Sir Max Aitken, British Flying Ace, Newspaper Scion, Dies
Sir Max Aitken, a World War II ace credited with the destruction of 16 German planes and son of British newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, died Tuesday at his London home. He was 75.
‘My father had been ill for some years,” said his son, Maxwell Aitken. “He suffered a series of strokes, the first in 1977. In the last six months he had been getting worse.”
Sir Max took over Lord Beaverbrook’s role as head of the family newspaper concern on his father’s death in 1964. He served as chairman of Beaverbrook newspapers from 1968 to 1977 and was made president for life after the company that publishes the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and London’s Standard newspaper was taken over by the Trafalgar House group.
Although he once headed one of Britain’s most powerful newspaper empires, Aitken may be best remembered for his exploits as a Battle of Britain fighter pilot.
In From the Start
He took to the air on the first day of World War II in 1939 and was still an active pilot when the war ended.
Aitken destroyed 16 enemy aircraft and in 1942 commanded a squadron that destroyed five enemy planes in one night. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Service Order for his exploits.
Aitken’s father, who founded the London Daily Express, had become Sir Winston Churchill’s minister of aircraft production and minister of supply when Britain fought Nazi Germany alone in 1940-41.
Aitken, born in Montreal, went into his father’s newspaper group when he was in his teens but left England at age 25 to be a test pilot for Lockheed Aircraft in Los Angeles. He returned to Fleet Street, London’s newspaper row, and was drafted by the Royal Air Force just before war broke out in 1939.
After the war, Aitken became a Conservative member of Parliament until 1950. In 1968 he was one of the British negotiators in fruitless peace talks with Rhodesian white minority Prime Minister Ian Smith, who had served in the Royal Air Force in Egypt with the publisher.
Smith, who had broken with Britain in an attempt to head off black rule in what is now Zimbabwe, said Aitken was the only man in Britain he trusted.
The Daily Express once was Britain’s largest-selling daily and had reached a circulation of more than 4 million in 1960.
Circulation battles with brasher rivals led to falling sales and slumping profits, and in an effort to counteract the decline the Daily Express changed to a tabloid in 1977 after 76 years as a standard-sized newspaper.
Financial difficulties persisted and the publishing group was bought in 1979 by Trafalgar House, a real estate company.