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Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook

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Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook

The Right Honourable
The Lord Beaverbrook
Lord Beaverbrook in 1947
Lord Privy Seal
In office
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Viscount Cranborne
Succeeded by Arthur Greenwood
Minister of War Production
In office
4 February 1942 – 19 February 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Oliver Lyttelton (as Minister of Production)
Minister of Supply
In office
29 June 1941 – 4 February 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Sir Andrew Duncan
Succeeded by Sir Andrew Duncan
Minister of Aircraft Production
In office
14 May 1940 – 1 May 1941
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by John Moore-Brabazon
Minister of Information
In office
10 February – 4 November 1918
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by The Lord Downham
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
10 February – 4 November 1918
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Preceded by Sir Frederick Cawley
Succeeded by The Lord Downham
Member of Parliament
for Ashton under Lyne
In office
3 December 1910 – 23 December 1916
Preceded by Alfred Scott
Succeeded by Albert Stanley
Personal details
Born William Maxwell Aitken
(1879-05-25)25 May 1879
Maple, Ontario, Canada
Died 9 June 1964(1964-06-09) (aged 85)
Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Political party Liberal Unionist
Occupation Legislator, author, entrepreneur

William Maxwell "Max" Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, PC, ONB, (25 May 1879 – 9 June 1964) was an Anglo-Canadian business tycoon, politician, newspaper proprietor and writer who was an influential figure in British society of the first half of the 20th century.[1]

The young Max Aitken had a gift for making money and was a millionaire by 30. His business ambitions quickly exceeded what was then available to him in Canada and he moved to England. There he befriended Chancellor of the Exchequer, rewarded Aitken with a peerage and, briefly, a Cabinet post as Minister of Information.

Post-war, the now Lord Beaverbrook concentrated on his business interests. He built the Daily Express into the most successful mass circulation newspaper in the world and used it to pursue personal campaigns, most notably for tariff reform and for the British Empire to become a free trade bloc. Beaverbrook supported appeasement throughout the 1930s but was persuaded by another long standing political friend, Winston Churchill, to serve as Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940. After numerous clashes with other Cabinet members he resigned in 1941 but later in the war was appointed Lord Privy Seal. Beaverbrook spent his later life running his newspapers, which by then included the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Express.[2] He served as Chancellor of the University of New Brunswick and developed a reputation as a historian with his books on political and military history.[3][4]


  • Early life 1
  • Early business career 2
  • Move to Britain 3
  • World War One 4
  • First Baron of Fleet Street 5
  • The Second World War 6
  • Later life 7
  • Historian 8
  • Death 9
  • Legacy 10
  • Family 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • In popular culture 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • Further reading 16
  • External links 17

Early life

Aitken was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada, (near Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive) in 1879, one of the ten children of William Cuthbert Aitken, a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister and Jane Noble, the daughter of a prosperous local farmer and storekeeper. The following year, the family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick which Aitken considered to be his hometown. It was here, at the age of 13, that he set up a school newspaper, The Leader. Whilst at school, he delivered newspapers, sold newspaper subscriptions and was the local correspondent for the St. John Daily Star.[5] Aitken took the entrance examinations for Dalhousie University, but because he had refused to sit the Greek and Latin papers he was refused entry. He registered at the King's College Law School, but left after a short while. This was to be his only formal higher education. Aitken worked in a shop then borrowed some money to move to Chatham, New Brunswick where he worked as a local correspondent for the Montreal Star, sold life insurance and also collected debts. Aitken attempted to train as a lawyer and worked for a short time in the law office of Richard Bedford Bennett, a future Prime Minister of Canada. Aitken managed Bennett's successful campaign for a place on Chatham Town Council. When Bennett left the law firm, Aitken moved to Saint John, New Brunswick where he again sold life insurance before moving to Calgary where he helped to run Bennett's campaign for a seat in the Legislative Assembly of the North-West Territories in the 1898 general election. After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a meat business, Aitken returned to Saint John and to selling insurance.[6]

