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Almost before the shouting has died down, there is Littlewoods at the door again, with bank managers and investment advisers and all the rest, ready and anxious to help you handle the bonanza. The first time I paid genuine attention to this side of pools winning was in 1957, when, along with Mr. Harvell and most of the rest of Britain, I saw by the papers that an honest widow woman of Stockport—a poor, worthy widow with two children to bring up, who went out cleaning to earn the money to do this—had won a terrific hunk of cash with the very small bet of eighteen pence—about 21�. Almost �207,000, it was. I forget the details. My memory tells me, falteringly, that it was the first time she had ever tried her luck. It also tells me without absolute assurance that this was the biggest win in pools history up to that date. But there is no doubt at all in my recollection that we were all—the entire pools public of Great Britain—pleased and happy at Mrs. Nellie McGrail's luck. Indeed, there was so much enthusiasm over it that it percolated into the financial page of my particular evening paper, and brought a personal note into the hitherto desiccated style of the syndicated column on investment for the ordinary man. "A very tidy little sum," this hitherto completely impersonal columnist wrote, "and I am sure we all wish the lady well. Now if I were in Mrs. McGrail's shoes, this is what I would do with the money." Then he broke it down into suitable smaller packets—a project that filled all his space for the day. And, actually, it was really like that, more or less, for Mrs. McGrail. At the very moment I was reading about the imaginary disposition of her fortune, a number of equally total strangers were arranging it in truth. They had been marshaled by benevolent Little-woods for the protection of the new-rich widow.
"Oh yes, we set up a wet-nurse system to look after our winners," a Littlewoods official later explained to me. "You can't expect a woman, or for that matter a man, to know how to handle a whopping great sum like that if she or he has never coped before with anything more than a small insurance policy. As soon as the win was confirmed we set up an advisory committee to look after her interests. It consists of the head of the trustee department of her local bank, a firm of solicitors, and a firm of stockbrokers who got together with the bank manager and decided on the best investments to be made in her behalf. They meet regularly every quarter to see how things are going. At the beginning this was done: a trust fund of �25,000 set up for each of the two children—they're almost teen-agers now—and a lump sum as a present to her parents. Eventually, she invested �144,000. On the dividends of these investments she could have lived at a rate of some �60 a week."
In fact, she did not live at that rate, and here is an interesting general truth about big prizewinners. With the exception of that occasional human rocket who gets into the headlines and the bankruptcy court, if not worse, the lucky punters are a thrifty, sober lot. Recently, aware that it has been two years since Mrs. McGrail got her money, Littlewoods sent out word that they were ready to take stock and ask questions of the advisory committee as to how things were going. Reporters gathered to ask other questions of the lady herself at the same time. Her financial state stands up nicely under inspection. In May 1959, her investments were worth �177,000; there has, in other words, been a capital appreciation of �33,000. Added to the dividends already mentioned, she is now receiving an income of �40 every day, and all because some two years ago she made a bet of eighteen pence. Mrs. McGrail has consistently stuck to her original decision to stay with her old friends. She bought a bigger house, quite in the proper tradition, but it's on the same road as the old one. Her daughters are in the same schools they used to attend. True, she no longer goes out to work, but to date she still gets one of the daughters to give her a home permanent when she needs one. (Perhaps, however, on the first day after the winning she made an exception to that rule. I am told that it is almost instinctive among lucky ladies to go straight to a hairdresser downtown and order the works.) The Littlewoods man who looks upon Mrs. McGrail as his special charge reports that he thinks she is beginning to realize at last that she isn't poor. After having bought a refrigerator and washing machine, a new sewing machine, a television set and a second-hand car, after having found a cleaning woman to help out with the housework twice a week (though Mrs. McGrail still does all her own cooking), after getting the older girl set in a training course as a shorthand typist, which is her ambition, Mrs. McGrail wants to travel abroad. She is studying Italian with this in mind.
