THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO
About the book
Essential reading for lovers of Victorian true-crime stories. The book takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through Britain, France and Monaco in the company of one of the greatest swindlers of the era as he pulls off one breath-taking coup after another. His amazing win at Monte Carlo is just one of many highlights in this true story, which reaches a climax when Wells is pursued across Europe in one of the biggest man-hunts of all time.
FACTFILE: Charles Deville Wells aka ‘Monte Carlo Wells’ aka ‘The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo’
Blog: The Man Who Broke The Bank
- On this day 125 years ago: 27 July 1891 July 27, 2016
On this day, 125 years ago, Charles Deville Wells was poised to achieve the colossal wins at Monte Carlo which would make him famous.
But he suddenly found himself in the awkward position of suffering from a cash-flow problem, which threatened his plans to win the equivalent of millions of pounds at the gaming tables. He had calculated that the sum of £6,000 – equivalent to £600,000 in today’s values – was needed to operate the ‘infallible gambling system’ that he claimed to have invented. Large sums of money – mostly gained dishonestly – had passed through his hands in recent years. But now, only 24 hours before he was due to put his plans into operation, his available capital fell far short of the required amount.
Evidence that I have discovered shows that – on the very eve of his Monte Carlo triumph – he was forced to employ desperate measures: buried among dozens of classified advertisements on the back page of The Times for this day in 1891 I discovered this tiny ad:
SEVENTY-FIVE POUNDS LOAN REQUIRED, immediately, for a short period. Full security and 15 per cent interest given. Safe investment. Only private investors treated with. Write Security, May’s, 162, Piccadilly.
In my book on Charles Deville Wells – ‘The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ – I show how this advert is directly traceable to Wells.
To be continued.
- On this day 125 years ago: 26 July 1891 July 26, 2016
TRAFFIC CHAOS IN LONDON? WHAT’S NEW?
Most of us fondly imagine that in the days before the motor car our streets were quiet, safe places where everyday life proceeded at a dignified, unhurried pace. But when I glanced at Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper for this date in 1891 all my preconceptions were overturned.
Far from being the tranquil setting of our thoughts, the streets of Victorian London were choked with horse-drawn traffic of every kind, and those who ventured out of their houses risked life and limb. The following reports are all taken from a single column in a single day’s edition of the newspaper:
William Phillips was taken to Greenwich Hospital ‘having been thrown from a cab, which collided with another at Lee.’
Eight-year-old Michael Smith of Southwark was treated in hospital after being run over by a brougham while crossing the road near his home.
Joseph Baggs, an employee at a printing office in the City, was passing a horse when the animal kicked him savagely. He was found to be badly injured when taken to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
A man who was ‘thrown out of a trap at Clapham’ sustained a compound fracture to his leg, as well as scalp and other injuries.
In Gracechurch Street in the City of London, Charles Radhills was knocked down by a cab and had to be treated for ‘concussion of the brain’.
Henry Stone of Wandsworth was run over by a [horse-drawn] van, sustaining internal injuries. He was taken to Charing Cross Hospital.
Thomas Fellings, 41, ‘received severe injuries to the back and head by being thrown from a cart at the Royal Albert Docks’.
And a 4-year-old boy named Mark Moses was killed. According to Lloyd’s Newspaper, ‘The little fellow was playing in the road when he was run over by a vestry cart.’
The arrival of the motor-car a few years later can only have added to the danger. The mind boggles at the confusion and mayhem which must have arisen when motorised and horse-drawn vehicles clashed in the maelstrom of London traffic!
- On this day 125 years ago: 25 July 1891 July 25, 2016
On this day an advertisement in the Illustrated London News described Monte Carlo in the most complimentary terms as,
one of the most quiet, charming, and interesting of spots on the Mediterranean sea-coast. The Principality has a tropical vegetation, yet the summer heat is always tempered by the sea-breezes. The beach is covered with the softest sand; the Hotels are grand and numerous, with warm sea-baths; and there are comfortable villas and apartments, replete with every comfort. … There is, perhaps, no town in the world that can compare in the beauty of its position with Monte Carlo, or its special fascinations and attractions—not only by the favoured climate and the inviting scenery, but also the facilities of every kind for relief in cases of illness and disease, or for the restoration of health—in short, Monaco and Monte Carlo enjoy perpetual spring. Monte Carlo is only thirty-two hours from London and forty minutes from Nice.
