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Documentary shines light on mystery man Bracken

Brendan Bracken has been the subject of a play, books and remains a man of extreme interest to historians and journalists.

Now, his extraordinary life is the subject of a made for television documentary that weaves together historical footage and dramatic reenactment.

And the man behind the documentary is also named Bracken.

Adrian Bracken, unlike Brendan, is a genuine Englishmen. The two are not related so far as Adrian Bracken knows, but the Englishman's fascination with the Irishman is rooted in far more than just a family lineage that may have been identifiably close generations ago.

Brendan Bracken, says Adrian Bracken, is quite simply one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the twentieth century.

To those who take an interest in World War 11, and especially the role of Winston Churchill, Brendan Bracken is a known name if, for many years, far from being a known person.

Bracken rose from obscurity to become a press baron, the founder of the modern day Financial Times newspaper, a key figure in Churchill's war cabinet, the architect of much of wartime Britain's propaganda, a member of the House of Commons and later a peer in the House of Lords.

He was also rumored to be Churchill's illegitimate son, a story that Bracken himself created and allowed hang heavy in the English air.

Bracken wasn't born to all this. Indeed, given his start in life, he might have easily ended up in the Irish Free State's nascent government, or indeed in the republican forces that opposed it.

Bracken was born in 1901 in Templemore, County Tipperary. He was the son of Joseph Kevin Bracken, known as J.K. and Hannah Agnes Ryan.

The elder Bracken was a successful builder, a Fenian and a founder member of the Gaelic Athletic Association. But he wasn't around long enough to shape his son's future. He died when Brendan was just three.

His mother then married Patrick Laffan, also a republican. The couple moved to Dublin along with Brendan, his three full siblings and two step sisters. He went to school in O'Connell's Christian Brothers school in Dublin's north inner city. Later, he was sent to the Jesuit-run Mungret College in Limerick.

Brendan ran away back to Dublin and so worried his mother by his behavior that she sent him to a relative in Australia in the hope that he would get a fresh start and new perspective on life.

Bracken returned in 1919 to an Ireland afire with rebellion and division. He went to Liverpool and by 1920 he had turned up at the gates of a top boarding school in northern England claiming to be an orphan from Australia whose parents had died in a bush fire.

Incredibly, the school, Sedbergh in Cumbria, took in the mysterious young man with the accent that didn't quite sound Australian.

"Now, according to Adrian Bracken, "Brendan had the all important old school tie."

The old school tie and the connections that it bestowed was a key that opened many doors. In the ensuing years, that was what the self- reinvented Brendan Bracken did with astonishing success.

He forsook his Irish background and for all the world became an Englishman with the gilded benefit of a public school education. He first hooked up with Churchill in 1923 when the latter was struggling to rebuild his career. Bracken went into publishing and by 1929 was a significant enough figure to secure election to parliament himself.

The career of the two men progressed in increasing lockstep during the 1930s. Bracken, like Churchill, was a vehement opponent of appeasement so when Churchill became prime minister in 1940, and so took the helm in Britain's life and death struggle against Nazi Germany, it was no surprise that Bracken was at the elder man's side.

Bracken would be wartime Britain's Minister of Information, which, of course, implied an ability to bend the truth as much as disseminate it.

Winston Churchill's son, Randolph, disliked Bracken and resented the story that Bracken was his illegitimate half-brother. "The fantasist whose fantasies had come true," was how Randolph characterized Bracken.

Bracken was widely known as B.B. Eric Blair, who would take up the pen as George Orwell, worked for the BBC during the war and, like so many others, disliked Bracken even as he ultimately answered to B.B.

Later, in the classic "1984," the same initials would stand for "Big Brother." The prevailing view is that Brendan Bracken was the inspiration for what has become synonymous with governmental control of individual thought.

After the war, Bracken's political career took a dip when Britain's first Labor government came into power but he didn't lose stride, becoming once again a publisher with enormous influence. Working from his headquarters, Bracken House, he merged the Financial News into the Financial Times, known today the world over for its pink pages. Bracken was also publisher of The Economist magazine.

Bracken's later years brought him a peerage, but he never attended the House of Lords.

According to Adrian Bracken, after his self-imposed exile from Ireland, Brendan Bracken did return for his mother's funeral. He arrived late, missed the funeral Mass, and stood a little distance from the grave, shedding tears, as final prayers were being offered.

Bracken himself died on August 8, 1958, aged 57. The man who had been Britain's wartime propaganda voice, had, somewhat ironically, succumbed to oesophagal cancer. Though he had dated many women through the years he had never married and did not have any children. At least so far as is known.

Adrian Bracken's documentary is entitled "Brendan Bracken: Churchill's Supreme Fantasist." a segment can be viewed on the web at www.marbellaproductions.com.

According to Bracken, recently in New York for the annual gathering in Manhattan of history documentary makers, the production has been taken up in recent days by the Irish national broadcaster, RTE, which is now listed as a co-producer of the documentary.

Bracken is anticipating that this initial deal will, it turn, result in interest from U.S. networks drawn to the story of a man who masterminded the story of his own life, and, along the way, would control what millions would believe and understand to be the truth behind countless other stories.

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