Ernest Hecht, who founded Souvenir Press in his parents’ spare bedroom and who remains at the helm 64 years later, has received his OBE from HRH Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.
The citation read “for services to publishing and to charity”, and Hecht – who came to Britain from Czechoslovakia on Kindertransport – has long been a supporter of a wide range of good causes, donating regularly and quietly through the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation. Among the scores of charities to benefit from his largesse are Singing for the Brain, Music in Hospitals, Scope, St Mungo’s, the National Autism Trust, Whizz-Kids, the Young Vic, the National Youth Theatre, Cardboard Citizens, Chickenshed Theatre, Index on Censorship and Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge, as well as a dozen hospices.
As a publisher, he continues to publish books from all categories and none, many of them now classics – James Lovelock’s Homage to Gaia for example – and has long nurtured the remarkable Human Horizons series of books on physical and mental health problems, and topics such as bereavement and elder care. And there’s football (of course), music (he was early into the new pop phenomenon, commissioning memoirs from Brian Epstein and Cilla Black), poetry (several volumes by Pablo Neruda testify to his longstanding interest in Latin American culture), fiction and much besides. Humour bestsellers have included Bum Fodder and Knickers, titles which can be relied up on to catch the eye of everyone passing by the windows of Souvenir’s Great Russell Street offices.
On a personal level, Hecht is responsible for countless acts of support and kindness, always there to lend an ear and a shoulder, and ever hospitable. And he is, of course, amusing, urbane, and utterly brilliant – the sharpest of brains kept hidden under his Arsenal cap, which he wore en route to the Palace, when he was accompanied by Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman who began his career at The Bookseller, singer Barb Jungr, and myself.