33. Paddington Hits The Jackpot
“Lucky For Some” exclaimed Mr Brown. “Don’t tell me we’ve got to sit and watch that awful thing. Isn’t there anything better on the other channel?”
The rest of the family exchanged uneasy glances. “Paddington did ask if we could have it on,” said Mrs Brown. “It’s his favourite programme and he seemed particularly anxious we shouldn’t miss it tonight…”
“In that case,” said Mr Brown, “why isn’t he here?”
“I expect he’s popped out somewhere,” said Mrs Brown soothingly, “He’ll probably be back in a minute.”
Mr Brown sank back into his seat with a grunt and stared distastefully at the television screen as a fanfare of trumpets heralded the start of “Lucky For Some” and the Master of Ceremonies, Ronnie Playfair, came bounding on to the stage rubbing his hands with glee.
“I wouldn’t mind,” said Mr Brown, “if he asked sensible questions. But to give all that money away for the sort of things he asks is ridiculous.”
The dining-room curtains were drawn and the Brown family, with the exception of Paddington, who had been unaccountably missing since shortly after tea, were settled in a small half-circle facing the television set in preparation for their evening’s viewing. Over the past few weeks a change had come over the routine at number thirty-two Windsor Gardens. Normally the Browns were the sort of family who entertained themselves quite happily, but since the arrival of the television set practically every evening had been spent in semi-darkness as they sat with their eyes glued to the screen.
All the same, although Mr Brown was the first to admit it out loud, the nine days’ wonder of having pictures in their own home was beginning to wear thin and there were several signs of restlessness as yet another fanfare of trumpets burst from the loudspeaker.
“I do hope nothing’s happened to Paddington,” whispered Mrs Brown. “It’s not like him to miss any of the programmes, especially a quiz. He’s very keen on them.”
“That bear’s been acting strangely all the week,” said Mrs Bird. “Ever since he got that letter. I’ve a nasty feeling it may have something to do with it.”
“Well, it can’t be anything bad,” said Mrs Brown. “He seems to have spent all his time with his whiskers buried in those encyclopaedias of Mr Gruber’s. He even missed his second helping at lunch today.”
“That’s just it,” said Mrs Bird ominously. “It’s much too good to be true.”
While Ronnie Playfair’s face grew larger and larger on the screen as he explained the programme to the studio audience and the viewers at home, the Browns began to discuss Paddington’s strange behaviour over the past week.
As Mr Bird said it had all begun when he’d received an important-looking letter by the first post one morning. At the time no one had paid it a great deal of attention for he often sent away for catalogues or any free samples which he saw being advertised in the newspapers.
But a little later that same morning he had arrived home pushing Mr Gruber’s encyclopaedias in his basket on wheels and the next day, after borrowing Mr Brown’s library tickets, another pile of books had added themselves to the already large one at his bedside.
“He’s been asking the oddest questions too,” said Mrs Brown. “I don’t know where he gets them from.”
“Well, where ever it is,” said Mr Brown, as he looked up from his evening paper, “I hope he gets back soon.”
Mr Brown liked plays and he had just discovered there was a particularly good one about to start on the other channel.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan suddenly, as he jumped up from his seat and pointed at the television screen. “No wonder he isn’t here! Look!”
“Gracious me!” exclaimed Mrs Bird as she followed his gaze. “It can’t be!”
Mr Brown adjusted his glasses. “It jolly well is,” he said. “It’s Paddington and Mr Gruber.”
While the Browns had been talking Ronnie Playfair had finished describing the workings of the programme. Waving his hand cheerily to the studio audience he stepped down off the stage in the beam of a large spotlight and announced that the first contestant of the evening was a Mr Brown of London.
As he made his way up the aisle the camera followed him and eventually came to rest on two familiar faces at the end of one of the rows of seats. Mr Gruber’s look of embarrassment was tinged with a faint air of guilt as he caught sight of his own face on a nearby screen. Although Paddington had assured him that the Browns liked surprises he wasn’t at all sure they would be keen on this particular one.
But Mr Gruber was soon lost from view as a small brown figure sitting next to him raised a battered hat to the camera and hurried up the aisle after the Master of Ceremonies.
If the Browns were overcome at the sight of Paddington climbing on to the stage Ronnie Playfair was equally at a loss for words, which was most unusual.
“Are you sure you’re the right Mr Brown?” he asked nervously, as Paddington dumped his suitcase on the stage and raised his hat to the audience.
‘Yes, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington, waving a piece of paper importantly in the air. “I’ve got your letter asking me to come.”
“I didn’t know there were any bears in Notting Hill Gate,” said Ronnie Playfair.
“I come from Peru,” said Paddington. “But I live in Windsor Gardens.”
“Oh well,” said Ronnie Playfair, recovering himself slightly, “We won’t ask you to peruve that, but I suppose we must expect the bear facts tonight.”
“Peruve that,” he repeated, laughing at his own joke in a rather high voice. “Bear facts.” His voice died away as he caught Paddington’s eye. Paddington didn’t think much of Ronnie Playfair’s jokes and he was giving him a particularly hard stare.
“Er… perhaps you’d like to step forward and send a message home,” said the Master of Ceremonies hurriedly. “We always ask our contestants to send a message home – it makes them feel at ease.”
Paddington bent down and took a piece of paper out of his suitcase. “Thank you very much, Mr Playfair,” he exclaimed, as he began advancing on the camera.
