Robert Maxwell was a man of many mysteries. One which remains unsolved is this: why did women find him so overpoweringly sexy? In her new book Betty Maxwell reveals how the sight of him affected her: 'I was transfixed. A strange sensation of warmth flooded through my body. Blood seemed to drain from me, my legs felt like jelly and I fell with a thud on the chair, my head spinning.'
I wondered why this sounded familiar, and then I remembered.
'Bob came down the hall... he told me I looked prettier than ever and I held his arm tightly while walking down the steps. I was terrified I was going to faint.'
Thus says, Eleanor Berry, in her book 'Robert Maxwell As I Knew Him'.
Unlike Betty's autobiography, Berry's book has up to now had almost no publicity. It was published a year ago by a firm in Devon and received one long notice in the Literary Review and most national newspapers. Mrs Maxwell tells us, that Bob was a brutal disciplinarian with his children, beating them on the slightest pretext. Berry fills in the details. She recalls a conversation with the nine-year old Ghislaine, who was waiting for 'a pre-arranged hiding' from the fat man.
'Daddy has a series of things lined up in a row,' Ghislaine explained. 'There's a riding crop with a swish to it, another straight riding crop, and a few shoehorns. He always asks me to choose which one I want.'
Did he ever use this armoury on adults? Berry, a self-confessed flagellomaniac says that Maxwell encouraged her to wear leather trousers and snakeskin stiletto heeled boots. One day he threatened to 'take Ghislaine upstairs and tan her backside'. According to Berry the threat of a flogging 'by the hand of this hunky male sex siren' excited her so much that 'I had to go upstairs and immerse myself in a stone cold bath for half an hour.'
We shall have to wait and see whether Betty Maxwell has anything in this vein. But in the first instalment from her book she quoted a letter from Bob, in which she described herself as ' the half-flayed creature you have stripped naked'. One can only hope it wasn't meant literally.