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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Life with Maxwell
Robert Maxwell
Greed was good - but was it fun
Robert Maxwell was one of the last of the post-war tycoons -now a rare breed in Britain.

The kind of life that Robert Maxwell enjoyed now seems to have belonged to another era, one of excess, ridiculous extravagance and outrageous behaviour.

The great key to him was that he lived in constant terror of boredom

Peter Jay
Largely speaking, it does belong to another era - the eighties.

Flying around London and the world by helicopter or private jet, seeking meetings with heads of state, throwing lavish parties in his own honour, splashing his exploits across the Mirror newspaper, Maxwell's behaviour was showy and brash.
Lady Ghislaine
Maxwell's luxury yacht was named after his daughter, Ghislaine

Indeed, Tony Delano, a Mirror group director until 1985, recalls:"One of the charming things about Bob was that he did not know how to behave."

Money, money, money

He may have plundered the pension funds to help his ailing companies, but it was also to finance a lifestyle for which he had long since stopped counting the pennies.

He saw how eminently corruptible the British were and how cheap they were to corrupt

Tony Delano
BBC economics editor Peter Jay - who worked for him from 1986 to 1989 as chief of staff - recalls shaving about 1400 from a bill for a one night stay in a hotel in Portugal, with the final bill still reaching some 3,000.

"There was no rhyme or rhythm about his behaviour. It was like some huge, primitive animal that plodded on its way, or charged on its way, neither good nor bad...just random," Jay said.

Jay contends, as others have before, that Maxwell only understood two relationships, buyer and seller and master and slave.

"Where he thought he was a seller and someone else was a buyer, he could be positively obsequious. He treated anyone whom thought he was a buyer with reverence and flattery," he said.


Those who weren't holding a chequebook were treated slightly differently.

"The Maxwell technique depended very heavily on bullying and intimidation, almost of a physical kind. He was a very large man, he had a way of approaching people, and nudge them with his belly and breathe into their nostrils," Delano described.

His sons were among those bullied, dismissed and humiliated.

His employees were at his beck and call, night and day.

"He would realise the whole weekend...stretched ahead, filled with a great feeling of boredom, tell the Mirror switchboard to get people on the phone and tell them to have meeting. By the time you got there, he had forgotten what it was for," Peter Jay said.

Tony Delano - now at the London College of Printing - indicated that many of his employees could brave out some of Maxwell's criticism.

"You soon saw that a lot of bluster and bravado was fairly meaningless...(if he said) give me a full report on that by next Tuesday, you could be confident you could forget about it, because he would forget about it."


For bullies to get what they want, they need cowards and Maxwell did succeed in surrounding himself with people prepared to do as he said.

"He had a very high level of low cunning, he learnt about British ways, and British values, he saw how eminently corruptible the British were and how cheap they were to corrupt," Delano said.

"You didn't have to spend a great deal of money buying their consent or their presence on a board., you simply had to give them a job or a salary...he never had any dificulty in attracting these kind of people," Delano added.

Greed is good

Greed may have been good - at least for Maxwell - but it doesn't seem to have been much fun.

Living alone in a flat above his office, he could lay claim to few friends, having formally separated from his wife and at odds with some of his children.

"He didn't talk about his childhood very much. You had a very strong sense that no one could have been as gross as he was, were he not running away from some hideous poverty," Jay said.

In fact, Jay contends that "the great key to him was that he lived in constant terror of boredom."

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