THERE’S a new drama airing on the BBC called The Syndicate. It’s about supermarket staff who win £18 million on the lottery. I’m guessing – I haven’t seen any previews – but no doubt some bittersweet things will then happen over five episodes and then we’ll all learn that there’s more to life than money. Like love. And chip butties with curry sauce. And things that always seem extra special in dramas about people with hardly any money.
I’m not sure I’ll be watching, but I would have done if it was set in a local authority office. In fact, then it could have been a real life story.
Flashback time. Back in 1996, a syndicate at Camden Council won the big one, £10 million, after the right balls came up on the National Lottery. When it was shared around the team, everybody got £300,000 – a heap of cash. They met up on the Sunday night to celebrate with a glass of champagne but dutifully turned up for work in the homeless person unit the next day, explaining how they wouldn’t be walking out on the clients that relied on them. The council leader of the day, Labour’s Richard Arthur, told the press he was “thrilled” for the staff, who were hard working public servants most deserving of the prize.
But, like a bittersweet telly drama starring people from Gavin And Stacey, things didn’t turn out brilliantly for everyone. For starters, one of the winners for some reason didn’t declare her winnings and continued to claim housing benefit, ending up doing community service for fraud.
One syndicate winner told the Daily Telegraph years later: “The money has given me and the family opportunities to achieve things – in education, and even in work – that we could not have done without the windfall. But for some of the others who won with me, you would be hard pressed to see the money making any difference at all – except causing marital problems. There have been quite a few divorces, with couples arguing over the money. One member of the syndicate still hasn’t told anyone at all.”
Some complained they were later passed over for promotion. There were suggestions jealousy set in. The story had been in the press – everybody knew what had happened.
But perhaps the saddest chapter in the Camden Council syndicate story, buried in the newspaper archives at Holborn library, was what happened to one of the seven members of the department who did not pay to be in the syndicate each week, a man said to be angry that it was not even considered that people who did not pay for a ticket should get a share.
He was later reported to have begun an attempt to match his team’s good fortune by trying to make his own winnings in casinos and betting shops, and buying up scratch cards. He ended up in prison for a short time after trying to cover losses by stealing computer equipment from the council’s offices. The sensitive Daily Mirror headline from the time: My Pals Won The Lot And I Lost The Plot. Not great times – the whole story makes you want to put that lottery ticket back in the machine.