Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken
PC (15 February 1901 – 8 August 1958) was an Irish-born businessman and a British Conservative cabinet minister. He is remembered primarily as an ardent opponent of the appeasement of Adolf Hitler and a supporter of Winston Churchill, first in Churchill's opposition to appeasement, and then in his prosecution of the Second World War. Bracken was also the founder of the modern version of the Financial Times. .
was born in 1901 in Templemore, County
He was the son of Joseph Kevin Bracken
and Hannah Agnes
Ryan. J.K. Bracken was a successful builder, who was a member of
the Fenian brotherhood
that was committed to
winning the independence of Ireland from Britain by force. He was
also a founder member of the Gaelic Athletic Association
established in 1884. His father died when Brendan was three.
then married Patrick Laffan, who was also sympathetic to armed
Irish rebellion, and moved with Brendan, his three full siblings
and his two step sisters, to Dublin.
educated by the Jesuits at Mungret College, a boarding school in
Limerick, but ran
away in 1915.
In Dublin, Brendan became all but
uncontrollable, engaging in vandalism and altercations.
desperation his mother sent him to Australia to live with one of
her cousins who was a Catholic priest in Echuca in Victoria
Brendan led a hardly more settled existence in
Australia, moving often but reading avidly and acquiring a self
In 1919 Bracken returned to Ireland but finding the Irish Rebellion
raging he settled instead in Liverpool. In 1920 he appeared at
Sedbergh School in Cumbria, claiming to
be 15 years old, an Australian, to have been orphaned in a bush
fire, and to have a family connection to Montagu Rendell, then the
headmaster of Winchester
On the basis of this story he was accepted
at Sedbergh. At the end of one term he emerged having succeeded in
trading his Irish republican lower
background, for that of a British public school
have had good reason for hiding his Irish heritage as the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921) aroused great
hostility towards Irish living in Great Britain.
For whatever reason this denial became a
regular feature of his character. A second example occurred in 1926
when he met Emmett Dalton in London. This British soldier turned
IRA confidant, who was one of Michael Collins
men, recalled meeting Bracken at primary school in Dublin. Bracken
denied this, but Dalton insisted that he remembered the smell of
Bracken's corduroy trousers. A third example occurred during the Second World War when Bracken told people
that his brother had been killed in action at Narvik, when in
fact his brother was alive, well, and asking Brendan for money,
In the 1981 ITV Drama series Winston Churchill: The
it was suggested that he encouraged a rumour
that he was Churchill's illegitimate son and that as a result
sought to turn her husband against him.
Business and political career
Sedbergh, whose "old boy" tie he used to good effect, Bracken was
briefly a schoolmaster at Bishop's Stortford College. He then made a successful career from 1922
as a magazine publisher and newspaper editor in London.
initial success was based on selling advertising space to at least
cover the cost of each number. In the 1923 election he
assisted Winston Churchill's unsuccessful attempt to be elected MP
for Leicester, which started their political affiliation.
stood for parliament several times before being elected to the
Commons in 1929 for the London constituency of North
Many of his early magazine stories included a
political flavour and he commissioned articles from a wide range of
politicians such as Churchill and Mussolini
. Business and politics
permanently overlapped in his life, in a similar way to the career
of his occasional friend Max
. He needed politicians for stories and they needed
the publicity given by his publications.
Bracken's physique was memorable. Very tall and fit, immaculately
dressed, with a shock of long unruly red hair and very bad teeth,
he was also very short-sighted and wore thick lenses. He tended to
converse in lengthy monologues. To many this was a repellent
combination, but he could also memorize an impressive array of
gossip, facts and anecdotes, and his publishing career was always
A supporter of Winston Churchill
from 1923, when Churchill was out of parliament and in the
political wilderness, in the 1930s he was invited to join
Churchill's "Other Club
". Their lives
changed from the outbreak of the Second
in 1939. When Churchill became prime minister in May
1940 Bracken helped in moving him in to Downing Street. Bracken was
sworn of the Privy
in 1940, despite his lack of ministerial experience. He
served as Minister of
from 1941 to 1945 after a short stint as
Churchill's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He was unpopular with
his civil servants, who cheered when news of his defeat in the 1945
General Election came through.
At this point Churchill's son Randolph
considered that Bracken was "the
fantasist whose fantasies had come true".
Assists in selection of Churchill
In two matters relating to Churchill Bracken can be said to have
played a key part behind the scenes. When Neville Chamberlain
prepared to resign
in May 1940, his successor would be Churchill or Lord Halifax
advised Churchill tactically to say nothing when the three met,
indicating that he would not support Halifax, and as a result
Churchill's name went forward for approval by parliament.
Support from USA 1940-41
An interesting insight into the nature of the relationship between
Churchill and Bracken is found in Churchill's history of World War
II. Churchill writes that he had received telegrams from Washington
about Harry Hopkins, "stating that he was the closest confidant and
personal agent of the President. I therefore arranged that he
should be met by Mr. Brendan Bracken on his arrival." The strong
suggestion, of course, is that Churchill arranged, as is diplomatic
custom, for Hopkins to be met by the person who was his closest
counterpart in British government, and that Bracken often played
the role of confidant and personal agent to Churchill. After
Bracken met Hopkins' flight on 9 January 1941, Churchill and
Hopkins forged a close association. According to Lysaght, Bracken
and Hopkins did as well and this personal tie helped speed the
decision to assist Britain nearly a year before the USA actually
entered the war.
Post War Years
In 1945 Bracken was briefly made First Lord of the Admiralty
lost the post in the fall of the Churchill government to Clement Attlee
's Labour Party. He himself lost his
North Paddington seat but returned as MP for Bournemouth in a November 1945 by-election.
He was a
relentless critic of the Labour Government's policy of nationalisation
and the retreat from
He is said to be the model for the brash Rex Mottram in Evelyn Waugh
's Brideshead Revisited
. Though he
dated several glamorous ladies in the 1930s, including the
well-connected starlet and model Penelope Dudley Ward
, he never
His most famous business achievement was in merging the
into the Financial Times
latter was published from Bracken House, clad in pink stone to
match the colour of the paper, just east of St. Paul's
Cathedral, which was remodelled in 1989.
At this stage
he was also publishing The
Retirement and death
elevated to the House of
Lords by Churchill, as Viscount Bracken
of Christchurch in the County of
Southampton, in 1952, but never used the title nor sat in the
He retired from publishing in 1956.
of oesophagal cancer on 8 August 1958, aged 57, six years after his elevation to the
A former Catholic
, he refused the last rites
of the Church despite efforts by his
nephew Fr. Kevin Bracken, a Trappist monk in Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, to persuade him to return to the Catholic
- thePeerage.com - Exhibit
- Brendan Bracken by Charles Edward Lysaght (Allen Lane,
London 1979) ISBN 0-7139-0969-2
- Lysaght, 2002
- Lysaght pp.172-173, quoting 4 sources.
- Churchill, The Second World War, v.3, chap.2, pp.22-3
- Lysaght, pp.183-184.
- Irish Times, 9 August 2008