“On the rock bound coast of New Brunswick the waves break incessantly. Every now and then comes a particularly dangerous wave that breaks viciously into the rock. It is called ‘The Rage.’ That’s me.”
– Lord Beaverbrook
Lord Beaverbrook (1879 – 1964) William Maxwell Aitken – was a self-made man who grew up the son of a Scottish Presbyterian preacher in Newcastle, N.B., and became a millionaire businessman, a press baron and a British politician. He had a reputation as a shrewd political figure and a pushy newspaper publisher, barking orders to the editors of his London papers down the telephone lines from his country mansion, Cherkley Court, near Leatherhead, Surrey.
Aitken had a large personality and was known to enjoy his reputation as a mischief-maker “par excellence” who kept his “Canadian drawl” as he moved about London’s political circles. Novelist William Gerhardie once asked Aitken if his middle name was short for Maximillian, to which Aitken reportedly replied “No, Maximultimillion.”
Almost everything about the man seems to have a mythical and a factual version. For example, his peerage name, Beaverbrook, has a romantic story attached to it that Aitken picked the name because it reminded him of a stream near his home in New Brunswick where he fished as a boy. The less colourful version reports that it was simply a place he found on a map.
It has been said that Aitken enjoyed his position as an outsider, but it seems he also enjoyed being an insider, playing a role in British politics for more than 50 years. Aitken was a confidant of Sir Winston Churchill – whose name is recorded over and over again in the guest book at Cherkley Court. Bonar Law, a right-hand man to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, was a regular guest who always celebrated Christmas there, and poet Rudyard Kipling not only signed in at Cherkley Court, he wrote a poem for the first guest book.
Aitken had a long political career that began shortly after he arrived in London in the spring of 1910. Aitken was one of only three British cabinet members to serve in both world wars. In Prime Minister Lloyd George’s cabinet, Aitken was the first ever minister of information, and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. But Aitken was strong-minded and resigned from Lloyd George’s government, leading him to promote his political views in his own newspapers.
Having delivered newspapers as a boy, Aitken went on to own two successful British newspapers – the Daily Express and the Evening Standard. He reportedly told a British foreign minister that he would always have “the loyal support of my newspapers.” Aitken’s papers were widely-read. The Daily Express sold 4,300,000 copies in 1960, making it the largest selling British newspaper.
In Canada, Aitken got into trouble as a young boy in school and tried but failed to get into Dalhousie University in Halifax, but he eventually studied law. And it was in Halifax that he started his business career, setting up companies with ties to the Caribbean and England.
Aitken helped Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in his bid to win a seat in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories in Bennett’s earlier days of politics. Aitken’s press purchases began in Canada when he acquired the magazine Canadian Century, which didn’t have much success since Aitken was a bit of an absentee publisher.
In later years, Aitken travelled widely and focused more on writing his books, which have been referred to as well-written but indulgent accounts of his heroes and his own war experiences.
Aitken spent his life trying to make a lot of money, but he also gave a lot away. He started the Beaverbrook Foundation in 1954 to hand out grants. He donated large sums of money, much of it to causes in his native New Brunswick. He set up the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton in 1959 and has funded ice rinks, a town hall and theatre, and has given money to the University of New Brunswick, where he was a chancellor.
Works by Beaverbrook
The longer I operated on Wall Street the more distrustful I became of tips and inside information of every kind. Given time, I believe that inside information can break the Bank of England
When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity; when many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion