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.

Countless requests

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.

Charity collecting tins

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.

Administrative burden

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.


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Other events that occured in May

Priaulx Library opens for the first time 1st
Horse racing returns to L’Ancresse race course 2nd
Guernsey deportee, nurse Gladys Skillett was born
“Twink” goes missing on its way to Guernsey 3rd
Role of Chief Minister of Guernsey abolished 4th
Guernsey Airport opened for business 5th
Alderney debated in the House of Commons 6th
Songs of Praise comes from Guernsey 7th
Final issue of Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung was published 8th
Guernsey was liberated from German occupation 9th
A Guernsey retiree’s £1m offer attracts 57,000 requests 10th
A liberation celebration ended in disaster 11th
Guernsey plays Tottenham Hotspur 12th
Guernsey’s telephone wars broke out 13th
British papers reported Dame of Sark’s deportation 14th
The States of Guernsey bought Aurigny 15th
Alderney was liberated at the end of the second world war 16th
Herm goes back on the market 17th
A mainland murder with a Guernsey connection 18th
Guernsey declared a State of Emergency 19th
Wartime diplomat Wilfred Gallienne born in Guernsey 20th
Hauteville House is bequeathed to the City of Paris 21st
Guernsey poet and painter Denys Corbet was born 22nd
John Doyle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor 23rd
The Imperial Hotel opened for the first time 24th
Elizabeth College is founded in St Peter Port 25th
Game of Thrones actor Roy Dotrice was born 26th
Head of Guernsey CID is shot in St Peter Port 27th
Work started on the Victoria Tower
Guernsey’s first paid constables were hired 28th
Guernsey woman advised to leave for her safety 29th
Occupation stories occupy the mainland papers 30th
“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry 31st