Template:Infobox MP Ian Robert Maxwell MC (10 June 1923 – 5 November 1991) was a Czechoslovakian-born British media proprietor and Member of Parliament (MP). He rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire. His death revealed huge discrepancies in his companies' finances, including the Mirror Group pension fund, which Maxwell had fraudulently misappropriated.

He escaped from Nazi occupation, joining the Czechoslovak army in exile in the Second World War and then fighting in the British army where he was decorated. After the war he worked in publishing, building up Pergamon Press to a major publishing house. After six years as an MP during the 1960s, he again put all his energy into business, successively buying the British Printing Corporation, Mirror Group Newspapers and Macmillan, Inc, among other publishing companies.

He had a flamboyant lifestyle, living in Headington Hill Hall in Oxford from which he often flew in his helicopter, and sailing in his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine. He was notably litigious and often embroiled in controversy, including about his support for Israel at the time of its War of Independence in 1948. In 1989 he had to sell successful business including Pergamon Press to cover some of his enormous debts, and in 1991 he was found dead, floating in the Atlantic Ocean having apparently fallen overboard from his yacht. He was given what amounted to a state funeral in Israel.

His death triggered the collapse of his publishing empire as banks called in loans. His sons briefly struggled to keep the business together, but failed as the news emerged that Maxwell had stolen hundreds of millions of pounds from his own companies' pension funds to save the companies from bankruptcy. The Maxwell companies applied for bankruptcy protection in 1992.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Robert Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch into a poor[1][2] Yiddish-speaking Jewish family in the small town of Slatinské Doly (now Solotvino, Ukraine), in the easternmost province of (pre-World War II), Czechoslovakia. His parents were Mechel Hoch and Hannah Slomowitz. He had six siblings. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary. Most members of his family died in Auschwitz after Hungary was occupied in 1944, by its former ally, Nazi Germany, but he had already escaped to France.[1] In Marseille he joined the Czechoslovak army in exile in May 1940.[3]

After the defeat in France and the retreat to Great Britain, Maxwell took part in the protest against the leadership of the Czechoslovak army, and with 500 other soldiers, he was transferred to the British Pioneer Corps, and later to the North Staffordshire Regiment in 1943. He was then involved in action across Europe, from the Normandy beaches to Berlin, and achieved the rank of sergeant.[1] He gained a commission in 1945, and was promoted to captain. In January 1945, he received the Military Cross from Field Marshal Montgomery. It was during this time that British Intelligence changed his name several times, finally settling on Ian Robert Maxwell.[citation needed]

In 1945, he married Elisabeth "Betty" Meynard; a French Protestant with whom he had nine children, with the goal of "recreating the family he lost in the Holocaust".[4] Five of his children were later employed within his companies. Two met with tragedy: his three-year-old daughter Karine died of leukemia and his eldest son, Michael, was severely injured in 1961 (at the age of 15), after being driven home from a post-Christmas party when his driver fell asleep at the wheel. Michael never regained consciousness and died seven years later.[5][6][7][8]

After the war, Maxwell first worked as a newspaper censor for the British military command in Berlin in Allied-occupied Germany[citation needed]. Later, he used various contacts in the Allied occupation authorities to go into business, becoming the British and United States distributor for Springer Verlag, a publisher of scientific books. In 1951 he bought three quarters[9] of Butterworth-Springer, a minor publisher; the remaining quarter was held by the experienced scientific editor Paul Rosbaud. They changed the name of the company to Pergamon Press and rapidly built it into a major publishing house.

Member of Parliament[edit | edit source]

In 1964, representing the Labour Party, he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham. He was re-elected in 1966, but lost in 1970 to the Conservative William Benyon.

Business activities[edit | edit source]

Maxwell established the Maxwell Foundation in Liechtenstein in 1970. In 1974 he reacquired PPL[clarification needed]. Maxwell acquired the British Printing Corporation (BPC) in 1981, and changed its name to the British Printing and Communication Corporation (BPCC) and then to the Maxwell Communications Corporation. The company was later sold in a management buy-out, and is now known as Polestar. In July 1984 Maxwell acquired Mirror Group Newspapers from Reed International plc. MGN published the Daily Mirror, a pro-Labour Party tabloid newspaper. He also bought the American interests of the Macmillan publishing house.