In his gushing praise for Monte Carlo, the writer of this advertisement carefully avoided all mention of the Casino, regarded by many British people of the Victorian era as a “hell on earth” which was sure to undermine the morals of those who ventured inside its gilded halls. From a more practical point of view, to claim that Monte Carlo enjoyed ‘perpetual spring’ was not quite true. July and August in the principality of Monaco could be extremely uncomfortable because of the heat. Despite the temperature (not to mention the possibility of eternal damnation), as the end of July approached, Charles Deville Wells prepared to make his legendary trip to the Casino, where he would soon win the equivalent of £4 million in today’s money and be known to history as ‘The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’
- On this day 125 years ago: 24 July 1891 July 24, 2016
A report this day in the Kent & Sussex Courier states that the town of Tonbridge had just celebrated its Cricket Week with a smoking concert attended by 300 people at the Public Hall. A local man named Alfred Willis presided over the gathering and had used his contacts to engage some leading figures from the London entertainment scene.
Among them was Charles Coborn – acclaimed by the Courier as ‘the prince of comics’. He performed two music-hall songs, The Pretty Little Girl I Know and English as she’s Spoke, which was described as a ‘side-splitting piece’. For his finale he ‘fairly brought down the house’ with Two Lovely Black Eyes – the song for which up to this point he was best known. But this would soon change.
Within the next week Britain would see reports on how Charles Deville Wells had broken the bank at Monte Carlo. Later that year a little-known songwriter, Fred Gilbert, would take inspiration from Wells’ achievement and write The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – the song which was to become Coborn’s trademark, and which immortalised Charles Wells at the same time. Coborn went on performing the ditty for the rest of his long music-hall career, and claimed that he must have sung it a quarter of a million times. It remained one of the best-known and most frequently performed numbers for over half a century.
Late in his career, Charles Coborn recited The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo in the 1934 film, Say It With Flowers. The scene in question is probably the closest impression of a Victorian music hall (with the crowd joining in!) that we are now likely to see. Available on YouTube here
Want to know more about the golden age of the British Music Hall? Go to www.britishmusichallsociety.com
- On this day 125 years ago: 23 July 1891 July 23, 2016
CLASH OF THE TITANS
I was browsing the edition of The Times for this day 125 years ago when a report about two music-hall strong-men caught my eye. On looking into this topic more closely, I found that these performers were the “pop-idols” of their day, and that intense rivalry existed between them. I then discovered a book by Graeme Kent, The Strongest Men on Earth: When the Muscle Men Ruled Show Business, which tells their fascinating story in detail. (Snippets are available to read on Google Books).
According to The Times, an artiste billed as “Sampson, the strongest man in the world”, had been performing at the London Aquarium a few days earlier, when 21-year-old John Marx, ‘a powerful-looking man described as a professional athlete and champion dumb-bell swinger’, bounded on to the stage and challenged “Sampson” to lift a steel bar weighing 320 pounds. This, it seems, was a feat which even “the world’s strongest man” was incapable of achieving, and Marx then ‘created a disturbance’. An assistant of Sampson’s approached Marx, who ‘felled him with a violent blow to the head’. When Marx was brought before a court in London, the Magistrate, Sir Albert de Rutzen* remanded him on bail.
John Marx appears to have survived his brush with the law and gone on to enjoy considerable fame: a newspaper advertisement from 1899 – eight years later – shows him at the top of the bill at a Belfast theatre, ‘supported by thirteen variety artists’.[*The name of Sir Albert de Rutzen seemed familiar to me. Then I realised that he was the magistrate who, some years later, presided over an extradition hearing involving the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells, “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”].