Early business career

In 1900, Aitken made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where John F. Stairs, a member of the city's dominant business family, gave him employment and trained him in the business of finance. In 1904, when Stairs launched the Royal Securities Corporation, Aitken became a minority shareholder and the firm's general manager. Under the tutelage of Stairs, who would be his mentor and friend, Aitken engineered a number of successful business deals and was planning a series of bank mergers. Stairs' unexpected early death in late September 1904 led to Aitken acquiring control of the company and moving to Montreal. There he bought and sold companies, invested in stocks and shares and also developed business interests in both Cuba and Puerto Rico. He started a weekly magazine, the Canadian Century in 1910, invested in the Montreal Herald and almost acquired the Montreal Gazette.[6] In 1907 he founded the Montreal Engineering Company.[7] In 1909, also under the umbrella of his Royal Securities Company, Aitken founded the Calgary Power Company Limited, now the TransAlta Corporation, and oversaw the building of the Horseshoe Falls hydro station.[8]

In 1910-11 Aitken acquired many of the small regional cement plants across Canada, including Sandford Fleming's Western Canada Cement Co. plant at Exshaw, Alberta, and amalgamated them into Canada Cement, eventually controlling four-fifths of the cement production in Canada. Canada was booming economically at the time and Aitken had a monopoly on the material. There were irregularities in the stock transfers leading to the conglomeration of the cement plants, resulting in much criticism of Aitken, as well as accusations of price-gouging and poor management of the cement plants under his company's control.[9] Aitken sold his shares, making a large amount of money, then left for Britain. Aitken had made his first visit to Britain in September 1908 and when he returned there in the Spring of 1910, in an attempt to raise money to buy a steel company, he decided to make the move permanent.[6]

Move to Britain

In 1910 Aitken moved to Britain and he became friends with A.J. Balfour as leader of the Unionist party late in 1911. Aitken bought Cherkley Court near Leatherhead and entertained lavishly there. In 1913 the house was offered as a venue for negotiations, between Bonar Law and the Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, over Ulster and Irish home rule.[6]

Aitken continued to grow his business interests while in Parliament and also began to build a British newspaper empire. After the death of Charles Rolls in 1910, Aitken bought his shares in Rolls-Royce Limited, and over the next two years gradually increased his holding in the company. However, Claude Johnson, Rolls-Royce's Commercial managing director, resisted Aitken's attempt to gain control of the company, and in October 1913 he sold his holding to James Buchanan Duke, of the American Tobacco Company.[11] In January 1911, Aitken, secretly, invested £25,000 in the failing Daily Express. An attempt to buy the London Evening Standard failed but he did gain control of another London evening paper, The Globe. In November 1916 a share deal worth £17,500, with Lawson Johnson, landed Aitken a controlling interest in the Daily Express, but again he kept the deal secret.[6]

World War One

Lord Beaverbrook

During World War I, the Canadian government put Aitken in charge of creating the Canadian War Records Office in London, and he made certain that news of Canada's contribution to the war was printed in Canadian and British newspapers. He was innovative in the employment of artists, photographers, and film makers to record life on the Western Front. Aitken also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund that evolved into a collection of war art by the premier artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada.[12] His visits to the Western Front, with the honorary rank of colonel in the Canadian Army, resulted in his 1916 book Canada in Flanders, a three-volume collection that chronicled the achievements of Canadian soldiers on the battlefields. After the war, Aitken wrote several books including Politicians and the Press in 1925 and Politicians and the War in 1928.

Aitken became increasingly hostile towards the Prime Minister, Albert Stanley instead. Aitken was a friend of Stanley and agreed to continue with the resignation, so that Stanley could take Aitken's seat in Parliament and be eligible for ministerial office. In return, Aitken received a peerage in 1917 as the 1st Baron Beaverbrook,[13] the name "Beaverbrook" being adopted from a small community near his boyhood home. He had initially considered "Lord Miramichi", but rejected it on the advice of Louise Manny as too difficult to pronounce.[14][15][16] The name "Beaverbrook" also had the advantage of conveying a distinctive Canadian ring to the title.

