Maxwell Beaverbrook

"Lord Beaverbrook" redirects here. For the peerage, see Baron Beaverbrook.

The Right Honourable
The Lord Beaverbrook
File:Sir Max Aitken.jpg
C. 1918
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 (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, and writer.[1]

Lord Beaverbrook held a tight grip on the British media as an influential press baron, owning The Daily Express newspaper,[2] as well as the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Express. His political career included serving as a Minister in the British government during both world wars.[3]

Beaverbrook was an influential and often mentioned figure in British society of the first half of the 20th century.

Early career in Canada

Aitken was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada, (near Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive) in 1879, the son of a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister. The following year, his family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada, which he considered to be his hometown. It was here, at the age of 13, that he published his first newspaper.

Although Aitken wrote the entrance examinations for Dalhousie University and registered at the King's College Law School, he did not attend either institution. His only formal higher education came when he briefly attended the University of New Brunswick. Aitken worked for a short time as an office boy in the law office of Richard Bedford Bennett, in the town of Chatham, New Brunswick. Bennett later became Prime Minister of Canada and a business associate.

As a young man, Aitken made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia where John F. Stairs, part of the city's dominant business family, gave him employment, training him in the business of finance. In 1904, when Stairs opened his newly formed 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 to do a series of bank mergers; however, Stairs' unexpected early death in late September 1904 led to Aitken acquiring control of the company. Stairs had given the untested and untrained Aitken an opportunity in business, just as Aitken would later do when he hired A.J. Nesbitt, a young dry goods salesman from Saint John, New Brunswick. Because Montreal, Quebec was, at that time, the financial centre of Canada, Aitken would send Nesbitt to open the Montreal branch of Royal Securities.

In 1909 under the umbrella of his Royal Securities Company, Aitken founded Calgary Power Company, Limited (now formally TransAlta Corporation). As the company’s first president, Aitken concentrated early efforts on the development of the Horseshoe Falls hydro station.


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:

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)[4]

Caroline Aitken (1935)

Timothy Aitken (1944)

Peter Aitken (1946)[5][6]
William Baker (1958)
Philip Baker (1960)
Jonathan Baker (1967)

Theodore Aitken (1976)
Charles Aitken (1979)

James Aitken
Jason Aitken

Canada Cement Scandal

In 1910 Aitken acquired many of the small regional cement plants in Eastern Canada and amalgamated them into Canada Cement. Canada was booming economically at the time and he had the monopoly on the material. There were irregularities in the stock transfer resulting from the conglomeration of the cement plants.[7] Aitken sold his shares, making a large amount of money. Aitken then left for Britain.

In 1912, A.J. Nesbitt left Aitken's employ to form the Nesbitt, Thomson and Co. stock brokerage. Aitken appointed employee Izaak Walton Killam as the new President of Royal Securities and sold the Canadian securities company to Killam in 1919.

To Britain

The year Aitken moved to Britain, he became Unionist Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. After the death of Charles Rolls in 1910, Aitken bought his shares in Rolls-Royce, 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 J.B. Duke, of American Tobacco Company.[8]

Aitken began to build a London newspaper empire. He often worked closely with Andrew Bonar Law, another native of New Brunswick, the only Canadian to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 1911, Aitken was knighted by King George V.

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. 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. His visits to the Western Front in the First World War, during which he held 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.

Adding to his chain of newspapers, which included the London Evening Standard, Aitken bought a controlling interest in the failing Daily Express from Lawson Johnson on 14 November 1916 for £17,500; he had been lending money to the paper and its proprietors since January 1911. He always obscured this transaction because it was at the same time as the Parliamentary crisis which replaced Prime Minister Asquith with Lloyd George, in which Aitken's ally and protégé Bonar Law played a great part. Aitken's friend and biographer, A. J. P. Taylor, states that this was a mere coincidence, brought on by Johnson's eagerness to be quit of the paper.

In 1916, Lloyd George offered to appoint Aitken as President of the Board of Trade. At that time, an MP taking a cabinet post for the first time had to resign and stand for re-election in a by-election. Aitken made arrangements for this, but then Lloyd George decided to appoint Albert Stanley instead. Aitken was a friend of Stanley: he 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.[9] Stanley became President of the Board of Trade and was made a Privy Counsellor on 13 December 1916.[10]

Aitken was granted his peerage in 1917 as the 1st Baron Beaverbrook, 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.[11][12][13] The name "Beaverbrook" also had the advantage of conveying a distinctive Canadian ring to the title.

In 1918, Beaverbrook became the first Minister of Information, responsible for Allied propaganda in Allied and neutral countries. Lord Northcliffe became a Director of Propaganda and control propaganda in enemy countries. During his time in office Beaverbrook had a number of clashes with Foreign Secretary Balfour over the use of intelligence material. He felt that intelligence should become part of his department, but Balfour disagreed. Eventually the intelligence committee was assigned to Beaverbrook but they then resigned en masse to be re-employed by the Foreign Office. He also came under attack from MPs who distrusted a press baron being employed by the state. Beaverbrook survived but became increasingly frustrated with his limited role and influence, and in September 1918, he resigned, claiming ill health.

Taylor says he 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."[14]

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 scene in which a British destroyer is sunk, Coward closed the sequence with an ironic shot showing a copy of the Daily Express floating in the water, bearing the headline "No War This Year".[15][16]

First Baron of Fleet Street

Over time, Beaverbrook turned the dull newspaper into a glittering and witty journal, filled with an array of dramatic photo layouts and in 1918, he founded the Sunday Express. By 1934, daily circulation reached 1,708,000, generating huge profits for Beaverbrook whose wealth was already such that he never took a salary. Following the Second World War, the Daily Express became the largest selling newspaper in the world by far, with a circulation of 3,706,000. He would become known by some historians as the first baron of "Fleet Street" and as one of the most powerful men in Britain whose newspapers could make or break almost anyone. In the 1930s, while personally attempting to dissuade King Edward VIII from continuing his potentially ruinous affair with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers published every titbit of the affair, especially allegations about pro-Nazi sympathies.

On 17 March 1931 Stanley Baldwin described the media barons who owned British newspapers as having "Power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages." This may have been a reference to Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere who in advance of a key election for the St. George’s Westminster seat in Parliament, accused Baldwin of not knowing how to improve the country’s faltering economy.

The Second World War

In the late 1930s Beaverbrook had been a strong advocate of the appeasement policies of the Chamberlain government. He had also used his newspapers to promote those policies to the British public. The slogan 'There will be no war' was used by the Daily Express.[17] During the Second World War, his friend Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, appointed Beaverbrook as Minister of Aircraft Production and later Minister of Supply. 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 war time production has been much debated but his innovative style certainly energised production at a time when it was desperately needed. However it has often 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.[18] Still, a Time Magazine cover story wrote, "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."[19]

In addition to his ministerial role, Beaverbrook also 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.

Later in 1941, Beaverbrook headed the British delegation to Moscow with 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. Churchill was not to be persuaded and this led Beaverbrook to resign as Minister of War Production in 1942. During the remainder of the war (1943–1945), he occupied the role of Lord Privy Seal.[20]

Despite this, throughout the war, Beaverbrook remained a close confidant of Churchill, 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 gave his son Max The Daily Express and The Sunday Express as a birthday present in 1931. Max Aitken Jr. became a fighter pilot with 601 Squadron, rising to Wing Commander with 16 victories.

The benefactor

After the war, Beaverbrook served as chancellor of the University of New Brunswick and became the university's greatest benefactor, fulfilling the same role for the city of Fredericton and the province as a whole. He would provide additions to the university, scholarship funds, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Beaverbrook Skating Rink, the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel (profits donated to charity), the Playhouse, Louise Manny's early folklore work, and numerous other projects.

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."

In England, Beaverbrook lived at Cherkley Court, near Leatherhead, Surrey. 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. 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.


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:

  • 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

In popular culture

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.

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...'."

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.[24][25]

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.[26]

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

See also

  • Canadian Hereditary Peers

Published works by Lord Beaverbrook

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




  • 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.

External links

  • Lord Beaverbrook, a Week at the Office
  • National Film Board of Canada biography
  • Project Gutenberg
  • Ontario Plaques - Lord Beaverbrook
  • His role as minister of Information during WW1
  • the UK National Archives
  • The Beaverbrook Papers at the UK Parliamentary Archives
  • [unreliable source].
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by
  • TransAlta Corporation (formerly Calgary Power)
  • -logo.svg 
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
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