Robert Maxwell

From New World Encyclopedia
Revision as of 01:42, 16 December 2022 by Rosie Tanabe (talk | contribs) (→‎External links)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Ian Robert Maxwell MC (June 10, 1923 – November 5, 1991), was a Czechoslovakian-born British media proprietor and Member of Parliament (MP), who rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire. He developed academic and scientific publications at a time when university research programs were rapidly expanding such knowledge, particularly in the United States, where he expanded his holdings. Maxwell was a rival of publishing giant Rupert Murdoch in the newspaper arena. When Murdoch took over the British Sun tabloid from the Daily Mirror owners, immediately relaunching it as a more populist and more sensationalist tabloid competitor, the Mirror was rescued by Maxwell. Maxwell later saved the New York Daily News from bankruptcy but this rescue was short-lived. The financial foundations of Maxwell's empire came into question late in his life, and his death occurred under mysterious circumstances. A controversial figure in life, Maxwell's activities continued to give rise to rumor and accusation after his death. Of particular note are accusations of his involvement in the Israeli military intelligence service, Mossad, as well as investigations for possible war crimes during World War II in Germany. Despite his many shortcomings, Maxwell was a major player in the publications business of the twentieth century, developing influential publishing houses as well as newspapers, and thus, his legacy includes substantial contributions to the dissemination of knowledge throughout the world, a benefit to human society.

Early life

Ian Robert Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hoch in the small town of Slatinské Doly, Carpathian Ruthenia, the easternmost province of prewar Czechoslovakia (now part of Solotvino [Солотвино], Ukraine, {{#invoke:Coordinates|coord}}{{#coordinates:47|57|39.0|N|23|52|25.00|E| | |name= }}) into a poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. In 1939, the area was invaded and annexed by Hungary. Most of the Hoch family was killed after Hungary was occupied in 1944, by its former ally, Nazi Germany, but he had escaped, arriving in Great Britain in 1940, as a 17-year-old refugee.

He joined the British Army as an infantry private and fought his way across Europe to Berlin from the Normandy beaches, at which time he was still a sergeant. His intelligence and gift for languages gained him a commission in the final year of the war, and eventual promotion to captain, and in January 1945, he received the Military Cross. In the same year he shot and killed the mayor of a German town his unit was attempting to capture.[1] It was during this time that he changed his name to Robert Maxwell.

After the war, Maxwell first worked as a newspaper censor for the British military command in Berlin, in Allied-occupied Germany. 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 Pergamon Press Limited (PPL), a minor textbook publisher, from Springer Verlag, and went into publishing on his own. He rapidly built Pergamon into a major publishing house. By the 1960s, Maxwell was a wealthy man, while still espousing in public the socialism of his youth.

Member of Parliament

In 1964, he was elected to the House of Commons for the Labour Party, and was MP for Buckingham until he lost his seat in 1970, to the Conservative William Benyon. He enjoyed mixed popularity in the Labour Party, having what was perceived by some to be an arrogant and domineering manner throughout his career.[2] Maxwell was a prosecution witness in the obscenity case concerning the American novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn, in 1966.

Business activities

Maxwell acquired a reputation for questionable business practice. In 1969, as a result of a disputed takeover bid for Pergamon from an American company then known as Leasco, he was subjected to an inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) while at the same time the U.S. Congress was investigating Leasco's takeover practices. The DTI report concluded: "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."[3] Maxwell lost control of Pergamon in England—but not in the United States—for a time. Backed by his editors, he resumed control and eventually sold the company.

Maxwell, like many successful publishers, sought to buy a daily newspaper, hoping to exercise political influence through the media. In 1969, he was prevented from buying the News of the World by Rupert Murdoch, who became his arch rival in the British newspaper world. The battle for the News of the World was particularly acrimonious, with Maxwell accusing Murdoch of employing "the laws of the jungle" to acquire the paper, claiming that he had "made a fair and bona fide offer… which has been frustrated and defeated after three months of [cynical] maneuvering." Murdoch denied this, arguing that the shareholders of the News of the World Group had "judged [his] record in Australia."

In 1970, Maxwell established the Maxwell Foundation in Liechtenstein. A condition of this type of company was that very little information was publicly available, which according to the Department of Trade and Industry, suited Maxwell's business methods. In 1974, he reacquired Pergamon. In 1981, Maxwell acquired (through Pergamon) the British Printing Corporation (BPC) and changed it to the British Printing and Communication Corporation (BPCC). It was later sold off to a management buy-out, becoming known as Polestar. In July 1984, Maxwell (again through Pergamon) acquired Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) from Reed International. MGN were publishers of the Daily Mirror, a traditionally pro-Labour paper. He also bought the American interests in 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, several other newspapers, Pergamon Press, Nimbus Records, Collier books, Maxwell Directories, Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan (U.S.) 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.

