Tag Archives: ebenezer scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge versus Sweeney Todd versus Big Ben

christmas-carol-poster-2You may have seen these posters around the place. Yes, they’ve made yet another version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which I swear must be the most filmed book in the  entire world ever. This version, as you can see, stars Jim Carrey in 3D motion-capture glory (I hear he switched the lights on in Oxford Circus last night, good for him). He also appears to be getting some sort of sexual pleasure from that bollard there. No doubt this will be explained in the film itself. I won’t be going to see it, having already seen the versions starring Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Bill Murray, Ross Kemp and Scrooge McDuck.

But I’m wandering from the point I started with, which is that the British posters feature, very prominently, the sight of Big Ben under construction. I have my own theory as to why this is, quite apart from the fact that Big Ben is shorthand for “You Are In London.” You may recall the Tim Burton-directed Sweeney Todd a couple of years ago. The publicity campaign for this ran into a little trouble over this image:


If you take a look to Mr Depp’s right, you’ll see Big Ben emerging from the fog of Olde Londone Towne. This caused consternation among certain historically-minded folk, who pointed out that Big Ben (or, if you want to be pedantic, the Clock Tower) wasn’t built until 1859, and the story of Sweeney Todd is set at some point in the 1840s. The poster was pulled. The scene in which Todd sails under the 1894-built Tower Bridge was left in, which strikes me as a far greater anachronism (the filmmakers’ excuse was that it is depicted as still being under construction, builders at the time apparently being shite). One might also point out that the ship that brings him in would have docked at Rotherhithe rather than into the heinously busy Pool of London. One might further point out that Tim Burton’s version of London in Sweeney Todd is a Disneyfied vision of 19th century Olde Englande marketed towards weekend Goths, and actual historical accuracy might freak them out. Frankly we’re lucky Sherlock Holmes didn’t step in to save the day.

I actually quite liked the film, I should point out.

So anyway, yes. That, in my characteristic rambling style, is why I think the London version of the posters for Yet Another Christmas Carol make a scaffolding-clad Big Ben bigger than the main character – to show that they’ve actually done a bit of research unlike some we could mention. Of course, if you want my opinion, and you’re going to get it whether you want it or not, I think these people could save themselves a lot of trouble if they just went with St Paul’s Cathedral as the London landmark. It’s a better symbol for London than Big Ben, which isn’t even in the goddamn City.

Further Reading

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/well-at-least-he-didnt-die-poor/ – The real-life historical figure that was the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge.


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Filed under 19th century, Buildings and architecture, Current events, Film and TV, Geography, History, Literature, London, Notable Londoners, Westminster

Well, at least he didn’t die poor

Me and money, we don’t exactly get along. This suits us both fine – it avoids me, and when it can’t, I do my best to get rid of it as soon as possible. While looking for financial advice, preferably advice that doesn’t involve stepping into a bank, I came across the strange story of John Elwes, MP.

Elwes, with some money.

Elwes, with some money.

Elwes is quite a significant figure in the history of London, being responsible for the development of much of the West End. He was known to be a remarkably generous moneylender, and never chased his debts. He became an MP for Berkshire and ran unopposed for twelve years, stepping down entirely voluntarily. So it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that he was possibly the biggest miser in the world ever.

Despite his remarkable wealth, inherited as a result of his family’s Southwark brewery, he begrudged spending the merest penny on his own comfort. His estates were allowed to fall into disrepair because he refused to fork out to fix them. He owned one coat, which he had found in a hole in the wall of his house and which was home to a fine colony of mould. See that wig he’s wearing? It was found in the gutter. He would sleep in a hedge rather than pay for lodgings and walk across the city in the rain rather than pay for a cab (and he wouldn’t pay for a fire to dry himself when he arrived at his destination, either). He was reluctant to pay for doctors’ fees, and on one occasion when he injured both legs, he only paid to have one treated – and bet the doctor his fee that the untreated one would heal faster. He won, by the way. When he had to ride – a task at which he was, incidentally, very accomplished – he would only ride along the grassy verges for fear of wearing the horse’s shoes out.

His dining habits were frankly nauseating. He was, as you might imagine, terrified of wasting food, and would commonly dine on meat that was crawling with maggots. On one occasion, a friend was grossed out when he lunched on a two-month-old pancake in his pocket (his mouldy pocket, don’t forget). Rather than invest in a hearty tavern meal, when he travelled he would take a boiled egg and eat it along the way. Remember I said he retired from politics after twelve years? Because if he’d stayed any longer, he’d have had to pay for his seat.

His habits seem to have been inherited from his family. His mother, for instance, died of malnutrition. He would often share a glass of wine with his uncle. That is, a single glass of wine between them. In his younger days, Elwes would visit his uncle dressed in rags for fear of being disowned by the old man.

In his later years, unsurprisingly, he became ridiculously paranoid about being robbed, and when he finally popped his clogs at the age of fifty-nine, his physician suggested that it was purely the stress of this paranoia that had killed him. Unlike most Georgian gentlemen, he didn’t spend his days forcing beef and claret into every orifice, and so potentially could have lived far longer if he hadn’t been such a nutjob.

He had two sons, whom he refused to educate for fear that they might think spending money was a good idea. Nevertheless, on his passing they earned his entire fortune of £750,000. I like to think they went out and got roaring drunk and then had a slap-up meal, but history sadly does not record.

It’s commonly suggested that John Elwes was the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. If so, it’s interesting that Dickens, a man never known to shy away from a caricature, had to tone Elwes down to make him even vaguely believable.

All of a sudden, I don’t feel so bad about my overdraft.


Filed under 18th century, History, Literature, London, Notable Londoners, Waterloo and Southwark, West End