Kagan, Joseph, Baron

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KAGAN, JOSEPH, BARON (1915–1995), British businessman. Born Juozapas Kaganas in Lithuania, Kagan, with most of his family, managed to survive World War ii in hiding near the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto. Kagan migrated to Britain after the war to join his father (who lived to be 109), who had emigrated there in 1940 and established a successful textile business. In 1951 Kagan founded the enterprise for which he became well known, Gannex raincoats, made from waterproof nylon. In Bradford, Kagan became acquainted with Harold *Wilson, who had been born nearby and adopted the wearing of Gannex raincoats as his trademark. The coats enjoyed a fad throughout Britain in the 1950s and early 1960s, being worn as well by royalty. When Wilson became prime minister in 1964, Kagan became a close but unofficial advisor on industrial policy and technological innovation. It is also said that Kagan paid a monthly consultancy fee to Wilson before he became prime minister and financially assisted other members of Wilson's entourage. Kagan was knighted by Wilson in 1970 and received a life peerage from him in 1976.

In 1978 Kagan became the subject of national controversy when, charged with theft and fraud (in matters unrelated to his relationship with Harold Wilson), he fled to Israel. Kagan was forced to return to England, where he was fined £375,000 and served ten months in prison. He was stripped of his knighthood by the Queen but allowed to remain a peer. From 1982 he again became a frequent speaker in the House of Lords.


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[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]