He left the BBC in 1995, claiming to be outraged that a film he made about Robert Maxwell was de-fanged by the Corporation’s lawyers. He has rarely missed an opportunity since to complain about how Panorama and the rest of the BBC’s current affairs output has been “Birtised into banality” – John Birt being in his view “a Stalinist vandal who destroyed the old guard’s journalistic legacy”.
Meanwhile he went from strength to strength as a biographer – although this was not necessarily the view of his subjects. Robert Maxwell launched numerous lawsuits against Bower, who claims that Maxwell had private detectives break into his house and go through his records; and although Bower’s Maxwell: The Outsider (1991) was a huge success in hardback, Maxwell delayed the paperback edition by buying the publishing company that held the rights. After Maxwell’s death, Bower’s assertions about his questionable business dealings were fully vindicated.
Bower’s sharply critical 2000 biography of Richard Branson was widely thought to have scuppered Branson’s bid to run the National Lottery. Branson, who unsuccessfully sued Bower, declared of the biography: “What I have read has offended me on every single level … It is a foul, foul piece of work from the first words to the last – really rotten, nasty stuff,” – a quote that was proudly included on the book jacket.
Bower has since published a further volume on Branson, insisting that the Virgin tycoon is nowhere…