For some time Mrs. McGrail has been the pride and joy of the pools, but one of the stimulating things about this great gambling game is that you never know when another spectacular will turn up. Her coup has already been outdone by other winnings, but the public didn't get quite so much of a boot out of them because they were not single prizes. Or, in other words, one single person didn't scoop the pool. A lot of bettors are like Mr. Harvell and me; they place their bets in partnership. Often they are even more economical than we are. Compared with most of these syndicates, Mr. Harvell and I are dizzy plungers, madly extravagant; the ordinary method is to split up the weekly wager into five or six or 10 parts. Last year several coupons owned by syndicates came in first. Each partner got quite enough as his share to make Mr. Harvell and me misty-eyed with envy, and yet it isn't quite the same. For one thing, as you might expect, this business of splitting the ticket, widespread as the habit is, sometimes leads to trouble. There have been bitter quarrels among winners or would-be winners when one punter accuses another of keeping the whole lot though he wagered only half the bet. However, the British are on the whole very nice people, and such quarrels are exceptional. A happy trust and unanimity obviously prevailed in the case of the 19 policemen who shared out a plummy prize not long ago and, as you might expect, the reporters had a field day. But it was in the first week of October 1959 that even the syndicate stories of pools winnings got a new twist.
On that day the nation was gratified, if inevitably a little envious, to hear of a group win that outbids all such winnings to date. Even the group of policemen had to take a back seat afterward, because no less than 24 young men were included in this one. Of all the monster sums won to date, this was one of the very biggest—�252,075, plus an unstipulated number of shillings and pence—and as if all this were not staggering enough, the winners were all members of the Royal Air Force, stationed at Lindholme in Yorkshire. But hardly had Littlewoods' avuncular financial experts brought out their charts and bankbooks when they ran into the sort of snag they do not often encounter.
One of the youngest of the flyers, an 18-year-old named Kenneth Hooton, showed a strangely glum face among all the smiles. The sharers-out naturally put it down to the possibility that he hadn't taken more of a bite of the original bet, but as it developed that he was entitled to �6,633 of the loot, they figured, quite correctly, that their first guess was wrong. Young Hooton's trouble was quite otherwise: he was simply appalled by the discovery that he had won anything at all. He is a strict Methodist who doesn't approve of gambling: what's more, his lay-preacher father approves still less, if that were possible. Kenneth never would have entered the syndicate if he'd had the slightest idea that it might win. He had put in his little bit merely to be matey. Yet the devil had played a dirty trick on him and given him �6,633 he didn't want, just to show he had sinned. Kenneth knew his father was on his way to see him about this, on the heels of the advisory committee. His heart quailed.
Father arrived, and retired with his erring son to talk the matter over. It did not take long. The two soon emerged to give their decision to the waiting public. Kenneth's money, every penny of it, was to be given away to charity.
I am sure I am not the only person in Britain whose reaction to this news was disappointment mingled with impatience. I was unregenerately pleased, therefore, when Kenneth and his father suffered a change of mind. A few days later another announcement came from the Hooton family: Kenneth's money is to be divided. One-third of it will go to charity; the rest is to be invested and used later when the boy is out of service and ready to make a start in life. (I heaved a sigh of relief.) You may be sure that the investment part of it will be lovingly and carefully taken care of by Littlewoods. They take their self-imposed task in this respect very seriously and personally.
"Should a winning client desire to invest in a business," one of such a committee wrote to me, "we always employ expert advice to guide him or her. Recently a winning client wanted to purchase a public house, and it was our pleasant task to discover whether the alcohol and the people who consumed it were in keeping with the price demanded. Through a haze I can report that the public house showed every satisfaction and today is doing a vigorous and rewarding trade in Princes Risborough."
Kenneth Hooton, of course, won't be investing in a pub. Nor will he ever put any of his money back into pools coupons, but Littlewoods and the other firms aren't worrying, since few regulars let moral scruples or anything else distract them from their weekly fling. Consider, for example, the story of the man who was had up, some years ago, for having allegedly kidnaped a girl, beat her, assaulted her and kept her forcibly under restraint for several days. It was a gaudy case altogether—he pleaded guilty, as I recall, and was eventually imprisoned—but what stands out in my mind is the significant detail that he paused in what must have been, to say the very least, a complicated procedure, with the girl tied up and struggling and all, in order to fill in his pools coupon.