I remember around a year ago I had the difficult task of announcing that one of our most passionate and consistent contributors, who went by the username of Windsock, had sadly left the building. Being one of the original team, Windsock was someone most long-term regulars had interacted with throughout the first three years of the Winegum Telegram, and the announcement was greeted with a heartfelt outpouring of genuine sorrow and affection for the man. From my own personal perspective, having to put that announcement into the right words and do Windsock justice was one of the hardest posts I’ve written; I felt like the copper in a scene so familiar to viewers of TV drama that it has inevitably become a cliché – having to inform someone that their loved one has passed away. Anyway, I think I just about managed it. In my position I have no real excuse not to pay tribute, no excuse but to try and articulate the sudden removal of a beloved character from the cast in a way that will hopefully register with readers; it feels like a duty that I have no right shirking from.
I appreciate the older one gets, the more frequent one begins to lose those who have impacted upon one’s life, yet the unfairness of it never lessens. Today I lost a friend some of you may have heard of, the barrister Barbara Hewson. Unlike Windsock, she wasn’t part of this community, but she was an important person in my life over the past decade – not central to it most of the time, but always there if I needed her; and I often did. In some respects, the way in which her passing will be marked by different tribes on social media is a telling signpost of our divisive, troubled times. This was something Barbara was an early victim of because she stood up to the vicious brickbats of the trolls and refused to compromise; one side recognised her as a brave, gutsy warrior of a woman and the other demonised her to the point whereby she was little more than a cartoon She-Devil. I guess Barbara was one of the first notable figures whose character was assassinated in such a manner, and her experience is one many have undergone since – even if few have been exposed to the sustained, relentless ferocity Barbara received online for several years.
I’m sure there will be other tributes paid to her that can cover her career and its achievements with far greater accuracy and detail than I could manage. And, to be honest, that’s not necessarily something I feel qualified to do or even really want to. It’s easier – and more fitting – for me to simply try and describe how she came into my life and the difference she made to it. Quite frankly, I’m in a bit of a state of shock just writing this; at the time of beginning it, I’m only an hour or so away from hearing of her passing, and I’m hammering at the keyboard because I feel a bit lost and don’t know what else to do.
Barbara Hewson was someone who appeared on my radar around seven or eight years back when I was producing one of my early YouTube series, a parody of the post-Savile Yewtree witch-hunt, titled ‘Exposure’. This, for those of you who never saw it, was a satirical take on the moral panic that replaced ageing Radio 1 DJs and TV personalities of the 1970s with popular small-screen puppets from the same era; to begin with, the humour was characteristically crude and bawdy, but as the series began to attract attention way beyond my usual YT viewers and subscribers, I was introduced to people personally affected by events, all of whom supported the series. Stretching to an eventual 14 instalments, the later episodes of ‘Exposure’ benefitted from the input of these supporters, something that made the satire far sharper in the process. I gradually became aware of Barbara as one of a small handful of brave souls questioning this particular narrative and quickly realised she was receiving a great deal of grief because of that.
Looking back to the height of the Yewtree hysteria, it’s interesting that there were perhaps less than a dozen of us publicly commenting on events in relative isolation, each in our own different, distinctive ways, and each as valid as the other; having come to conclusions that so few seemed to be coming to at the time, it’s no surprise that we attracted one another’s attention and then ended up befriending each other. A shrewd and incisive 2013 article penned by Barbara for ‘Spiked’ – the online platform for alternative opinions that is mercifully still with us – saw her commit the heinous crime of condemning Yewtree for destroying the rule of law, a piece that was also heavily critical of both the NSPCC and the Met. In possession of a higher profile than most of us courtesy of her lengthy and successful career in Law, Barbara was thereafter an easy target for some of the most unhinged and fanatical zealots of that dubious moral crusade. In an early example of ‘Channel 4 News’ displaying the reprehensible tendencies that have subsequently made it unwatchable, Barbara was invited on to give Matt Frei the opportunity to play Robin Day, a shameful set-up I redubbed for an ‘Exposure’ episode; Barbara enjoyed my impression of her.
Of course, the eventual – if belated – revelation of Carl Beech as a loathsome charlatan encouraged in his twisted delusions by certain despicable MPs, numerous Twitter vampires, the MSM and, naturally, the Metropolitan Police Force utterly vindicated Barbara’s stance; but she paid a heavy price for her commitment to the truth. Her suspension from practising Law by the Bar Standards Board in 2019 was a consequence of ongoing online assaults to which she understandably retaliated at times; coupled with launching a libel suit against the Times following a defamatory article about her in the pages of that august publication, it was no wonder Barbara’s health suffered. I remember her contacting me during her BSB tribunal, asking if I could provide her with a short statement; hard as it was for me to believe, one of my YT videos satirising Operation Midland was being used as evidence against her; in the end, she didn’t require the statement as the BSB unsurprisingly rejected the video. Even during this testing time for her, Barbara emphasised she was – in her own words – ‘praising your talent’ when the video came up in court.
Considering the controversies that pursued Barbara throughout the time I knew her, she will no doubt be bracketed as a ‘divisive’ figure; but I take people as I find them, and Barbara was nothing to me but kind, generous, supportive and helpful. When my minimal ‘criminal past’ was being illegally investigated by a rogue cop in the Met, I turned to Barbara for advice; when I wanted to know where to go for information on a trial my late friend Alison had been involved in 20-odd years earlier, I turned to Barbara for advice; she was always willing to provide it. More than anything, she was a huge supporter of my more satirical YT videos, twice requesting a box-set of the ‘Exposure’ series and on one occasion sending me a financial ‘thank you’ that I neither requested nor expected but certainly appreciated. I recall once chatting to her and she told me she was having lunch later on with Merlin Holland, who just happens to be the grandson of Oscar Wilde; she even collaborated on a book he wrote about his rather well-known grandpa. It was evident to me she certainly had a wide circle of fascinating friends, which made me feel rather flattered that she counted me as one of them.
My last contact with Barbara Hewson was around a month ago, when she informed me of her condition; she herself had only learnt of it in August, by which time it was terminal. The Times had finally given up the ghost and apologised; this was followed by the lifting of her BSB suspension. Too little too late. I messaged her on Saturday, congratulating her on the news. I had no idea she’d already gone. I can’t really say anything else other than I’ll miss her support and her friendship. She made a difference to a lot of people’s lives, including mine. RIP.
© The Editor