Later in 1917, Beaverbrook's controlling stake in the Daily Express became public knowledge and he was criticised by parts of the Conservative Party for financing a publication they regarded as irresponsible and often unhelpful to the party.[6]

In February 1918, Beaverbrook became the first Minister of Information in the newly formed

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alfred Scott
Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne
Succeeded by
Albert Stanley
Political offices
New office Minister of Information
Succeeded by
The Lord Downham
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Cawley
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
New office Minister of Aircraft Production
Succeeded by
John Moore-Brabazon
Preceded by
Sir Andrew Duncan
Minister of Supply
Succeeded by
Sir Andrew Duncan
New office Minister of War Production
Succeeded by
Oliver Lyttelton
as Minister of Production
Preceded by
Viscount Cranborne
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Arthur Greenwood
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Beaverbrook
Succeeded by
John William Maxwell Aitken
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Cherkley) 
Succeeded by
John William Maxwell Aitken
  • Lord Beaverbrook, a Week at the Office
  • National Film Board of Canada biography
  • Works by Max Aitken at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Max Aitken at Internet Archive
  • Works by or about Lord Beaverbrook at Internet Archive
  • Ontario Plaques – Lord Beaverbrook
  • Archival material relating to Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook listed at the UK National Archives
  • The Beaverbrook Papers at the UK Parliamentary Archives
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Max Aitken
  •  "Beaverbrook, William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron".  

External links

  • Chisholm, Anne and Michael Davie. Lord Beaverbrook: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1993. ISBN 978-0-394-56879-9.
  • Deighton, Len. Battle of Britain. London: Johnathon Cape, 1980. ISBN 0-224-01826-4.
  • Pugh, Peter. The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story, The First 40 Years. London: Icon Books, 2001. ISBN 1-84046-151-9.
  • Rayburn, A. Geographical Names of New Brunswick. Ottawa: Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, 1975.
  • Richards, David Adams. Lord Beaverbrook (Extraordinary Canadians). Toronto, Ontario:Penguin Canada, 2008. ISBN 978-0-670-06614-8.
  • Sweet, Matthew. Shepperton Babylon: The Lost Worlds of British Cinema. London: Faber & Faber, 2005. ISBN 978-0-571-21297-2.
  • Taylor, A. J. P. Beaverbrook. London: Hamilton, 1972. ISBN 0-241-02170-7.

Further reading

  1. ^ "Aitken, William Maxwell, 1st Baron Beaverbrook." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  2. ^ Peter Jackson & Tom de Castella (14 July 2011). "Clash of the press titans". BBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  3. ^ John Ramsden (Editor) (2005). Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century British Politics. Oxford University Press.  
  4. ^ Peter Mavrikis (Editor) (2005). History of World War II. Marshall Cavendish Corporation.  
  5. ^ a b Frank N. Magill (Editor) (1999). Dictionary of World Biography Vol VII The 20th Century A-Gl. Salem Press.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o HCG Matthew & Brian Harrison (Editors) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Vol 1 (Arron-Amory). Oxford University Press.  
  7. ^ Gregory P. Marchildon (1996). "5. The Montreal Engineering Company". Profits and politics: Beaverbrook and the gilded age of Canadian finance. University of Toronto Press. pp. 97–121. 
  8. ^ "100 Years, 100 People:1909–1919". TransAlta. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  9. ^ , 13 May 1911, "Canadian Cement Scandal,"; Edmonton Bulletin, Nov. 30, 1911The New York Times
  10. ^ "Who's Who – Lord Beaverbrook". Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Pugh 2001
  12. ^ a b Merion Harries & Susie Harries (1983). The War Artists, British Official War Art of the Twentieth Century. Michael Joseph, The Imperial War Museum & the Tate Gallery.  
  13. ^ Blake 1955, pp. 346–347.
  14. ^ "St John NB & The Magnificent Irvings + Art heist at Beaverbrook Gallery.", 18 August. 2008. Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  15. ^ Rayburn, A. Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place Names. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
  16. ^ Rayburn 1975
  17. ^ Taylor 1972, pp. 137 (quote), 129, 135, 136.
  18. ^ Movie 'In Which We Serve' 0:05:57
  19. ^ Sweet 2005, p. 173.
  20. ^ Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie, Lord Beaverbrook: a life (1993) p 458
  21. ^ Geoffrey Cox 'Countdown to War' page 104
  22. ^ Geoffrey Best (2005). Churchill and War. Humbledon and London.  
  23. ^ Deighton 1980, pp. 164–165.
  24. ^ "Great Britain: Shirts On." Time, 16 September 1940.
  25. ^ "Lord Beaverbrook." Spartacus. Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  26. ^ Taylor, p. 102.
  27. ^ Taylor, p. 251.
  28. ^ Taylor, p. 645.
  29. ^ Taylor, pp. 102–103.
  30. ^ John Elliot, ‘Aitken, William Maxwell, first Baron Beaverbrook (1879–1964)’, Dictionary of National Biography (1981).
  31. ^ Taylor, pp. 629–630.
  32. ^ Taylor, p. 629.
  33. ^ a b Taylor, p. 655.
  34. ^ "Aitken House." Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  35. ^ "Lady Beaverbrook Residence." Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  36. ^ "The Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications." Retrieved: 6 July 2011.
  37. ^ Peter Rudyard Aitken at Find a Grave.(St Michael Churchyard Mickleham, Surrey)[2]
  38. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Peter Aitken". The Peerage. 
  39. ^ Peter Aitken married 2ndly 1980 (div 1985) Honourable Elizabeth Rees-Williams (Lundy, Darryl. "Honourable Elizabeth Rees-Williams". The Peerage. ), former wife of Richard Harris and Rex Harrison, and now wife of his second cousin Jonathan Aitken
  40. ^ Video on YouTube
  41. ^ "News." BBC via Youtube. Retrieved: 13 March 2012.
  42. ^ Sansom, C.J. "My nightmare of a Nazi Britain." The Guardian, 19 October 2012.


