Money, the Lottery and Three Very Rich Men

Quite a while ago, I pondered in another post what I might do if I should win a lot of money in the lottery. I thought about it quite a bit and came up with the usual answers like new home, new car, holiday homes and so on. Maybe a new laptop or stand-alone PC. The fact is, not being used to money and not having particularly expensive tastes I probably wouldn’t have much of a clue. At home I have a whole lot of collectable things, model cars, antique telephones, books and DVDs so I could easily find myself being like the character in the film Citizen Kane, buying lots of things and having them stored somewhere. Would I be affected by a big win? I can see the headlines now: Northern Lottery winner says his 32-million-pound win won’t affect him. But of course, that wouldn’t necessarily be true. How did big money affect others? Let’s take a look at three multi-millionaires.

Howard Hughes.

Once upon a time Howard Hughes was the richest man in the world. In today’s society being the richest man requires some serious wealth and Howard Hughes ticked all the financial boxes you can think of. He inherited his father’s tool company when he was very young. Too young in fact to take control but he found a law that said if he could prove he was capable of running the company then he could take control. He proved he could and did just that, took control. His father had designed a tool bit that was essential to America’s oil industry but instead of selling the drill bit he patented it and then rented it out. Howard Hughes though had other ambitions that did not involve oil or drilling but the profits from the Hughes’ Tool Company were vital for his ambitions in aviation and the movies.

Hughes combined those two interests in making the WW1 movie ‘Hell’s Angels’ about fighter pilots and for the shoot he assembled the largest private air force in the world. Towards the end of the shooting, sound pictures made their appearance so what did Howard do? He re shot the entire film with sound equipment!

Another movie Hughes made that is famous, or perhaps infamous, was the 1943 Movie ‘Outlaw’ starring Jane Russell. Hughes appeared to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts, even to the extent of designing a new bra for her and re shooting a famous close up of her time after time. Hughes clearly had some psychological issues; he was a compulsive, obsessive man. He usually had the same meal when he went out with one of the many starlets he courted. Jane Greer recounted in a TV interview how Hughes would eat things in the same order, the peas first, then the potatoes and finally the meat. Once when they dined Hughes came back to the table and Jane noticed his shirt was wet. Hughes had spilt something onto his shirt so he washed the shirt in the men’s room, rinsed and squeezed it out, then put it back on.

In the 1940’s, Hughes designed and built a prototype large transport aircraft for the US military. The aircraft, nicknamed the ‘Spruce Goose,’ was made entirely of wood due to wartime restrictions on aluminium and was not completed until 1947 after the war was over. Hughes was called to testify about the project before a senate committee investigating his use of government funds. The investigation distressed Hughes enormously and led to his retreat from the public eye.

As his mental health deteriorated, Hughes retreated into a world of blacked out penthouse suites and midnight telephone calls to his army of assistants, some of whom were private investigators keeping close tabs on anyone Hughes had an interest in, particularly starlets he had signed to personal contracts and his girlfriends like Katherine Hepburn or Jean Peters whom he later married.

The incredible thing is despite his illness, he and his company produced aircraft for the US government, including the ‘Spruce Goose’ mentioned above, many of which he test flew himself. However, in July, 1946, Hughes crashed while testing his XF11 reconnaissance plane. The aircraft crashed in Beverly Hills and Hughes was seriously injured. He survived but remained addicted to morphine for the rest of his life. His company also produced the Glomar Explorer, an undersea recovery craft for the CIA and it was part of a plan to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear sub in an effort to learn the USSR’s nuclear secrets

If you want to know more about Howard Hughes my favourite movie about him is not the Aviator, the Scorcese/ Di Caprio movie, good though it is, but an old TV mini-series based on a book by Noah Dietrich, ‘Howard, The Amazing Mr Hughes.’  Tommy Lee Jones gives a great performance as Hughes in the film.

Noah Dietrich was once Hughes’ chief executive and financial advisor. He resigned after becoming more and more unhappy with Hughes’ bizarre behaviour. In later years Bob Maheau, a former FBI man employed by Howard, experienced much the same thing; numerous obsessive memos, midnight phone calls and so on.

Hughes died in 1976, cocooned from the world by morphine and the close attention of his Mormon aides. Despite his wealth Hughes was emaciated and underfed, addicted to drugs which his aides rationed in order for them to manipulate him. Surely, final proof that money is not everything.

Robert Maxwell.

Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch in 1923 in Czechoslovakia. He escaped to France before the Nazi invasion and joined the Czechoslovakian army. After the fall of France he was attached to a British unit and fought in the allied invasion achieving the rank of captain and winning the Military cross. Maxwell was Jewish and lost his family in the Nazi holocaust. He became a UK citizen after the war and changed his name to Robert Maxwell. Using his contacts in the allied occupation, he became the British and US distributer for a series of scientific books and after acquiring a major share in the Permagon Press, built it up into a major publishing house.

Maxwell served as a British MP for a while but after losing his seat he carried on building his business empire. He bought various other companies, one of them becoming the Maxwell Communications Corporation, Later he bought the Mirror Newspapers Group in the UK and various other companies in the USA. In 1991 he bought the New York Daily News.

As well as his business activities, Maxwell was rumoured to have links with British intelligence and the Israeli Secret Service, Mossad. Maxwell denied all these claims although at his funeral many serving and former heads of the Mossad were in attendance.

In his later life he seemed to cut a sad figure. An old BBC documentary I watched recently claimed he had developed an obsession with a female assistant who later left his employ.

Beset by legal troubles he missed a meeting with the bank of England over his default on a 50-million-pound loan and instead sailed in his yacht, the Lady Ghislane to the Canary Islands. He was alone on his yacht apart from the crew. The BBC documentary showed him visiting the islands on an earlier trip and dining alone.

On the 5th November 1991 he was found to be missing from the yacht and his body was later found floating in the ocean. It was speculated that while urinating over the side of the ship as he frequently did, he suffered a heart attack and fell overboard.

After his death Maxwell’s companies collapsed owing huge amounts of money. It was also revealed that Maxwell had tried to save the impending collapse by secretly using hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies’ pension funds.

Maxwell was buried on the Mount of Olives in Israel and his funeral there was attended by the Israeli Prime Minister, various serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence and by many dignitaries and politicians.

His daughter, Ghislaine was recently in the news due to her involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and a sex trafficking scandal. She was arrested in July 2020 and is still in custody awaiting trial.

J Paul Getty.

J Paul Getty also had the dubious honour, like Howard Hughes, of being at one time the richest man in the world. I became interested in Getty after watching the Ridley Scott film All the Money in the World. It’s about the kidnapping of J Paul Getty III which I remember quite vividly from the news in 1973. Getty’s grandson was kidnapped in Italy and the kidnappers made a demand of 17 million dollars for his release.

J Paul Getty’s father was in the oil business and gave his son $10,000 to invest when he was 22. The young Getty invested the money wisely in a new oilfield and made a great deal of money. In the coming years Getty bought more and more oil companies and expanded into the middle east where his talent for languages helped enormously.

He was married and divorced numerous times and owned property all over the world including a mansion in the UK. In his fourth marriage he produced a son, J Paul Getty Jr who became the father of J Paul Getty III who was kidnapped.

In the film, and I’m not sure how true to life it was, J Paul Getty III is living the life of a hippy in Italy. He has mentioned to various people the thought of a fake kidnapping as an idea to raise money from his grandfather. He is then kidnapped for real but an investigator for Getty thinks the kidnapping might be a fake and so Getty declines to pay the ransom. After the kidnappers cut off his grandson’s ear and send it to the newspapers, Getty decides to pay but only after knocking the price down to 3 million dollars. Even then, he only pays 2.2 million (a figure that was apparently tax deductible) and loans the remainder to his son at 4% interest. Finally, the grandson, minus one ear was released.

What is quite interesting about the film, and actually this has nothing to do with millionaires and tycoons, is that Kevin Spacey originally played the part of J Paul Getty but after allegations against Spacey regarding sexual advances towards a young boy of 14, Spacey was cut out of the film and substituted with Christopher Plummer.

Getty was a major art collector although he always tried to buy at knock down prices. He was a notorious tightwad (nice to know I have something in common with a multi-millionaire). In his mansion Sutton Place in Surrey, England, he installed a payphone for guests to make personal calls. He did his own laundry by hand and always replied to letters by writing back on the reverse of the letter he had received in order to save on stationary.

Getty died in 1976 at the age of 83.

J Paul Getty III was traumatised by his abduction. He suffered from drug and alcohol addiction in the years after his release and in 1981 suffered a stroke brought on by taking a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. The stroke left him severely disabled for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 54 after a long illness.

Spend, Spend, Spend.

In 1961 a woman called Viv Nicholson and her husband won a huge prize on the football pools declaring to the press that they would spend spend spend! The couple won £152,000 equivalent to just under three and a half million pounds today.

Viv and her husband grew up in extreme poverty and true to their word they went on spending sprees involving clothes, sports cars, holidays and anything they could think of. Viv later said she seemed to be almost addicted to spending. Things went sour when her husband was killed in a car crash and all that they owned was deemed to belong to his estate. She had to sue to get a share of their purchases but her uncontrolled spending soon emptied her financial coffers.

