Robert Maxwell – 1984-1991

By | November 12, 2016

“He is not…a person who can be relied upon to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company”


Would you trust this man with your pension?


Cap’n Bob and the Bouncing Czech were just two of the more printable nicknames for Ian Robert Maxwell (né Jan Ludwig Hoch, born on 10 June 1923). By dint of hard work and sheer bloodymindedness, he built up one of the biggest publishing companies in the world — only to die in mysterious circumstances and have it all come tumbling down, amid accusations of wholesale fraud and theft. It could have been all so different for the egotistical Maxwell whose aim in life was to get one over on fellow publishing tycoon, Rupert Murdoch.

Bob Maxwell founded Pergamon Press in the ashes of the Second World War where he had distinguished himself winning a Military Cross. He chose to live in Britain; a fact that he believed gave him some kind of special status. Printing scientific journals made Pergamon successful but the world of publishing was not enough for Maxwell and a Department of Trade Inquiry published on 13 July 1971 did not help. It decided that “he is not in our opinion a person who can be relied upon to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company”.

In 1964 Maxwell had become a Labour MP but he lost his seat in 1970. On 13 July 1984 — to the consternation of many — he bought the British institution The Daily Mirror. Displaying an ego as vast as his enormous girth, he thought that Mirror readers would be interested in the doings of himself and his family — to such an extent that wags renamed the paper the Daily Maxwell. In 1969 Maxwell had attempted to buy The News of the World but had been thwarted by Rupert Murdoch. Maxwell now tried to use The Mirror to beat The Sun, Murdoch’s best-selling tabloid. It was a battle that he was destined to lose.

Maxwell tried and failed to launch a London-based newspaper and did buy the New York Daily News. Regarded by many as something of a buffoon, he used the courts to silence his critics on a regular basis. No one, apart from the magazine Private Eye, ever questioned Maxwell’s behaviour. Then on 5 November 1991, on board his $19 million yacht which was named after his youngest daughter Ghislaine, Maxwell went missing in the Canary Islands.


London, England


July 1984-November 1991


Maxwell’s body was found and taken to the Mount of Olives in Israel where it was buried amid much pomp. Then his empire began to unravel. It soon became clear that Maxwell had been not a munificent newspaper tycoon but a crook on a huge scale — the worst financial chicaner in post-war Britain. He had even stolen money — around £400 million — from Mirror Group Newspapers’ pension fund, leaving many ex-employees destitute.


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