See also

In Jacqueline Winspear's mystery series featuring Maisie Dobbs, Beaverbrook appears as the ruthless John Otterburn, press baron and Churchill's minister of aviation, in the novels Elegy for Eddie and Leaving Everything Most Loved.

In the alternate history novel, Dominion by C. J. Sansom, Beaverbrook served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1953, heading a coalition government that consisted of the pro-Treaty factions of the Conservative Party and Labour Party, as well as the British Union of Fascists.[42]

Beaverbrook was one of eight notable Britons cited in Bjørge Lillelien's famous "Your boys took a hell of a beating" commentary at the end of an English football team defeat to Norway in 1981, mentioned alongside British Prime Ministers Churchill, Thatcher and Attlee.[40][41]

The Kinks recorded "Mr. Churchill Says" for their 1969 album Arthur, which contains the lines: "Mr. Beaverbrook says: 'We've gotta save our tin/And all the garden gates and empty cans are gonna make us win...'."

For a period of time Beaverbrook employed novelist Evelyn Waugh in London and abroad. Waugh later lampooned his employer by portraying him as Lord Copper in Scoop and as Lord Monomark in both Put Out More Flags and Vile Bodies.

In popular culture

  • Canada in Flanders London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916.
  • Success. Small, Maynard and Company, 1922, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7661-5409-4.
  • Politicians and the Press. London: Hutchinson, 1925.
  • Politicians and the War, Vol. 1. London: Oldbourne, 1928.
  • Politicians and the War, Vol. 2. London: Oldbourne, 1932.
  • The Resources of The British Empire.London: Lane Publications, 1934.
  • Why Didn't you Help the Finns? Are you in the Hands of the Jews? And 10 Questions, Answers. London: London Express, 1939.
  • Spirit of the Soviet Union. London: The Pilot Press, 1942.
  • Don't Trust to Luck. London: London Express Newspaper, 1954.
  • The Three Keys to Success. London: Hawthorn Books, 1956.
  • Men and Power, 1917–1918. North Haven, Connecticut: The Shoe String Press, 1956.
  • Friends: Sixty years of Intimate personal relations with Richard Bedford Bennett. London: Heinemann, 1959.
  • Courage, The Story of Sir James Dunn. Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1961.
  • My Early Life. Fredericton: Atlantic Advocate Book, 1962.
  • The Divine Propagandist. London: Heinnemann, 1962.
  • The Decline and Fall of Lloyd George: and great was the fall thereof. London: Collins, 1963, 1981 ISBN 978-0-313-23007-3.
  • The Abdication of Edward VIII. NY: Atheneum, 1966.


