Obituary: Harold Harris

ELLIOT PHILIPP's scrupulous obituary of Harold Harris (12 August) doesn't, to me, convey much of the personality and character, the essential decency, of the man for whom I worked, writes Giles Gordon. Admittedly Harris was not a 'glamorous' figure.

When I joined Hutchinson as Harold's assistant and junior editor in 1964, he was editorial director. Before that he had been literary editor of the Evening Standard, and the standards and disciplines he brought to book publishing were very much those of the Fleet Street editor. He wasn't in thrall to 'art' or 'genius'. He was more concerned that a text be accurate.

He wasn't, as the cliche has it, a bookman. His dedication, as an ex- journalist, was essentially for non-fiction, and he definitely had a weakness for hacks who aspired to book length. Yet he was the most sensitive of human beings, with a healthy respect for professional writers, certainly including novelists and even poets.

He was the most generous of bosses. Frequently I, and other editors, would wish to acquire books and Harold would insist, rightly, that we justified our subjective passions both intellectually and aesthetically as well as commercially. When he was persuaded, even if he had little time for the manuscripts themselves, he would always root for his editors' choices - and he had a dozen or so quirky editors answering to him in the days before 'conglomerates' were thought of - with Lusty, not always the easiest of tasks.

Harold Harris, as his deep involvement with PEN endorses, was a good, intelligent man. Other publishers, Jock Murray for instance, may notch up warmer tributes, but Murray was his own master. Throughout his life Harris was a hired hand, a salaried employee. No publishing house, particularly one as disparate and grotesquely impersonal as Hutchinson was in the 1960s and 1970s, can function on a day-to-day basis without the kind of professionalism and expertise which Harold Harris had at his fingertips. His life, happily married though he was, was dedicated to his working hours.

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