Ernest Hecht OBE (born 1929) is a British publisher, producer, and philanthropist. He is the founder (in 1951), owner and managing director of Souvenir Press Ltd, the last remaining independently owned major publishing house in Great Britain. In 2003 he set up the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation. Described by The Bookseller as "one of a number of émigrés who changed the face of British publishing after the Second World War alongside George Weidenfeld, Paul Hamlyn and André Deutsch", Hecht was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to Publishing and Charity in June 2015. In August 2015, he was honoured by the President of Brazil with the Order of Rio Branco, which was presented to him at a ceremony by the Brazilian Ambassador in London.
Born in 1929 in Czechoslovakia, Ernest Hecht arrived in Britain as a Kindertransport child in 1939; he recalls: “On the train to England as a young man, I remember throwing up on one of the Gestapo. My mother must have been terrified but the man said it was ok because he had children of his own.” He was evacuated to Wiltshire, then to Minehead, Somerset. He read Economics and Commerce at Hull University College.
Hecht started Souvenir Press in 1951 in his bedroom at his parents' flat with a loan of £250, "a bed, a desk, a typewriter and a phone in the hall", his first book being "a paperback on cricket entitled Len Hutton: The World's greatest Batsman, written by a college friend and retailing at two shillings (ten pence)." He built the business up and has now successfully run the company for 60 years. Producing an eccentric list of titles ("His authors have ranged from Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara to comic chronicler of the British upper classes, PG Wodehouse, from Norwegian Kon Tiki adventurer Thor Heyerdahl to tap dance legend Fred Astaire...") from a notoriously untidy office in Bloomsbury, Hecht has been quoted as saying: "Anyone can create a high-class literary list of prestige titles. It's better to have a balanced list, comprising books that make money and those perhaps more worthy titles that don’t. My adage is that a publisher’s first duty to an author is to remain solvent." He has also expressed the view that, as a publisher: "You have the freedom, and I'd be inclined to say, the duty, to publish books of a minority interest and titles whose time may not yet have arrived or ideas that challenge received wisdom."
Souvenir Press now has more than 500 titles in print and has had number one bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic. He has published five Nobel laureates, including Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. He received the British Book Awards Lifetime Achievement award in 2001 and has been a chairman of the Society of Bookmen.
Souvenir Press also presented many theatrical productions, including Uproar in the House with Brian Rix, Joan Sims, and Nicholas Parsons; Sign Here Please by Valentin Katev, adapted by Marty Feldman; with Terry Scott, Peter Jones and Ambrosine Philpotts; and most recently The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; with Sinéad Cusack, Harriet Walter, Jan Watson, Lynn Farleigh and Barb Jungr.
The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation
Set up in 2003, the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation has the aim of providing financial and practical assistance that can "make a difference". The Foundation aims to support the work of other charitable organisations in helping the disadvantaged and promoting the advancement of the arts and education by making grants, with the aim of making a difference in a particular field. Charities and organisations the Foundation has so far been able to support include: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge; Cardboard Citizens; University College London; Chickenshed Theatre; The National Gallery's Dame Myra Hess Day; Whizz-Kidz; Royal College of Music; React – Rapid Effective Assistance for Children with Potentially Terminal illness; Alzheimer's Society "Singing for the Brain" groups; Action for Blind People; InterAct Reading Service; Mildmay Mission Hospital; Dementia Care; Resource: The Jewish Employment Advice Centre; Scottish Disability Golf Partnership; British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association; Tricycle Theatre; Macmillan Centre Clinical Nurse Specialists; Salvation Army; RAF Benevolent Fund; St John's Hospice; Marie Curie Cancer Care Nurses; St John's Ambulance.
He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to Publishing and Charity in June 2015. In August 2015, he was honoured with Brazil's Order of Rio Branco, in recognition of his contribution to promoting Brazilian culture in the English-speaking world, through publishing some Brazil's most notable writers, such as Jorge Amado, Fernando Sabino and Carolina Maria de Jesus.
He continues to live and work in London, where he is a long-standing supporter of Arsenal F.C. He was the literary agent of Brazilian footballer Pelé and found the time to attend nine of the past 11 World Cup finals by 2002.
- Foot, Tom (5 May 2006). "Celebrating the voices which sang the changes". Camden New Journal. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Ernest Hecht", The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation.
- Sarah Shaffi, "Swainson, Hecht, Campbell and Bond honoured by Queen", The Bookseller, 12 June 2015.
- "Queen's birthday honours list 2015: OBE", The Guardian, 12 June 2015.
- JusBrasil, 12 August 2015.
- Ernest Hecht, "Balancing the books", Logos, 19/4, 2008, p. 178.
- Dan Carrier, "Guevara publisher Ernest Hecht joins Julia Hobsbawm and Caroline Criado-Perez in birthday honours list", Camden New Journal, 18 June 2015.
- Valerie Grove, "Many happy returns to a publishing phenomenon", The Times, 22 October 2011.
- Gareth Powell, "Ernest Hecht, the great eccentric", Sorgai, 9 September 2014.
- John Gulliver, "The freedom to publish and the duty to challenge", Camden New Journal, 27 October 2011.
- Cowley, Jason (11 November 2000). "The last of the literary entrepreneurs". The Times. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Wily Ernest is still going great guns", Evening Standard, 25 September 2009.
- "Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation accounts". Charity Commission. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Facilities for Blind and Partially Sighted Visitors", Chickenshed.
- "The Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation", The National Gallery.
- John Gulliver, "Ernest – a refugee who has truly earned his honour", Camden New Journal, 18 June 2015.
- "Lady Mayoress of London opens Singing for the Brain™ group in Croydon", Alzheimer's Society, 6 July 2012.
- "Who We Have Funded", Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation.
- "UCL Fellowships conferred". University College London. 22 June 2006. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Ernest Hecht Awarded Order of Rio Branco", Souvenir Press website, 1 September 2015.
- Hecht, Ernest (28 January 2002). "Beautiful game". New Statesman. Retrieved 5 November 2011.