Issue Marriage Issue (Grandchildren) Issue (Great-grandchildren)
Janet Gladys Aitken (1908–1988)

Sir Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll
Hon. William Drogo Montagu
Major Thomas Kidd

Lady Jeanne Campbell (1928)
William Montagu (1936)
Jane Kidd (1943)
John Kidd (1944)
Kate Mailer (1962)
Cusi Cram (1967)
Michael Montagu (1968)
Nicola Montagu (1971)
Monette Montagu (1973)
Jack Kidd (1973)
Jemma Kidd (1974)
Jodie Kidd (1978)
Sir John William Maxwell Aitken (1910–1985)

Ursula Kenyon-Slaney

Violet de Trafford

Hon. Kirsty Aitken (1947)

Hon. Lynda Aitken (1948)

Maxwell Aitken, 3rd Baron Beaverbrook (1951)

Hon. Laura Aitken (1953)

Dominic Morley (1967)
Major Sebastian Morley (1969)
Eleanor Smallwood (1982)
Joshua Dickson (1977)
Leo Maréchal (1981)
Hon. Maxwell Aitken (1977)
Hon. Alexander Aitken (1978)
Hon. Charlotte Aitken (1982)
Hon. Sophia Aitken (1985)
Sonny Mallett (1984)
Lucci Levi (1993)
Louis Levi (1994)
Peter Rudyard Aitken (1912–1947)

Janet Macneil (md. 1934, div. 1939)

Marie Patricia Maguire (md. 1942)[37]

Caroline Aitken (1935)

Timothy Aitken (1944)

Peter Aitken (1946)[38][39]
William Baker (1958)
Philip Baker (1960)
Jonathan Baker (1967)

Theodore Aitken (1976)
Charles Aitken (1979)

James Aitken
Jason Aitken

On 29 January 1906, in Halifax, Aitken married Gladys Henderson Drury, daughter of Major-General Charles William Drury CBE (a first cousin of Admiral Sir Charles Carter Drury) and Mary Louise Drury (née Henderson). They had three children before her death in 1927. His son Max Aitken Jr. became a fighter pilot with 601 Squadron, rising to Wing Commander with 16 victories in World War Two. Beaverbrook remained a widower for many years until 1963 when he married Marcia Anastasia Christoforides (1910–1994), the widow of his friend Sir James Dunn. Beaverbrook was rarely a faithful husband and even in old age was often accused of treating women with disrespect.[6]


  • City of Miramichi, New Brunswick
    • Lord Beaverbrook Arena (LBA)
    • Beaverbrook Kin Centre (formerly the Beaverbrook Theatre and Town Hall)
    • Beaverbrook House (his boyhood home and formerly the Old Manse Library)
    • Lord Beaverbrook bust in Queen Elizabeth Park
    • Aitken Avenue

Beaverbrook and his wife Lady Beaverbrook have left a considerable legacy to his adopted province of New Brunswick and the United Kingdom, among others. His legacy includes the following buildings (or at least his name survives in the names of these buildings):

Gladys Drury, sometime before her marriage.
Beaverbrook House, formerly the Old Manse Library, and earlier the boyhood home of Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, in Newcastle, Miramichi, New Brunswick (IR Walker 1983)


Lord Beaverbrook died in Surrey in 1964, aged 85. He had recently attended a birthday banquet organised by fellow Canadian press baron, Lord Thomson of Fleet, where he was determined to be seen on his usual good form, despite being riddled with painful cancer. The Beaverbrook Foundation continues his philanthropic interests. In 1957, a bronze statue of Lord Beaverbrook was erected at the centre of Officers' Square in Fredericton, New Brunswick, paid for by money raised by children throughout the province. A bust of him by Oscar Nemon stands in the park in the town square of Newcastle, New Brunswick, not far from where he sold newspapers as a young boy. His ashes are in the plinth of the bust.