Maxwell pioneered the dissemination of highly specialized scientific information, responding to the exponential growth of investment in academic research. After 1970, when research universities diverted attention from the growth of their libraries to the growth of financial reserves, he and other publishers were blamed for greatly increased subscription fees for scientific journals. The need to maintain profits for publishers and the profitability of higher education institutions created budget difficulties for academic libraries, and for publishers of monographs. At the same time, Maxwell's links with the Eastern European totalitarian regimes resulted in a number of biographies of those countries' then leaders, with sycophantic interviews conducted by Maxwell, for which he received much derision in the UK.

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 Football League Cup in 1986. However, Oxford United were to pay a heavy price for his involvement in club affairs when Maxwell's questionable business dealings came into the public domain. Maxwell also bought into Derby County F.C. in 1987. He also attempted to buy Manchester United in 1984, but refused to pay the price that owner Martin Edwards had put on the club.

Business difficulties

Rumors circulated for many years about Maxwell's heavy indebtedness and his dishonest business practices. But Maxwell was well financed and had good lawyers, and threats of costly libel actions caused his potential critics to treat him with caution. The satirical magazine Private Eye lampooned him as a "Cap'n Bob" and the "bouncing Czech," but was unable to reveal what it knew about Maxwell's businesses. 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 Not Private Eye, a one-off spoof tabloid.[4]

Maxwell's business empire appeared to have been built on debt and deception. He had "borrowed" millions of pounds of his employees' money from his companies' pension funds to prop up his financial position. This was, at the time, not illegal and a fairly common practice. In the late 1980s, he bought and sold companies at a rapid rate, apparently to conceal the unsound foundations of his business. In 1990, he launched an ambitious new project, a transnational newspaper called The European. The following year, he was forced to sell Pergamon Press and Maxwell Directories to Elsevier for £440 million to cover debts, but he used some of this money to buy the New York Daily News.

In his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens claimed that Maxwell was involved with Mother Teresa in a "fund-raising scheme" through his various newspaper businesses. According to the book: "Mr. Maxwell inveigled a not unwilling Mother Teresa into a fundraising scheme run by his newspaper group, and then, it seems (having got her to join him in some remarkable publicity photographs), he made off with the money."[5] One such photograph is reproduced within the book.

By late 1990, investigative journalists, mainly from the Murdoch press, were exploring Maxwell's manipulation of his companies' pension schemes. During May 1991, it was reported that Maxwell companies' pension schemes were failing to meet statutory reporting obligations. Maxwell employees lodged complaints with British and U.S. regulatory agencies about the abuse of Maxwell company pension funds. Maxwell may have suspected that the truth about his questionable practices was about to be made public.

Shortly before his death, at a time of high interest rates and during a deep recession, Maxwell had substantial borrowings secured on his shareholdings in his public companies, Mirror and Maxwell Communications. The banks were permitted to sell these holdings in certain circumstances, which they did, depressing the share price and reducing the coverage of the remaining debt. Maxwell then used more money, both borrowed and redirected from pension funds, and even the daily balances of his businesses, to buy shares on the open market, in an attempt to prop up the price and provide the shares as collateral for further debt. In reality, he was bailing a sinking ship.


On November 5, 1991, at the age of 68, Maxwell is presumed to have fallen overboard from his luxury yacht, Lady Ghislaine, which was cruising off the Canary Islands, and his body was subsequently found floating in the Atlantic Ocean. He was buried in Jerusalem. The official verdict was accidental drowning, though some commentators surmised that he may have committed suicide, and others that he was murdered. His daughter, Ghislaine Maxwell, quickly renounced on television the notion of an accidental death.

Politicians were swift to pay their tributes. 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," Mr. Major added. Neil Kinnock, the Labour Party leader, spoke of the former Labour MP for Buckingham as a man with "such a zest for life … Bob Maxwell was a unique figure who attracted controversy, envy, and loyalty in great measure throughout his rumbustious life. He was a steadfast supporter of the Labour Party." It was later alleged that Maxwell had been financing the Labour leader's private office.

Events after his death

Shortly before he died, a self-proclaimed former Mossad officer named Ari Ben-Menashe had approached a number of news organizations 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 tipped off 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, where the Sunday Times had him in hiding, to Rome, whence he was kidnapped and returned to Israel, convicted of treason, and imprisoned for 18 years.

