Robert Maxwell Biography

(British Politician and Member of Parliament for Buckingham from 1964 to 1970)

Birthday: June 10, 1923 (Gemini)

Born In: Solotvyno, Ukraine

Robert Maxwell was a Czechoslovakia-born British media proprietor who created a huge international publishing empire and was considered one of the richest men in Great Britain. His publishing business included New York Daily News and Mirror Group Newspapers. His business ambition led to huge debts and it was discovered after his death that he had illegally taken money from his company’s employee pension funds to save his empire. His business collapsed after his death.  Earlier, he had escaped Nazi occupation and joined Czechoslovak Army in exile during the Second World War. He also became a decorated war hero. Later, he made a foray into Britain’s politics and served as a Labour MP from 1964 to 1970. He was a controversial figure and was known to be tough, demanding and arrogant. He was even suspected to be an Israeli spy, an accusation he fervently denied and it remained unproven.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In June

Also Known As: Ian Robert Maxwell

Died At Age: 68


Spouse/Ex-: Elisabeth Maxwell

father: Mechel Hoch

mother: Hannah Slomowitz

children: Ann Maxwell, Anne Maxwell, Christine Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell, Ian Maxwell, Isabel Maxwell, Karine Maxwell, Kevin Maxwell, Michael Maxwell, Philip Maxwell

Born Country: Ukraine

Writers Publishers

Died on: November 5, 1991

place of death: Canary Islands, Spain

Cause of Death: Drowning

Founder/Co-Founder: Pergamon Press

Childhood & Early Life

Robert Maxwell was born as Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch on 10 June 1923 in the mountain village of Slatinské Doly in Czechoslovakia. It is now called Solotvyno and is in Ukraine.

His was born into a poor orthodox Jewish family comprising parents Mechel Hoch and Hannah Slomowitz and six siblings. He received very limited education.

In 1944, his parents, four siblings and numerous relatives died in the Nazi Holocaust, however, he had already left Czechoslovakia.

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In 1939, Robert Maxwell joined the Czech resistance to fight against the Nazis who were persecuting Jewish people. Later, he left his country and went to France where he joined Czechoslovak Army in exile.

After the fall of France, he went to Britain in 1940 and joined the British army. He participated in Normandy invasion in 1944 and fought across Europe. By this time, he had changed his name to Ian Robert Maxwell.

As the Second World War drew to an end, he was promoted to the rank of captain and in 1945 was honoured with ‘Military Cross’ for storming a German machine-gun nest during the war.

After the war concluded, he worked for the British foreign office for some time before establishing his first business with his army contacts’ assistance. He became the British and US distributor for a scientific books publisher known as Springer Verlag.

The business prospered and in 1951, he bought a major share in small publishing company, Butterworth-Springer, and renamed it Pergamon Press. The press published technical journals written by scientists and academics which were much in demand and faced very little competition.

Pergamon Press became hugely successful and began acquiring other small publishers. In 1964, it went public and Maxwell became a multimillionaire.

Before this, Maxwell started his political career in 1958 by joining the Labour Party. He was elected MP to the House of Commons for Buckingham in 1964.

He was re-elected to his seat in 1966 but eventually lost it in 1970 to the Conservative candidate William Benyon. His later attempt to get his seat back in 1974 was unsuccessful.

Robert Maxwell could not replicate his success in business in politics though his business interest kept him connected with British political life.

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In 1968-1969, Maxwell’s attempt to buy weekly tabloid newspaper, News of the World, proved futile as the owner did not want a Czechoslovak immigrant with left-wing views to gain control. The newspaper ultimately went to Rupert Murdoch. This was the beginning of a long-term rivalry between two businessmen.

Later that year, Murdoch also won control of another newspaper The Sun which Maxwell wanted to buy.

In 1969, Robert Maxwell was embroiled in a fierce dispute involving the resale of Pergamon Press to an American businessman named Saul Steinberg who accused the former of misrepresentation of the company’s profits. Maxwell was removed from the company’s board and his reputation was severely damaged.

Steinberg could not run Pergamon successfully and Maxwell bought it back with borrowed funds in 1974. He made the company a success yet again.

The beginning of the 1980s saw him acquiring control of British Printing Corporation (BPC), the most important printing concern of the country. He first renamed it as the British Printing and Communication Corporation (BPCC) and then Maxwell Communications Corporation. He soon turned the company’s fortune around and sold it back to its manager in 1987.

His acquisition of the Mirror Group Newspapers, comprising six British newspapers (including Daily Mirror), in 1984 further intensified the media battle with Rupert Murdoch.

He bought the Oxford United football club at a time when they were in lower leagues and close to bankruptcy. As its chairman, he helped the club win the important national trophy – the League Cup in 1986. A year later, he bought another football club Derby County.

In 1987, he launched London Daily News but had to close it down within months owing to huge losses.

By the end of 1980s, Robert Maxwell owned various other companies like Nimbus Records, Maxwell Directories and Prentice Hall Information Services.

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He also made huge investments in British cable television and had a controlling stake in European MTV.

He invested heavily in the United States buying Berlitz International language instruction, Macmillan book publishers and Official Airline Guides. His company became the second largest printing concern in the US with his son, Kevin as its CEO.

He also launched a London based newspaper The European to be circulated in entire Europe.

His business ambition resulted in mounting debts and in 1991, he had to sell off Pergamon and Maxwell Directories to pay back. However, he still went ahead and bought New York City tabloid the Daily News.

In 1991, yet again, he sold off some stocks of Mirror Group Newspapers to the public.

Death & Afterwards

In November 1991, Robert Maxwell died after falling from his yacht near the Canary Island. His body was a recovered from Atlantic Ocean a day later. He was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

His death caused widespread speculation as to whether it was suicide, accident or murder. Though pathologists did not reach a consensus as to the exact cause of death, the official ruling was death by a heart attack combined with accidental drowning.

It was discovered after his death that his companies were severely debt ridden and to save his empire, he had, without authorization, used huge funds from his company’s employee pension funds. Though the government contributed money, pensioners ultimately received only half the amount they were actually entitled to.

His company filed for bankruptcy protection while his son Kevin was declared bankrupt. His two sons- Kevin and Ian – were tried for conspiracy to defraud, but were acquitted in 1996.

During his life, he invested heavily in Israel and was suspected to be an Israeli intelligence asset, an allegation he vehemently denied. However, speculations about this began again when he was given a big funeral in Israel which was attended by the then Prime Minister, President and heads of Israeli intelligence.

Family & Personal Life

In 1945, Robert Maxwell wedded a French protestant Elisabeth Meynard and the couple together had nine children.

His daughter Karine died as a young child due to leukemia, his teenage son Michael met with a car accident and died after staying in coma for seven years.

He had a lavish lifestyle complete with a stately home in Headington Hill Hall, Oxford, a helicopter and a luxury yacht, Lady Ghislaine.

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