The Unknown Maxwell  by Nicholas Davies  - review by Francis Wheen

Francis Wheen

Mystery of Gargantua’s Top Secret Powder Puff

The Unknown Maxwell 


Sidgwick & Jackson 346 pp £14.99

When Robert Maxwell bought the Mirror Group, in July 1984, no commentator gave him a more enthusiastic or reckless welcome to the Street of Shame than Paul Johnson. ‘I don’t care a damn about his early business record or what the Board of Trade said about him umpteen years ago,’ Johnson roared in his Spectator column. ‘That is all ancient history.’ He predicted, approvingly, that the new proprietor would soon oversee a mass eviction of the Mirror’s overfed, overindulged journalists. ’Maxwell is a hard man, with a sharp nose for extravagance, waste and freeloading of any kind.’

As so often, old Ginger Johnson was as wrong as wrong can be. Maxwell had a ‘sharp nose for extravagance’ only in the sense that a cat has a sharp nose for fish: he was himself an emperor of excess, a grand vizier of gluttony – in short, a greedy pig. Nicholas Davies, the former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, witnessed extravagance galore during the years when he acted as Maxwell’s travelling companion. Here is his description of a typical lunch on the sun-deck of the Lady Ghislaine:

Masses of food would be brought up the two flights of stairs by three or four sailors whose job it was to keep the

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