Thursday, 8 May 2014

Where There’s a Will

I recently watched two old films that coincidentally had something in common.  The first was an old favourite of mine – ‘What a Carve Up’ (1961) starring Kenneth Connor and Sid James.  The second was a hitherto unknown Margaret Rutherford film called ‘Aunt Clara’ (1954).  Both films concern themselves with rather improbable wills of rich old men.  In ‘Carve Up’ potential beneficiaries are summoned to a comedy house of horrors.  Meanwhile in ‘Aunt Clara’ an innocent old spinster inherits a chain of shady businesses. Films featuring wills are undoubtedly popular, especially in the murder mystery genre.  Margaret went on to wrangle a few more in the Miss Marple films of the 1960s.  The consequences of being on the receiving end of a will – or failing to benefit – are a safe storyline.  This is because we are all interested in the concept of attaining wealth without having to earn it.   These films show that it was just as true then as it is now.
Margaret Rutherford by @aitchteee

 The idea of obtaining easy money is something that is explored further in ‘Aunt Clara’.  The businesses that she inherits an interest in are all concerned with turning effortless profits.  Gambling features heavily.  Her benefactor leaves her interests in a crooked greyhound racing kennel, where disguising one dog as another is common practice.  The effect of risk when betting is thus removed.   Another interest is in a fairground lottery game, easily fixed so that hardly anyone wins. Then there is the ownership of a busy pub – no need to take any part in the hard work of running it – just put in a manager and take the profits.  These are all a small insight into the seeds of what we have grown into 60 years on.  Race and sports betting fixing is very much in the headlines, albeit in a more sophisticated way. We have become a nation obsessed with lotteries – people play religiously and often gamble their last bit of money, even though they are aware that the chances of winning anything are virtually nil.  Meanwhile, private landlords go around snapping up properties for no other reason than personal gain, taking no interest in what it is like to live or work in their buildings.  I write as one who works for a charity which is housed in a privately owned building.  We have no idea who the landlord is, our electric sockets are held on to the wall by tape, we have no heating and the occasional mouse infestation.  We daren’t complain – the rent is all we can afford and at the first sign of trouble we know we will be turned out.  I’m sure it’s not just us that work like this.  We could do with an Aunt Clara to sort us out.

As a charity worker, I was also interested in the film scene where the lottery machine was put to good use. It was wheeled out when a fundraising concert had failed to produce enough donations. Suddenly, the audience couldn’t dig deep enough into their pockets and handbags. Things have not got much more sophisticated in the charity world. Charity remains the perfect excuse and method for getting people to gamble, and fundraising drives like this take place in community centres across the land.  The only difference now is that you can do it online as well.  We feel better about something for nothing if a charity benefits.  Those of us with consciences, anyway.

Aunt Clara does her best to make things fairer, but she soon dies and the businesses will be placed in the hands of the younger generation.  A rather downbeat end to the film in more ways than one. 

Sarah Miller Walters' novella, 'Dear Mr Betjeman' is now available as a printed book as well as a kindle download:

Howard Taylor's sketches are available to purchase from his Etsy shop -

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