Beaverbrook, Lord Maxwell Aitken, 1879-1964

A Canadian self-made multimillionaire and the founder of a great press empire, Beaverbrook had played a major part in British coalition politics during World War I when he had directed the government’s information services and had become a close friend and political ally of Winston CHURCHILL. On the latter’s assumption of the premiership in 1940, Beaverbrook was made Minister of Aircraft Production, with the task of increasing the output of desperately needed fighters. By ruthless simplification of production methods he did succeed in keeping the numbers of replacements ahead of losses during the Battle of Britain. Subsequent investigation suggested, however, that the disruption he caused in established procedures resulted in an eventual net shortfall of aircraft by the end of 1940. Then, however, the crisis was over. He subsequently acted as Minister of Supply (1941-41) and Lord Privy Seal (1943-45), and also as administrator of the Lend-Lease scheme in America in 1942. A ‘political gadfly’ with an irrepressible urge to create mischief around him, Beaverbrook was valued by Churchill less for his administrative skills than for his creative unorthodoxy.

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