(Ian) Robert Maxwell

(1923—1991) publisher and swindler

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British publisher, newspaper proprietor, and entrepreneur, born in Czechoslovakia; chief executive of the Maxwell Communications Corporation. Maxwell was born into a poor Jewish family in the remote mountain village of Solotvino, then in Czechoslovakia (now in Ukraine). He received little formal education, dropping his studies for the rabbinate to become an itinerant salesman. The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 found him in Budapest, where he joined an underground resistance group. He later fought with Czech units in France before being evacuated to Britain in 1940. Joining the Pioneer Corps of the British Army, he was later transferred to fighting regiments; after D-Day he was commissioned in the field for bravery in Normandy, later becoming a captain and being awarded the Military Cross. In 1945 he adopted the name Maxwell, becoming a British citizen the following year. Most of his close family, including both parents, had died at the hands of the Nazis.

After the war, Maxwell served in military intelligence in Germany, working in the press department in Berlin from 1946. During this period he became involved in the export of German scientific journals to London and in 1951 he took over several of the companies concerned, forming Pergamon Press, the foundation of his publishing empire. Over the next fifteen years Pergamon expanded rapidly, acquiring many other small companies and making its founder a millionaire. A professed socialist, Maxwell became a Labour Party parliamentary candidate in 1959 and was MP for Buckingham from 1964 to 1970.

Maxwell's business methods had always aroused some controversy and in 1971 his conduct during the takeover of Pergamon by a US company led to an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry. In a highly critical report the inspectors concluded that Maxwell could not be relied upon “to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company”. By 1974 Maxwell was almost bankrupt, but managed to regain a controlling interest in Pergamon, whose share price had collapsed. With the rise in price of these shares during the ensuing years, Maxwell's fortune was restored and indeed increased sufficiently to enable him to become the proprietor of the Mirror Group of newspapers in 1984. The 1980s saw a further expansion of his business interests into computing, cable television, and many other areas, in all of which he adopted a high public profile. He was chairman of Oxford United FC (1982–87) and of Derby County FC (1987–91).

In 1991 Maxwell drowned in unclear circumstances while holidaying on his luxury yacht off Tenerife. Within days his vast business empire collapsed as it became clear that Maxwell had supported it by massive misappropriations from the Mirror pension fund. He was buried in Jerusalem. In 1996 Maxwell's sons Ian and Kevin were acquitted at the conclusion of the UK's longest-ever fraud case.

From Who's Who in the Twentieth Century in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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