Biggles hits turbulence

From Private Eye 13th August 1971

Sir Max Aitken’s days as chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers may be numbered. Members of the board have been meeting to discuss ways and means of heaving him upstairs.

Informed City sources point at the recent steady rise in Beaverbrook shares and the possibility of a renewed merger bid for the Express group by Vere Harmsworth and the more stable Associated Newspapers Group.

Beaverbrook ‘A’ shares alone have crept up from a 1971 low of just over 10s to over 14s 6d – the 1970 low was near 7s –  during a time when the profits forecast of the Express group is unlikely to be higher than in previous years.

Last year’s merger talks between ‘Mere’ Harmsworth and Sir Max Aitken floundered only on the final terms. Sir Max’s family holdings in the Express group are for sale – at a price. Their original plan was to merge the Evening News with the Evening Standard, thus establishing an evening monopoly in the London area, and integrating the Mail with the Express.

Sir Max baulked on the final batting order in the merged group as both he and Mere, whose family-controlled group would have been the bidder, wanted to be top dog.

With a new compact Mail, believed to be selling rather less than the two million claimed, and the circulation of the Daily Express down to a bare 3,500,000, the logical step would be for Harmsworth to pursue his bid. The puny profits of the Beaverbrook group – around £1.5million on an annual turnover of about £40million – leaves it vulnerable.

The only way for the Express to avoid a takeover would be for the board to oust Sir Max from day to day control and replace him with a City whizz kid brought in from outside.

This reconstruction would be carried out by Evelyn de Rothschild, a partner in the family bank, who is a Beaverbrook director.

Sir Max may soon find himself in the position of titular President.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre