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Beaverbrook, A Life.

That gentleman with high standards, Prime Minister Attlee, said that Beaverbrook was 'the only really evil man' that he had ever met. This was uncharacteristically excessive, for Beaverbrook was a mixture of good and bad. Which predominated? This first-class biography does not pronounce, though it gives us all the evidence to go upon. It tells us all, and rather more than all, that we need to know to make up our minds about him.

Beaverbrook liked to insist on his being a Scots son of the manse. His father was a pious, quiet, highly respectable Presbyterian minister in New Brunswick. Max inherited none of his father's characteristics, we are told; he turned after his mother's family, which was Irish. A naughty boy, he was mischievous from the first, independent and always out for himself, a maverick. He had a gift for the gab, was a flatterer and a charmer; temperamental, ups and downs of depression, bouts of self-pity, a terrific egoist. A mischief-maker and intriguer, he loved rows and setting people by the ears. Extremely generous to his family and people he liked, he had bad manners, always vulgar with bad taste, he could be ruthless and cruel. With a chip on his shoulder, he never forgave slights and pursued vendettas. What does this add up to? The authors do not draw the obvious conclusion.

Of course he had other qualities. He had dynamic energy and a prodigious memory. With him in Fredericton I was astonished that he really knew everybody and remembered their families. He said to me, 'I make my money in Britain, I spend it here'. One saw him best on his home ground, where he was enormously philanthropic and given to good works. Actually he had made his early millions in Canada with his mergers and watering stock on the grand scale. This shady past always hung around him, and was never forgotten either in Canada or Britain.

What then was good about him? He was a good Canadian patriot. His record as a patriot in Britain was very mixed. During the first German war he played some part in ousting Asquith for Lloyd George as Prime Minister. That was to the good, for Lloyd George was a dynamic war leader, which Asquith was not. In the second German war Beaverbrook's dynamism did a fine short-term job in speeding up aircraft production. Churchill found his company inspiriting, though mistrusting his judgement. As Lloyd George said, no-one in any party trusted Beaverbrook.

He had a shocking record as an Appeaser. Year in year out his newspapers advocated coming to terms with Hitler, and assured his readers that there would be no war, right up to the end, when he should have been warning them of the growing danger from Germany. He even advocated a compromise peace, which would have given Hitler the game. This was in collusion with the infamous Irish-American, Joe Kennedy, who had to be withdrawn as Ambassador here. Beaverbrook subsidised an arch-Appeaser, Sam Hoare, to keep him in politics. This was at Hoare's request and would have settled his hash if it had become known. These authors tell us a lot we did not know, both public and private.

Beaverbrook's irresponsibility was a bad liability, though it did his journalism no harm -- for which he had a great gift, and also as a talent-spotter. He picked up talent from the extreme Left to feed his newspapers -- also they amused him and he loved making trouble. Even at the worst moment of the war -- his and their campaign for a Second Front, when it was impossible, was wicked: the one way to lose the war.

Beaverbrook used his money to buy everybody he could -- and much resented those he could not buy: the monarchy, the Cecils (Lord Hugh wrote publicly that he should go back to Montreal, where people knew his record). He tried flattering Ernest Bevin; when he found that it did not work he tried hard to push him out of the Cabinet, so Bevin told me. Harold Macmillan wrote: 'he tried to trap me. He couldn't resist seducing men in the way he seduced women. I've seen two or three people ruined by it'. A.J.P. Taylor admitted: 'of course Max bribed me as he bribed everyone else'. He bribed Taylor to write him up, praise Beaverbrook's books to the skies, calling him 'a great historian'. In his laudatory biography of his master, he shows that he knew Beaverbrook lied. Then, 'what do I care?' This finishes Taylor as a serious historian. However, he made a second career out of it, besides constant entertainment at Cherkley, subsidies, presents of cheese and his favourite claret. When Michael Foot and his friends exposed the Appeasers in their Guilty Men they disingenuously let off Beaverbrook, one of the most guilty.

These Leftists had journalistic talents and no sense of responsibility, just what appealed to Max. Also it amused his mischievous side to help them make trouble for responsible Labour leaders like Attlee and Ernest Bevin, whom he could not buy. This book shows them up.

It also shows up Beaverbrook's affairs with women, in too much detail. They clearly responded to his undoubted ability to charm, still more to his virility, his animality -- for he looked like an Irish bull-frog.
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Author:Rowse, A.L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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