By the 1980s Maxwell's various companies owned the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail and several other newspapers, Pergamon Press, Nimbus Records, Collier books, Maxwell Directories, Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan (US) publishing, and the Berlitz language schools. He also owned a half-share of MTV in Europe and other European television interests, Maxwell Cable TV and Maxwell Entertainment. In 1987 Maxwell purchased part of IPC Media to create Fleetway Publications.

In June 1985, Maxwell announced a takeover of Sir Clive Sinclair's ailing home computer company, Sinclair Research, through Hollis Brothers, a Pergamon Press subsidiary.[10] However the deal was aborted in August 1985.[11]

Maxwell's links with Eastern European totalitarian regimes resulted in a number of biographies (generally considered to be hagiographies[12]) of those countries' then leaders, with interviews conducted by Maxwell, for which he received much derision.[13]

Maxwell was also well known as the chairman of Oxford United Football Club, saving them from bankruptcy and leading them into the top flight of English football, winning the League Cup in 1986. Maxwell bought into Derby County F.C. in 1987. He also attempted to buy Manchester United in 1984, but refused owner Martin Edwards' asking price.

Controversy[edit | edit source]

In 1969 Saul Steinberg, head of "Leasco Data Processing Corporation", was interested in a strategic acquisition of Pergamon. Steinberg claimed that during negotiations Maxwell had falsely stated that a subsidiary responsible for publishing encyclopedias was extremely profitable.[14] This led to an inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under the Takeover Code of the time; at the same time the U.S. Congress was investigating Leasco's takeover practices. The DTI inquiry reported: "We regret having to conclude that, notwithstanding Mr Maxwell's acknowledged abilities and energy, he is not in our opinion a person who can be relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company." It was found that Maxwell had contrived to maximise Pergamon's share price through transactions between his private family companies.[14] This caused Maxwell to lose control of Pergamon in the United Kingdom—but not in the United States, where Steinberg purchased Pergamon. Justice Forbes in September 1971 was critical of the inquiry, "They had moved from an inquisitorial role to accusatory one and virtually committed the business murder of Mr. Maxwell." He further continued that the trial judge would probably find that the "inspectors had acted contrary to the rules of national justice." [15] The company performed poorly under Steinberg; Maxwell resumed control of Pergamon, returned it to profitability, and eventually sold the company to Reed Elsevier in 1991.

Maxwell was known to be litigious against those who would speak or write against him. The satirical magazine Private Eye lampooned him as "Cap'n Bob" and the "bouncing Czech", the latter nickname having originally been devised by Prime Minister Harold Wilson (under whom Maxwell was an MP). Maxwell took out several libel actions against Private Eye, one resulting in the magazine losing an estimated £225,000 and Maxwell using his commercial power to hit back with a one-off spoof magazine Not Private Eye.[16]

In 1988, Maxwell purchased Macmillan, Inc., the American publishing firm, for $2.6 billion, which by some estimates was over three times its value[citation needed]. In the same year he launched an ambitious new project, a transnational newspaper called The European. However, in the following year he was forced to sell his successful Pergamon Press and Maxwell Directories to Elsevier for £440 million to cover his massive debts, but he used some of this money to buy the ailing New York Daily News. At the time, he was hailed in New York City as the man who "saved the Daily News."[citation needed]

Headington Hill Hall[edit | edit source]

File:Oxford brookes headington hill.JPG

Headington Hill Hall, once home to Robert Maxwell, now part of Oxford Brookes University

Robert Maxwell lived in Headington for the last 32 years of his life. He rented Headington Hill Hall from Oxford City Council, and while he described it as "the best council house" in the country, other people jocularly called it "Maxwell House". He also operated his publishing business, Pergamon Press, from buildings in the grounds of the Hall, and the Maxwell helicopter was a frequent sight over the Headington area. In March 1991 Maxwell sold the press to Elsevier, but it retained offices on the site.[17]

Death[edit | edit source]

On 5 November 1991, at the age of 68, Maxwell was presumed to have fallen overboard from his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, which was cruising off the Canary Islands, and his body was subsequently found floating in the Atlantic Ocean.[18][19] He was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The official ruling was death by accidental drowning.

Then Prime Minister, John Major, said Maxwell had given him "valuable insights" into the situation in the Soviet Union during the attempted coup. He was a "great character", Major added. Neil Kinnock, then Labour Party leader, spoke of him as a man with "a zest for life" who "attracted controversy, envy and loyalty in great measure throughout his rumbustious life."

Israeli connection[edit | edit source]

Shortly before Maxwell's death, a former Mossad officer named Ari Ben-Menashe had approached a number of news organisations in Britain and the United States with the allegation that Maxwell and the Daily Mirror's foreign editor, Nick Davies, were both long-time agents for the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad. Ben-Menashe also claimed that in 1986 Maxwell had told the Israeli Embassy in London that Mordechai Vanunu had given information about Israel's nuclear capability to the Sunday Times, then to the Daily Mirror. Vanunu was subsequently lured from London to Rome by Mossad, where he was kidnapped and smuggled to Israel, convicted of treason and imprisoned for 18 years.

No news organisation would publish Ben-Menashe's story at first but eventually the New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh repeated some of the allegations during a press conference in London held to publicise The Samson Option, Hersh's book about Israel's nuclear weapons. On 21 October 1991, two Members of Parliament, Labour MP George Galloway and Conservative MP Rupert Allason (who writes books on the world of espionage under the pseudonym Nigel West) agreed to raise the issue in the House of Commons (under Parliamentary Privilege protection,[20]) which in turn allowed British newspapers to report events without fear of libel suits. Maxwell called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention," and sacked Nick Davies.[19]

The close proximity of his death to these allegations heightened interest in Maxwell's relationship with Israel, and the Daily Mirror published claims that he was assassinated by Mossad after he attempted to blackmail them.[21]

Maxwell was given a funeral in Israel better befitting a head of state than a publisher, as described by author Gordon Thomas:

On 10 November 1991, Maxwell’s funeral took place on the Mount of Olives Har Zeitim in Jerusalem, across from the Temple Mount. It had all the trappings of a state occasion, attended by the country’s government and opposition leaders. No fewer than six serving and former heads of the Israeli intelligence community listened as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir eulogized: "He has done more for Israel than can today be said" (Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, St. Martin's Press, 1999).[22]

A hint of Maxwell's service to the Israeli state was provided by Loftus and Aarons, who described Maxwell's contacts with Czech anti-Stalinist Communist leaders in 1948 as crucial to the Czech decision to arm Israel in their War of Independence that year. Czech military assistance was both unique and crucial for the fledgling state as it battled for its existence. It was Maxwell's covert help in smuggling aircraft parts into Israel that led to the Jewish state having air supremacy during their 1948 War of Independence.[23] Jewish leaders were also grateful for Maxwell's intervention and material help in securing the freedom and immigration between 1988–1991 of over one million Russian Jews through his friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Over seven hundred thousand Russian Jews emigrated to Israel[citation needed].

Others have linked Shamir's cryptic statement to Maxwell's having told the Israeli government that Mordechai Vanunu had leaked details of Israel's secret nuclear weapons programme to Maxwell's Sunday Mirror newspaper, prompting them to kidnap Vanunu.

Collapse of a publishing empire[edit | edit source]

Maxwell's untimely death triggered a flood of instability with banks frantically calling in their massive loans. His two young sons Kevin and Ian struggled to hold the empire together, but were unable to prevent its collapse. It emerged that, without adequate prior authorisation, Maxwell had used hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies' pension funds to shore up the shares of the Mirror Group, to save his companies from bankruptcy. Eventually, the pension funds were replenished with monies from investment banks Shearson Lehman and Goldman Sachs, as well as the British government. This replenishment was limited and also supported by a surplus in the printers' fund which was taken by the government in part payment of £100m required to support the workers' State Pension. The rest of the £100m was waived. Maxwell's theft of pension funds was, therefore, partly repaid from public funds. The result was that, in general, pensioners received about 50% of their company pension entitlement.

