Brendan Rendall Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken, PC (15 February 1901 – 8 August 1958) was an Irish-born businessman and a minister in the British Conservative cabinet. He is best remembered for opposing the Bank of England's co-operation with Adolf Hitler, and for subsequently supporting Winston Churchill's prosecution of World War II against Hitler. He was also the founder of the modern version of the Financial Times. He served as Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945.
Brendan Rendall Bracken was born in Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland, the second son and third of the four children of Joseph Kevin Bracken (1852–1904), builder and monumental mason, and his second wife, Hannah Agnes Ryan (1872–1928). His father had belonged to the IRB and was one of the seven founders of the GAA.
Widowed in 1904, by 1908 Hannah Bracken had moved her family (including two stepdaughters) to Dublin, where Brendan attended St Patrick's National School, Drumcondra, until 1910, when he was transferred to the O'Connell School, run by the Irish Christian Brothers. Distressed by his misbehaviour, his mother sent him in 1915 to Mungret College, a Jesuit boarding school in County Limerick, but he bolted in 1915 and ran up hotel bills. She then sent him to Australia to live with a cousin who was a priest in Echuca, Victoria. The young man led a nomadic existence in Australia, moving often but reading avidly and acquiring a self-education.
In 1919 Bracken returned briefly to Ireland, finding his mother settled in County Meath. He distanced himself from Ireland and his siblings who were in revolt over their father's inheritance, moving instead to settle in Liverpool. In 1920 he appeared at Sedbergh School in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 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, the then-headmaster of Winchester College. Without fully believing this story, Sedbergh's headmaster, impressed by the depth of knowledge and eagerness to progress by the young Bracken, accepted him. By the end of one term he emerged having succeeded in blending his Irish republican heritage and his five formative years in Australia, with the elements and trappings of a British public school man. He might have had good reason for seeking to hide his Irish heritage as the War of Independence (1919–1921) aroused great hostility towards the Irish living in Great Britain.
For whatever reason this denial became a regular feature of his personal strategy in life. A second example occurred in 1926 when he met Major-General Emmet Dalton, a former senior commander in the new Irish Army, in London. This former British Army officer turned IRA confidant, who was one of General Michael Collins's right-hand men, recalled meeting Bracken at national 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, from Ireland.
Business and political career
After 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. His 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 as Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicester West, which started their political affiliation. He also assisted in the by-election at Westmister. In the fighting that occurred on the streets, Bracken was stabbed. Bracken himself stood for Parliament, being elected to the House of Commons in 1929 for the London constituency of North Paddington. Stanley Baldwin described Bracken as Churchill's "faithful chela", "chela" being the Hindi word for disciple.
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 Lord Beaverbrook. He needed politicians for stories and they needed the publicity given by his publications. 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 World War in 1939.
In 1926, he was the founding editor of The Banker magazine and bankers still name their respected annual Bank of the Year awards "Brackens" in his honour. The Banker features a regular column called "Bracken", focusing on providing views and perspectives on how to improve the global financial system.
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. The political issue at stake at the time was the formation of a British National Government, and the particular dilemma over which of Chamberlain's potential successors would be acceptable to the Labour Party. The view in Churchill's mind was that the Labour Party would not support him, and he had therefore agreed with Chamberlain to nominate Lord Halifax. When Bracken became aware of Churchill's agreement to nominate Lord Halifax, he convinced Churchill that the Labour Party would indeed support him as Chamberlain's successor, and that Lord Halifax's appointment would hand certain victory to Hitler. Bracken advised Churchill tactically to say nothing when the three met to arrange the succession. After a deafening silence during which Churchill was expected to nominate Halifax, the latter obligingly ruled himself out and Churchill was put forward as Britain's wartime Prime Minister, having avoided any appearance of disloyalty to Chamberlain.
Support from the US 1940–41
When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, Bracken helped in moving him into Downing Street. Bracken was sworn into the Privy Council in 1940, despite his lack of ministerial experience, and became Churchill's parliamentary private secretary.
An 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 suggestion was that Churchill had 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's biography, Bracken and Hopkins had met in America in the late 1930s, and this personal tie helped speed the decision to assist Britain nearly a year before the US actually entered the war.
Minister of Information
In 1941, Bracken was promoted to the post of Minister of Information where he served until 1945. At the same time he was one of the heads of the Political Warfare Executive.
In 1945, after the break-up of the wartime coalition, Bracken was briefly made First Lord of the Admiralty in the Churchill caretaker ministry, but lost the post in the fall of the Churchill government to Clement Attlee's Labour Party. He himself lost his North Paddington seat but soon returned to the Commons, as member of parliament 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 Empire. At the 1950 general election he was returned for Bournemouth East and Christchurch, a seat he held until the general election the following year. In early 1952 he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Bracken, of Christchurch in the County of Southampton, but never used the title nor sat in the House of Lords. He retired from publishing in 1956.
His best-known business accomplishment was merging the Financial News into the Financial Times in 1945. The latter was published from Bracken House, London, 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 Economist. In 1951, with his love of history, he helped found History Today magazine.
Bracken died of esophageal cancer on 8 August 1958, aged 57, in London. Although raised a Catholic, he refused the last rites of the Church despite efforts by his nephew, Rev Kevin Bracken, a Cistercian monk at Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, County Antrim, to persuade him.
He was cremated without ceremony at Golders Green Crematorium. His being unmarried, the viscountcy died with him.
2010 and 2015 television documentaries
On 21 December 2010, RTÉ One broadcast an hour-long TV documentary about his life entitled Brendan Bracken – Churchill's Irishman. The programme was made by Spanish production company, Marbella Productions, in association with RTÉ, and examined Bracken's life through photographs, interviews, rare archive footage and dramatic reconstructions, and told of his importance in the areas of British political and journalistic life, despite his attempt to hide from history by having all his papers burned after his death.
The 2015 television documentary Churchill's Secret Son is the 90 minute version of the previous documentary Churchill's Irishman, updated by the producers including additional images, stories about Bracken's life and additional footage. The programme was telecast on Discovery UK's History Channel on Saturday, 24 January 2015 at 10 pm, as part of the British History week, and coincided with the 50th anniversary of Churchill's death in 1965.