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 email@example.com. They will be very gratefully received.
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 orbitted.
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.
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...
We will miss you very very dearly.
20 October 2023
In the following pages, you can read a little about the history of Gramex and the wonderful instition 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