Crazy Things The Brits Will Bet On

Britons, it appears, will bet on anything, from whether it'll snow on Christmas to the outcome of the American presidential election, to not only whether Kate Winslet would win an Oscar this year, but also whether she'd cry during her acceptance speech (odds were 8 to 15 that she would).

The gambling industry in the UK is massive: According to the UK Gambling Commission, gambling operations turned over £84.2 billion in 2006 to 2007. Gross gambling yield (that is, what operators make after paying out, but before deducting operational costs) was estimated at roughly £9.9 billion during that same time period. More than 3400 betting and gambling operators are licensed by the Commission and it shows "“ in virtually every town center, there is an off-track betting storefront, including the appropriately named Ladbrokes.

And they are busy. A 2007 Gambling Commission report also found that around 68 percent of the adult population of Britain reported participating in some form of gambling in the past year, including people who had only participated in the National Lottery Draw. Among the most popular forms of gambling, after the National Lottery, were betting on horse races and playing the slot machines. (The study also found that only about 0.6 percent of the population could be considered problem gamblers.)

Off-track and off-course gambling "“ the kinds of places that take bets and fix odds on things like Kate Winslet's tears "“ has only been allowed since 1961, when British government essentially legalized all of the already existing illegal bookmaking shops operating around the country. But well before that, Britons were betting on virtually anything that moved: In the 19th century, for example, young men of leisure would bet which drop of water on a window would reach the bottom the fastest.

And that barely scrapes the surface of the weird and wonderful bets British people have made "“ here are few of the strangest, most outrageous bets to come out of Britain in the last few hundred years:

ferret.jpgA popular betting game for charity functions and school field days is something called called Ferret Bingo. And it really couldn't be simpler: A ferret is placed in a specially made cage that features seven numbered exit tubes. Players bet on from which tube the ferret will emerge. But really, when ferrets are involved, everybody wins.
*
London resident Matthew Dumbrell took 1,000,000 to 1 odds that the world would end before the end of the year 2000 "“ begging the question, how would he collect his winnings?
*
In 1964, the prescient David Threlfall put £10 on 1000 to 1 odds with bet makers William Hill that a man would walk on the moon before January 1, 1970. Threlfall won, of course (surely angering those who think the whole lunar landing thing was a sham), but sadly lived only long enough to spend his winnings on a new sports car and crash it.
*
brit-bet.jpgIn perhaps the most audacious bet ever, in 2004, professional gambler Ashley Revell, 32, of Kent sold all of his worldly possessions and skipped off to Vegas with $135,000 in his pocket "“ where he sidled up to the roulette wheel and put the lot on red. The wheel hit a red 7, Revell doubled his money "“ and probably breathed a huge sigh of relief. According to the BBC, he described his all-or-nothing, black-or-red bet as the "purest bet you can do," before adding, "I'm not married and I haven't got kids. It's almost like my last chance to go mad."
*
However, Revell wasn't the first man to try his luck in one go on the roulette wheel: According to the BBC, in January 1994, a punter (as they call the betting folks over here) from High Wycombe sold his home for £147,000, flew to Las Vegas without telling anyone, and placed it all on red. He won.
*
In 1907, John Pierpoint Morgan and Hugh Cecil Lowther Lonsdale, the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale, were dining at the National Sporting Club of London, when Morgan made the claim that no man could walk around the world and not be recognized. Lonsdale disagreed "“ and so was born one of the strangest bets in history.

According to lore, man about town and consummate showman Harry Bensley heard about the bet and decided to take it on, for the princely sum of £21,000 ($100,000 then). By the start of 1908, the bet had changed. The wager allegedly stipulated that Bensley would walk around the world with only one set of underwear, pushing a pram, and wearing a metal helmet. Along the way, he was supposed to find a wife, never reveal his identity, and, in order to finance the journey, sell postcards of himself in his suit of armor. Huge crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Day, 1908, to cheer Bensley on his way, as he shuffled out of town pushing his pram and wearing his visored metal mask. A few stories of his exploits trickled back: He was arrested in Bexleyheath, southwest London, for selling postcards without a license. The local magistrate there, however, respecting the rules of the bet, allowed Bensley to be tried as "the man in the iron mask" and he got off with a fine. But after that, little of the man in the iron mask and his adventures made the news.

Bensley returned to England after six years and, he said, making it mostly around the world, hitting Ireland, Canada, America, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Italy. It was only the start of World War I that stopped him, forcing him to return to England. Morgan, he said, had abandoned the bet because of the outbreak of war, and had awarded him £4000 for his troubles.

It's a good story "“ but is it true? There is no evidence that Bensley ever actually left England, despite his claims, and even now, his family wonders if the tale was anything more than fancy.
*
In 2005, a 91-year-old former solicitor from Devon placed £500 on 6-to-1 odds that he would be dead by the end of the year. Arthur King-Robinson's morbid wager, which was accepted by bookmaker William Hill, was an effort to sidestep a £3000 inheritance tax that his estate would have been liable for should he have died by December 6, 2005. Luckily, King-Robinson didn't die, the death tax was avoided, and the bookmaker took home £500.
*
Horatio Bottomley, a Liberal MP who was also a less than honest businessman, had the perfect scheme for fixing a horse race. In 1914, Bottomley bought all six horses running in a particular race in Belgium, then bribed the jockeys to finish in a certain order and placed massive bets on the race. Fool proof, right? Not so much. The racecourse was a seaside track and the day of the race proved exceptionally foggy: Not only could the jockeys not work out who was where, but neither could the judges. Bottomley lost a vast amount of money on the race.
*
Before off-track betting was legalized, many of these kinds of weird wagers were made within in the confines of gentlemen's clubs (not those kinds of gentlemen's clubs). Whites, which at more than 300 years old is one of London's oldest such clubs, kept records of colorful wagers made by club members. Some are morbid: In 1817, Whites' ledgers reveal, one member bet 10 guineas that six other Whites patrons would die within a year. Others were a bit whimsical: In 1812, the record shows that one Mr. Talbot bet Sir J. Copley five guineas that "he does not make a bet with him during the next three years." Still others concerned matters of state: A Mr. Bouverie bet Lord Yarmouth £150 that the Duke Clarence, who would become King William IV, would sire no legitimate children in the next two years. And some were just crass: In 1819, "Mr. Raikes bets Mr. Greveill one guinea the Empress Marie Louise is in Paris before Emperor Napoleon is in her person."
*
Honorable mention goes to professional gambler Brian Zembic, a Canadian, who in 1998 accepted a $100,000 bet to get and live with breast implants for a year. The weird part? He still has them.
* * *
What's the weirdest thing you've ever bet on?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Scott Olson, Getty Images
Underwhelmed Tourists
Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios