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The Oldie’s debt to a Getty

Blog | By James Pembroke | Jan 19, 2018


I went to see All The Money in The World this week. While marvelling at Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of J Paul Getty, history’s greatest miser, I remembered that The Oldie had greatly benefited from the Getty family’s generosity.

How lucky we were to do business with J Paul Getty II rather than Getty Senior who had a payphone installed at Sutton Place for guests. The film captures his refusal to pay his grandson’s ransom, ostensibly for fear it will encourage kidnappers to prey upon his other 13 grandchildren; he only relents after he receives the sixteen-year-old’s ear in the post, and after he is advised the ransom can be allowed for tax.

We also see his son’s unhappy period as a heroin addict in Tangier in the late 1960s and 1970s. While we may have every sympathy for his plight at the hands of the world’s worst dad (and even worse grandfather), there’s little indication that he will recover to become a great philanthropist.

His donations were multitudinous: a cricket obsessive, he rescued and revived Wisden purely for his own pleasure; his cricket pitch is still one of the finest in the land. 

In August 2001, J Paul Getty II was persuaded, without the pressure of any body parts in the post, to boost The Oldie’s coffers with £250,000 – the greatest proof that genetics is hokum. A shy man, when he was presented with an award at an Oldie of the Year lunch, he bypassed making a formal acceptance speech in favour of making unintelligible gargling and burbling noises into a closely held microphone. After thirty seconds of babbling, he sat down with a broad grin, leaving his audience to ponder the strength of 1960s marijuana.

Upon J Paul Getty II's death in 2003, his second son, Mark, who was a distinct return to form, making a fortune from the purchase of all the picture libraries, decided The Oldie wasn’t for him and put the magazine up for sale. Despite having agreed terms with another publisher, he was willing to heed Richard Ingrams’s request of giving me a chance to raise the money. Taking a leaf out of his grandfather’s book, he gave me 24 hours to raise the money. To be fair, he wanted to see whether I was serious about what was not for him a very large amount of money. 

Little did he know, I was living in a small Dorset cottage without an upstairs loo. So, I fell upon the munificence of the Croesus of my own family, my cousin’s American hedge-funder husband. I was very clear to him that I was ringing him in New York because he was the richest man I knew and I desperately needed cash. I thought it best to hold off telling him the title of the magazine, bearing in mind American sensibilities about getting old or, rather, ‘mature’.  

When he insisted, I thought the game was up as I garbled ‘The Oldie’. ‘Why didn’t you say?’ He replied. 'I love the magazine. I’ve got the front cover of the first issue in my bathroom here.' 

The very rich are different from you and me.

JAMES PEMBROKE