Obituary: Ernest Hochland

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A scholarly bookseller is a rarity in England, and in the age of quick profits and short-term planning, visionary and kindly ones are even rarer. But Ernest Hochland, who came to Britain in 1938, having narrowly escaped death from the Nazi brownshirts, was just that.

A man of great humanity, learning and culture, Hochland had worked for the BBC during the Second World War as a monitor of German broadcasts, before he found a backer in a friendly Mr Haigh, whose name thereafter remained on the masthead of Haigh and Hochland, the best academic bookshop in the north of England, and for many years now the university bookshop in Manchester, where Ernest Hochland settled in 1950.

My meetings with Hochland at booksellers' conferences in the Fifties usually consisted of evening walks in the seaside towns where such events are held, discussing literature, philosophy and music, while his long- established rivals from Oxford, Cambridge and London were getting increasingly incoherent in the bars. He was totally without pretension, quiet and gentle in demeanour but adamant about what he considered to be correct behaviour, courtesy to others, and in taking his chosen profession seriously, always giving good service and informed advice to his customers.

He was astute enough in the Fifties to realise the failings of many libraries and industries that needed specialised books, and found ways to fill in their gaps, which also increased his business. He was a hard worker and fair employer, always ready to do his share of the less interesting tasks that make bookselling arduous, requiring long hours and accurate attention to detail.

He started his shop in Oxford Road and steadily expanded, sometimes keeping a larger stock than was commercially wise; it saddened him to see how small was the interest not just of the students, but also of much of the teaching staff of Manchester University, in deeper learning and culture. But he had to move with the times and control his love of the slower-selling, more intellectual titles, while retaining a Germanic love for European literature especially, although most of his stock was scientific and technical.

Haigh and Hochland was bombed by extremists on the same day as Collet's, in London, for displaying Rushdie's Satanic Verses in the window: the explosion burst water-pipes, which destroyed more books than the fire, but Hochland greeted the event with compassion, remembering the Kristallnacht of which he had himself been a victim, and lucky to escape.

Hochland supported many cultural causes in Manchester and in particular played a prominent part in its Literary and Philosophical Society. He viewed with amusement the shallowness of other "arty" Mancunians who were less willing to see any virtue in the avant-garde or the unconventional. He was a Jew with a wide knowledge and understanding of other faiths, tolerant of everything except bad will and cruelty.

John Calder

Ernest Hochland, bookseller: born Konigstadt, Germany 16 December 1923; married (two children); died Manchester 21 June 1995.