created in 1931, before Roger was born. Roger would have been ecstatic. In fact, I think I hear him now.

RIP Roger, a phenomenally knowledgeable man with the warmest of hearts, a devout socialist with a great sense of humour and an extraordinary record collector and salesman and great lover of opera and music. There will be no funeral for Roger. He did not want one. Typical of self-effacing (and at times somewhat awkward!) Roger. "Above all no fuss" as Cardinal Hume said. There will be a private cremation which not even his family will attend.

Ah! non credea mirarti sì presto estinto...

Addio Roger!

We will miss you very very dearly.

20 October 2023

About Gramex

In the following pages, you can read a little about the history of Gramex and the wonderful institution that Gramex became, selling classical LPs and CDs at affordable prices to music lovers and collectors.

Roger would like to thank everyone for their help and support over the years.

28th June 2019