10th May 1976
A Guernsey retiree’s £1m offer attracts 57,000 requests
Guernsey retiree David James planned to give away £1m when he died. There’s maybe nothing unusual about that – except that he didn’t plan to give it to his friends or family.
Still only 56, James could hope to live a while longer, but created a stir when he announced that, with no heirs, he would welcome ideas about what to do with his fortune. According to the Aberdeen Evening Express, “the telephone [in his St Peter Port home] had not stopped ringing” with suggestions from the public.
“This is no stunt,” Mr James was quoted as saying. “I will consider every suggestion very carefully, but I want to create something that will endure.”
Several people had asked him to use the money to repair a church hall. One had asked for the cash so that he could go on holiday after suffering illness. The latter may well have been deserved, but unless Mr James was himself terminally ill, the holiday would have been a long time coming.
According to The Guardian, “The Society of Caddy Spoon Collectors would like the cash to buy ‘an awful lot of caddy spoons’ and start a little museum”.
The founder of the spoon society doubted that there were sufficient spoons in the country to spend all of the money. He did, however, offer to name the museum after David James.
If the number of calls coming through was causing Mr James to regret his offer, it looked like it was about to get worse. The World Wildlife Fund wanted the money to help conserve lagoons in Mauretania. Not only did it have a man go to his house; it was also organising a campaign of letter-writing by its supporters with the aim of convincing the would-be benefactor.
Unfortunately, the British tax system, which he had moved to Guernsey to escape, would claim more than half of the donation for itself unless he was careful how he dispensed it.
Mr James made his fortune by inventing stackable wire baskets for offices. He later claimed that he had never offered the £1m at all. It was all the result of a sensationalist tabloid headline, he said, which had resulted in him receiving more than 28,000 requests for help within the first couple of weeks.
According to The Times, “The letters… have come from almost every country in the world, including China. Some are addressed ‘Mr James, One Million’; others simply bear his newspaper photograph.”
He hired a secretary to help process them, and had some set replies printed to send out while he read each one.
It’s difficult to find out what did happen to the fortune upon its owner’s passing. However many of the stories printed at the time conclude that he was minded to establish a series of scholarships to send boys on adventure trips. By September, when the number of letters had topped 57,000, he announced on radio that he was thinking of giving the money to Guernsey.