Viv married again but eventually ended up a penniless alcoholic. In later life she wrote an autobiography called Spend, Spend, Spend. It was made into a remarkable BBC film written by playright Jack Rosenthal. I went on YouTube to look for a clip to show you and there wasn’t one but I did see that the book had been made into a musical starring Barbara Dickson. Some stories seem to just have a life of their own.

Conclusions

Looks like big money didn’t guarantee a great life for the three tycoons or the pools winner above. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a big cash win. Ages ago in another post I wrote this about my first lottery win:

When the lottery first began I would spend Saturday night glued to the lottery programme just checking my numbers. (Sad or desperate, I don’t know which.)  I’d decided to use numbers of houses I’d lived at, and one evening I was getting ready to go out, getting changed in front of the TV just in case and the first number came up; number 1. Great, give my ticket a little tick. Second number: number 4, whay, another little tick.  Third number; number 28. Whoa! A slight sweat beginning to break out on my forehead, a third tick on my lottery ticket.  Fourth number, number 38! Oh my God! Four in a row! Heart rate increasing, a nervous tension beginning, starting to breathe faster and faster!  Then the fifth number; number 6!

Of course, I hadn’t chosen number 6 so I wasn’t happy but still, that was pretty good going, four numbers on the trot. I won £100 which is better than a slap in the face but believe me, I was so excited that if I’d actually got the six numbers I’d probably have dropped dead with a heart attack, never living to enjoy my millions!

Anyway, I’ll have to go. Just got time to buy my lottery ticket for tonight’s draw.


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The New Year Blues

The post-Christmas period is sometimes one of sadness. All the Christmas fun is over, the decorations come down and are boxed away until next year. Personally, I’m not a great fan of Christmas. I hate to admit it but I’m basically a shy person and somewhat clumsy at group social events so it’s actually sometimes a relief for the holiday season to be over. Not only that, I absolutely hate the cold so as soon as the New Year celebrations are done and the pendulum starts to swing the other way, towards longer days and the spring, then I feel happier.

One thing I am looking forward to this January is jetting off to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The sun will be shining, the temperature will be in the 70s, just like an English summer, and I can settle down, start a daily swimming regime and get myself fit. Well, fitter anyway.

I had to work over Christmas this year so my brother and I didn’t have our usual pre-Christmas pint together. We made up for it the other day by having a post-Christmas pint in Manchester.

One problem was that I found I had left behind my debit card which presented a serious problem that might possibly have prevented me from purchasing beer in any of the numerous public houses to which I was heading. However, armed with my new smartphone, I was able to locate a city centre branch of my bank, Santander, from the comfort of my tram seat. I jumped off the tram in Piccadilly, Manchester and went off down Market Street. The bank, however, wasn’t where I had thought it was so I had to click back onto Google maps to see what was wrong. I was a little confused when Google asked me to go right, right and right again until it became clear the bank was actually in Piccadilly itself and I had bypassed it with my nose glued to my phone just like the majority of younger people today.

The day before I was watching an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and Mr Spock had beamed down to 20th century earth in pursuit of a mysterious alien called Gary Seven. (Did he have a brother called Gary Six I wonder?)  The enterprise scanned for the alien and sent down coordinates to Kirk and Spock who promptly tracked the fellow down using their communicators. It appeared that the episode was a pilot for a new sci-fi show which never materialised. Shame really because it looked pretty interesting. Anyway, good job they didn’t send me to track down Gary Seven as I couldn’t even find a branch of my own bank! Kirk and Spock of course have much more experience with their communicators than I do with my smartphone, still, interesting how real life has caught up with sci-fi!

As you can perhaps see, I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my mobile phone. It’s great to be able to glance at my e-mails and see Facebook updates and so on but my favourite app has to be Google. I just love Google maps and whenever I arrive myself somewhere like a restaurant or pub, I always take a few minutes to add comments and post reviews.

I used Google maps to drive to work the other day. I know the way of course but it was fascinating to hear this voice telling me to turn left in a quarter of a mile and so on. The thing is, I always turn right at that particular spot so that experience left me a little bemused.

A really great app would be a Google Supermarket Planner. I can just imagine hearing ‘turn left at the next aisle to find cooked meats!’ ‘Turn right at the third aisle to find wines and spirits.’ Great stuff.

Pint of MildEven more helpful would be ‘don’t use checkout 3 because the lady there is questioning the price of a reduced item!’

‘Incident at checkout 1 as a customer has 16 items in the 10 items only checkout! Yes, that would be a great help because fate always points me in the direction of a checkout with problem customers, always, and the problems only usually arise after I have unloaded my shopping at that particular till.