Beaverbrook was both admired and despised in Britain, sometimes at the same time: in his 1956 autobiography, David Low quotes H.G. Wells as saying of Beaverbrook: "If ever Max ever gets to Heaven, he won't last long. He will be chucked out for trying to pull off a merger between Heaven and Hell after having secured a controlling interest in key subsidiary companies in both places, of course."

When The Decline and Fall of Lloyd George was published in 1963, favourable reviewers included Clement Attlee, Roy Jenkins, Robert Blake, Lord Longford, Sir Charles Snow, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Richard Crossman and Denis Brogan.[33] Kenneth Young said the book was "the finest of all his writing".[33]

Men and Power 1917–1918 was published in 1956. It is not a coherent narrative but divided by separate episodes centred on one man, such as Carson, Robertson, Rothermere and others. The reviews were favourable, with Taylor's review in The Observer greatly pleasing Beaverbrook.[31] The book sold over 23,000 copies.[32]

Later on, Taylor said "The enduring merits of the book are really beyond cavil. It provides essential testimony for events during a great political crisis...It contains character sketches worthy of Aubrey. On a wider canvas, it displays the behaviour of political leaders in wartime. The narrative is carried along by rare zest and wit, yet with the detached impartialty of the true scholar".[29] Sir John Elliot in 1981 said the work "will remain, despite all carping, the authoritative narrative; nor does the story want in the telling thereof".[30]

After the First World War, Beaverbrook had written Politicians and the Press in 1925 and Politicians and the War in 1928 and had the two books were reprinted in one volume in 1960.[26] Upon original publication, the books were largely ignored by professional historians and the only favourable reviews were in Beaverbrook's newspapers.[27] However, when the combined edition came out, the reviews were positive: "This is Suetonius or Macaulay presented with all the visual techniques of Alfred Hitchcock", and another review said that it was as "terse as Sallust, pithy as Clarendon". A. J. P. Taylor said it was "Tacitus and Aubrey rolled into one".[28]

Bust of Lord Beaverbrook, where his ashes are deposited, in the town square of Newcastle, Miramichi, New Brunswick (IR Walker 2008)


Beaverbrook devoted himself to Churchill's Daily Express Building.[6]

Lord Beaverbrook plaque in Maple, Ontario

Later life

In addition to his ministerial roles, Beaverbrook headed the Anglo-American Combined Raw Materials Board from 1942 to 1945 and accompanied Churchill to several wartime meetings with President Roosevelt. He was able to relate to Roosevelt in a different way to Churchill and became close to Roosevelt during these visits. This friendship sometimes irritated Churchill who felt that Beaverbrook was distracting Roosevelt from concentrating on the war effort. For his part Roosevelt seems to have enjoyed the distraction.

In 1941, Beaverbrook headed the British delegation to Moscow with his American counterpart Averell Harriman. This made Beaverbrook the first senior British politician to meet Soviet leader Joseph Stalin since Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Much impressed by Stalin and the sacrifice of the Soviet people, he returned to London determined to persuade Churchill to launch a second front in Europe to help draw German resources away from the Eastern Front to aid the Soviets.[25] Despite their disagreement over the second front, Beaverbrook remained a close confidant of Churchill throughout the war, and could regularly be found with Churchill until the early hours of the morning. Clement Attlee commented that "Churchill often listened to Beaverbrook's advice but was too sensible to take it."

Beaverbrook resigned on 30 April 1941 and, after a month as Minister of State, Churchill appointed him to the post of Minister of Supply. Here Beaverbrook clashed with Ernest Bevin who, as Minister of Labour and National Service, refused to let Beaverbrook take over any of his responsibilities. In February 1942, Beaverbrook became Minister of War Production and again clashed with Bevin, this time over shipbuilding. In the face of Bevin's refusal to work with him, Beaverbrook resigned after only twelve days in the post. In September 1943 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal, outside of the Cabinet, and held that post until the end of the war.[6]