The Maxwell companies filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992. Kevin Maxwell was declared bankrupt with debts of £400 million. In 1995 Kevin and Ian Maxwell, and two other former directors, went on trial for conspiracy to defraud, but were unanimously acquitted by a twelve man jury in 1996.

Cultural references[edit | edit source]

  • Maxwell, through his software company Mirrorsoft, played a role in the acquisition of the video game Tetris from its developers in the Soviet Union and its eventual marketing and sale in the West.[24]
  • Maxwell's death is referenced at the end of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997); M orders a press release announcing the death of newspaper baron and lead villain Elliot Carver, claiming that he had fallen overboard from his luxury yacht and drowned in the ocean. She adds that at present there is speculation of suicide.
  • In 2008, Maxwell's wife published her memoirs, A Mind of Her Own, which sheds light on her life with Maxwell when the publishing magnate was ranked as one of the richest people in the world.[26]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Марк Штейнберг. Евреи в войнах тысячелетий. p. 227. ISBN 5-93273-154-0 Template:Ru icon
  2. Иван Мащенко (7–13 September 2002) "Медиа-олигарх из Солотвина" (in Russian) Зеркало недели (#34 (409)) http://www.zn.ua/3000/3760/35999/ 
  3. Ludvík Hoch (Maxwell) in the database of Central Military Archive in Prague
  4. Interview with Elisabeth Maxwell
  5. Maxwell: The final verdict
  6. "A mind of my own" by Elisabeth Maxwell
  7. Free Research Papers – Information Intelligence, 1991
  8. Daily Telegraph, 2007/04 Maxwell was a monster – but much more, too
  9. Haines (1988) 135
  10. "Sinclair to Sell British Unit". The New York Times. 18 June 1985. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/06/18/business/sinclair-to-sell-british-unit.html. Retrieved 4 December 2009. 
  11. "Sinclair: A Corporate History". Planet Sinclair. http://www.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/sinclair/corphist.htm. Retrieved 4 December 2009. 
  12. David Ellis and Sidney Urquhart "Maxwell's Hall of Shame", Time, 8 April 1991
  13. Craig R. Whitney "Robert Maxwell, 68: From Refugee to the Ruthless Builder of a Publishing Empire", New York Times, 6 November 1991, [p.5]
  14. 14.0 14.1 Dennis Barker and Christopher Sylvester "The grasshopper", – Obituary of Maxwell, The Guardian, 6 November 1991. Retrieved on 19 July 2007.
  15. Betty Maxwell, p. 542
  16. "Not Private Eye", Tony Quinn, Magforum.com, 6 March 2007
  17. http://www.headington.org.uk/history/famous_people/maxwell.htm
  18. "Robert Maxwell: A Profile". BBC News. 29 March 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1249739.stm. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Maxwell's body found in sea", Ben Laurance, John Hooper, David Sharrock, and Georgina Henry, The Guardian, 6 November 1991
  20. which allows MPs to ask questions in Parliament without risk of being sued for defamation
  21. "Robert Maxwell was a Mossad spy : New claim on tycoon's mystery death", Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon, Daily Mirror, 2 December 2002.
  22. "Review : Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad", Freedomwriter.com
  23. John Loftus and Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews.
  24. Tetris: A chip off the old bloc
  25. Suchet in title role of BBC Two's Maxwell
  26. MacIntyre, Ben (1 January 1995). "A Match for Robert Maxwell". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE6D81139F932A35752C0A963958260. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

Further reading[edit | edit source]

" Bower Tom Maxwell the outsider

  • Roy Greenslade (1992) "Maxwell: The Rise and Fall of Robert Maxwell and His Empire," ISBN 1-55972-123-5

External links[edit | edit source]

Preceded by
Frank Markham
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
Succeeded by
William Benyon

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