Happily, there were no such delays in the Grey Horse in Manchester and they served me with an outstanding pint of mild.

Cheers everyone!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

A Monkey, A French Canal Barge and A Million Pound Cheque.

The French Canal Barge.

Money, as they say, makes the world go round. We work day after day to bring home the money so we can pay for our home, our cars, and all the essentials we need and hopefully have something left over for a little luxury. A night out in the pub or a meal at a restaurant. A holiday, a new TV, or even a bigger and better home.

Just lately, I feel fairly flush in the financial department because I’ve joined the ranks of the semi-retired and the lump sum from my pension is starting to burn a hole in my pocket. The problem with coming into money is that for someone like me, I don’t really know how to spend it. I don’t want to waste it and I certainly don’t want to fritter it away. I could do with a new car but a few years down the road my investment will surely have reduced in price, just like all cars do. My present motor, my lovely Renault Megane convertible cost a considerable sum a few years back but now . . . The other day I typed all my car details into the website webuyanycar.com only to be confronted with the measly offer of £398!

Well, thanks for the offer but I think you can keep your £398 and I’ll hang on to my car for a while longer. In fact I fully intend to keep driving it until the scrapyard beckons.

I often wonder what I would do if I won the lottery. Not long ago I received an e-mail from the lottery people heralding good news and urging me to check my ticket. Good job I did because the £3.20 winnings came in pretty handy that weekend enabling me to buy almost a full round of drinks. So what would I do with a really big win? Well, a new car would be nice. Another convertible perhaps or something more in the way of a 4X4? I’ve always fancied one of those Nissan Navara pick-up style motors. I’ve always thought it would be handy for travelling through France – plenty of room to whip a few wine boxes in the back ready for supping back in the UK. I did think of test driving one a while ago but when I climbed into the seat the driving position was not for me, not to my taste at all but I’m confident I could find an appropriate motor, given time.

Next on my purchase list would be a nice house and perhaps a holiday home in France, somewhere towards the south of the country because I really don’t like the cold. Perhaps one of those large French canal barges might suit. I could spend the summer in the lush Loire then chug serenely south when the weather cooled keeping an eye out for suitable bars and bistros along the way. A change of blog might be in order. Letters from an Unknown Diner sounds pretty good!

A million pounds would be a nice tidy sum but just thinking about that figure reminds of a time many years ago when I came into close contact with that very sum.

The Million Pound Cheque.

A long time ago when I was a teenager one of my very first jobs was as an accounts clerk. One day there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a £1 million cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to three PM, as in those days, banks closed at three PM. ‘Good heavens’, declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were  still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some  tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  Yes tippex was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the incorrect number, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure.

The Monkey.

One summer we employed a young lad called Jonathan, fresh from university who had a degree in accounting under his belt and was rumoured by all and sundry to be a candidate for future management. Our boss, Mr Ross, was highly impressed by him and seemed to take every opportunity to praise his achievements to me, the proud possessor of four O’ levels. Personally I thought Jonathon was a bit of a, how can I put this? Plonker, is probably the word I am searching for. Yes, Jonathan was something of a plonker who appeared to me to be easily bored.

One day Mr Ross approached me and asked, after showing me the ledger, was this my handwriting? I replied no, it wasn’t. Mr Ross then asked me what I made of some figures at the bottom of the page. I replied that I wasn’t sure although a clear figure was apparent and by figure I don’t mean a numerical figure but something more artistic. Jonathan our new clerk was then asked about the figures. He took a rather long glance at the ledger, thought about it for a while, and then told Mr Ross that the figure in question was in fact a monkey.

A monkey? replied Mr Ross. I say replied, although this is really a quite inadequate word. It would have been more appropriate to say Mr Ross screeched or howled and the phrase ‘a monkey!’ came out in a very distorted, even agonised way. Anyway, after some further thought, Jonathan confirmed he was responsible for the monkey. It was actually quite a good representation of a monkey and it looked quite at home among the accounting and various totals and sub totals. It turned out that in a rather quiet moment in the office Jonathan had idly decided to draw a monkey on the ledger for some reason.

I too, in quieter moments sometimes used to do drawings or write poetry and stories. I tended to use scrap paper or a notebook and perhaps that is why I managed to hang onto to my job somewhat longer than Jonathan hung on to his, despite me not being a university graduate.

That, as you can easily imagine, turned out to be Jonathan’s last day on the job and he was never seen again, although any time I happen to be looking at art and come across something to do with monkeys, I always wonder whether he made his mark in accounting or the art world.


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