In the late 1930s Beaverbrook had used his newspapers to promote the appeasement policies of the Chamberlain government. The slogan 'There will be no war' was used by the Daily Express.[21] During the Second World War, in May 1940, his friend Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, appointed Beaverbrook as Minister of Aircraft Production. With Churchill's blessing Beaverbrook overhauled all aspects of war-time aircraft production;- he increased production targets by 15% across the board, took control of aircraft repairs and RAF storage units, replaced the management of plants that were underperforming, and released German Jewish engineers from internment to work in the factories. He seized materials and equipment destined for other departments and was perpetually at odds with the Air Ministry.[22] Under Beaverbrook, fighter and bomber production increased so much so that Churchill declared: "His personal force and genius made this Aitken's finest hour." Beaverbrook's impact on wartime production has been much debated but his innovative style certainly energised production at a time when it was desperately needed. However it has been argued that aircraft production was already rising when Beaverbrook took charge and that he was fortunate to inherit a system which was just beginning to bear fruit.[23] His appeal for housewives to give up their aluminium pots and pans “to make Spitfires” was afterwards revealed by his son Sir Max Aitken to have been a waste of good pans. They were of no use at all for aircraft production. The appeal had been nothing more than a propaganda exercise, he said in the TV documentary series The World at War. Still, a Time Magazine cover story declared, "Even if Britain goes down this fall [1940], it will not be Lord Beaverbrook's fault. If she holds out, it will be his triumph. This war is a war of machines. It will be won on the assembly line."[24]

Lord Beaverbrook during the Second World War

The Second World War

Testifying before a Parliamentary inquiry in 1947, former Express employee and future MP Michael Foot alleged that Beaverbrook kept a blacklist of notable public figures who were to be denied any publicity in his papers because of personal disputes. Foot said they included Sir Thomas Beecham, Paul Robeson, Haile Selassie, and Noël Coward. Beaverbrook himself gave evidence before the inquiry and vehemently denied the allegations; Express Newspapers general manager E.J. Robertson denied that Robeson had been blacklisted, but did admit that Coward had been "boycotted" because he had enraged Beaverbrook with his film In Which We Serve—in the opening sequence Coward includes an ironic shot showing a copy of the Daily Express floating in the dockside garbage bearing the headline "No War This Year".[18][19][20]

On 17 March 1931, during the St. George's Westminster by-election, Stanley Baldwin described the media barons who owned British newspapers as having "Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages." In the 1930s, while personally attempting to dissuade King Edward VIII from continuing his potentially ruinous affair with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Beaverbrook's newspapers published every titbit of the affair, especially allegations about pro-Nazi sympathies. Beaverbrook supported the Munich Agreement and hoped the newly named Duke of Windsor would seek a peace deal with Germany.

[6] Beaverbrook would become regarded by some historians as the first baron of

After the war, Beaverbrook concentrated on running the Daily Express. He turned the dull newspaper into a glittering and witty journal with an optimistic attitude, filled with an array of dramatic photo layouts. He hired first-rate writers such as Francis Williams and the cartoonist David Low. He embranced new technology and bought new presses to print the paper in Manchester. In 1919 the circulation of the Daily Express was under 40,000 a day; by 1937 it was 2,329,000 a day, making it the most successful of all British newspapers and generating huge profits for Beaverbrook whose wealth was already such that he never took a salary. After the Second World War, the Daily Express became the largest-selling newspaper in the world by far, with a circulation of 3,706,000. Beaverbrook launched the Sunday Express in December 1918, but it only established a significant readership after John Junor became its editor in 1928. In 1923, in a joint deal with Lord Rothermere, Beaverbrook bought the London Evening Standard. Beaverbrook acquired a controlling stake in the Glasgow Evening Citizen and, in 1928, he launched the Scottish Daily Express.[6]

Lord Beaverbrook, c. August 1941

First Baron of Fleet Street

A J P Taylor later wrote that Beaverbrook was a pathbreaker who "invented all the methods of publicity" used by Britain to promote the war, including the nation's first war artists, the first war photographers, and the first makers of war films. He was especially effective in promoting the sales of war bonds to the general public. Nevertheless, he was widely disliked and distrusted by the political elite, who were suspicious of all they sneeringly called "press lords."[17]


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