No news organization would publish Ben-Menashe's story at first, because of Maxwell's famed litigiousness, but eventually The New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh repeated some of the allegations during a press conference in London held to publicize The Samson Option, Hersh's book about Israel's nuclear weapons. A British Member of Parliament asked a question about Hersh's claims in the House of Commons, which meant that British newspapers were able to report what had been said without fear of being sued for libel. Nevertheless, writs were swiftly issued by Mirror Group Solicitors on instruction from Maxwell, who called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention." Maxwell then fired Nick Davies, and just days later, was found dead.[6]

The close proximity of his death to these allegations, for which Ben-Menashe had offered no evidence, served to heighten interest in Maxwell's relationship with Israel, and the Daily Mirror published claims, again without evidence, that he was killed by the Mossad because he had tried to blackmail them.[7]

Maxwell was given a funeral in Israel that would have befitted a head of state, as described by author Gordon Thomas:

On November 10, 1991, Maxwell’s funeral took place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the resting place for the nation’s most revered heroes. 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 Shamir eulogized: "He has done more for Israel than can today be said."[8]

Maxwell's death also triggered a flood of revelations about his controversial business dealings and activities. It emerged that, without adequate prior authorization, he had used hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies' pension funds to finance his corporate debt, his frantic takeovers, and his lavish lifestyle. Thousands of Maxwell employees lost their pensions.

The Maxwell companies filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992. His sons, Kevin Maxwell and Ian Maxwell, were declared bankrupt with debts of 400 million pounds sterling. In 1995, the two Maxwell sons and two other former directors went on trial for fraud, but were acquitted in 1996. In 2001, the Department of Trade and Industry report on the collapse of the Maxwell companies accused both Maxwell and his sons of acting "inexcusably."

It came to light in early 2006, that, before his death, Maxwell was being investigated for possible war crimes in Germany in 1945. This renewed speculation that his death was a suicide.


Though his business dealings were controversial towards the end of his life, Maxwell's work did leave a lasting imprint on society. His various companies owned a number of popular publications, including the Daily Mirror, as well the large publishing houses of Pergamon and Macmillan. Through his business acumen he recognized the opportunity to publish scholarly texts and journals, due to the exponential growth in such subject matter, which contributed greatly to the dissemination of the new ideas and information appearing in the twentieth century.

Maxwell saved a number of businesses, including newspapers, as well as the Oxford United soccer team from bankruptcy, giving them a new lease on life at least until his own financial problems overwhelmed them.

His life, although a classic "rags to riches" story reminiscent of the "American Dream," became a nightmare of financial corruption. His case highlights the tensions and suspicions towards immigrants that existed in the twentieth century, as well anti-semitic sentiments, all of which may have played a role in his demise.

A BBC television drama entitled Maxwell, covering Maxwell's life just prior to his death, was created in 2007.[9]


  1. BBC, War crimes police tracked Maxwell. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  2. Time Magazine, Britain Death of A Tycoon. Retrieved April 29, 2007.
  3. Department of Trade and Industry, Report on Maxwell's purchase of the Mirror Group. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  4. Tony Quinn, Not Private Eye. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  5. Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1997). ISBN 185984054X
  6. Ben Laurance, John Hooper, David Sharrock, and Georgina Henry, Maxwell's body found in sea. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  7. Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon, Robert Maxwell was a Mossad spy: New claim on tycoon's mystery death. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  8. Gordon Thomas, Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad (St. Martin's Griffin, 2007). ISBN 978-0312361525
  9. BBC, Suchet in title role of BBC Two's Maxwell. Retrieved May 9, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Greenslade, Roy. 1992. Maxwell: The Rise and Fall of Robert Maxwell and His Empire. Carol Publishing Corporation. ISBN 1559721235
  • Hersh, Seymour M. 1991. The Samson Option. Random House.
  • Henderson, Albert. 2004. "The Dash and Determination of Robert Maxwell, Champion of Dissemination." In LOGOS. 15, 2, pp. 65-75.
  • Hitchens, Christopher. 1997. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Verso. ISBN 185984054X
  • Thomas, Gordon. 2007. Gideon's Spies. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312361525
  • Thomas, Gordon and Martin Dillon. 2002. Robert Maxwell: Israel's Superspy: The Life and Murder of a Media Mogul. Carroll and Graf. ISBN 0786710780

External links

All links retrieved December 15, 2022.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.