The Browns watched in dumb fascination as Paddington loomed larger on their screen. “Hullo all at number thirty-two,” said a familiar voice. “I hope I shan’t be late, Mrs Bird. Mr Gruber promised to bring me straight home and…”
Whatever else Paddington had been about to say was lost as there came a loud crash and the picture disappeared from the screen.
“Oh no,” cried Judy. “Don’t say it’s broken down. Not tonight of all nights.”
“It’s all right,” said Jonathan. “Look – they’ve got another camera on.”
As he spoke another picture flashed on to the screen. It wasn’t quite such a nice one as the close-up of Paddington had been. Until just before the end, when it had suddenly gone soft and muzzy, that one had shown almost every whisker, whereas the new picture was looking towards the audience and there appeared to be some confusion. One of the cameramen was sitting on the floor surrounded by wires and cables, rubbing his head; and Ronnie Playfair seemed to be having some kind of an argument with a man wearing headphones.
“He wasn’t on his marks,” cried the cameraman. “He kept following me. You can’t take proper close-ups if people don’t stay on their marks.”
Paddington peered at the floor. “My marks?” he repeated hotly. “But I had a bath before I came out.”
“He doesn’t mean dirt marks,” said Ronnie Playfair, pointing to a yellow chalk line. “He means that sort. You’re supposed to stay where I put you otherwise the cameras can’t get their shots.”
“You did ask me to step forward,” said Paddington, looking most upset.
“I said step forward,” said Ronnie Playfair crossly, “Not go for a walk.”
Ronnie Playfair had been Master of Ceremonies on Lucky For Some for several years with never a word out of place, let alone an upset like the one that had just occurred, and there was a strained look on his face as he picked his way back across the cables closely followed by Paddington who was peering anxiously at the floor in case he lost sight of his chalk mark again.
“Now,” he said, as they reached the centre of the stage and stood facing the other cameras, “what would you like to be questioned on?” He waved his hand in the direction of four barrels which stood in a row on a nearby table. “You can have History, Geography, Mathematics or General Knowledge.”
Paddington thought for a moment. “I think I’d like to fry my paw at mathematics, please,” he announced amid applause from the audience.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Jonathan. “Fancy choosing maths!”
“Knowing the way Paddington does the shopping,” said Mrs Bird, “I think it’s a very wise choice.”
Paddington had a reputation among the street traders in the Portobello market for striking a hard bargain and it was generally acknowledged that you had to get up very early in the morning indeed in order to get the better of him.
“I must say he always keeps his accounts very neatly,” said Mrs Brown. “I’m sure it’s the right choice.”
“Mathematics?” repeated Ronnie Playfair. “Well, we’d better look for the first question.” He put his hand into one of the barrels and withdrew a piece of paper. “A nice easy one to start with,” he announced approvingly, “and a very good question for a bear. If you get it right there’s a prize of five pounds.”
After a short roll of drums Ronnie Playfair raised his hand for silence. “For a prize of five pounds,” he announced. “How many buns make five?”
“I must warn you,” he added, winking at the audience, “think carefully. It may be a trick question. How many buns make five?”
Paddington thought for a moment. “Two and a half,” he replied.
Ronnie Playfair’s jaw dropped slightly. “Two and a half?” he repeated. “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”
“Two and a half,” said Paddington firmly.
“Poor old Paddington,” said Jonathan. “Fancy getting the first one wrong.”
“I am surprised,” said Mrs Bird. “It’s not like him at all. Unless he’s got something up his paw.”
“Oh dear,” said the Master of Ceremonies as he picked up a hammer and struck a large gong by his side. “I’m afraid you’re out of the contest, the answer is five.”
“I don’t think it is, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington. “It’s two and a half. I always share my buns with Mr Gruber when we have our elevenses and I break them in half.”
Ronnie Playfair’s jaw dropped even farther and the smile froze on his face. “You share your buns with Mr Gruber?” he repeated.
“Give him the money!” cried someone in the audience as the applause died down.
“You said it might be a trick question,” cried someone else amid laughter. “Now you’ve got a trick answer.”
Ronnie Playfair fingered his collar nervously and a strange look came over his face as he received a signal from the man wearing headphones to give Paddington the money.
“Are you going to stop now, bear?” he asked hopefully, as he handed Paddington five crisp one-pound notes, “or do you want to go on for the next prize of fifty pounds?“
“I’d like to go on please, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington eagerly, as he hurriedly locked the money away in his suitcase.
“I shouldn’t do that,” said Ronnie Playfair as he dipped his hand into the barrel and withdrew another piece of paper. “If you get this question wrong I shall want the five pounds back.”
“Oh dear,” said Mrs Brown. “I feel all turned over inside. I hope Paddington doesn’t do anything silly and lose his five pounds. He’ll be so upset we shall never hear the last of it.”
“Right!” said Ronnie Playfair, holding up his hand once again for silence. “For fifty pounds here is question number two, and it’s a two-part question. Listen carefully.”
“If,” he said, “you had a piece of wood eight feet long and you cut it in half, and if you cut the two pieces you then have into half, and if you then cut all the pieces into half again how many pieces would you have?“
“Eight,” said Paddington promptly.
“Very good, bear,” said Ronnie Playfair approvingly. “Now,” he continued, pointing to a large clock by his side, “here is the second part of the question. How long will each of the pieces be? You have ten seconds to answer starting from now!”
“Eight feet,” said Paddington, almost before the Master of Ceremonies had time to start the clock.
“Eight feet?” repeated Ronnie Playfair. “You’re sure you won’t change your mind?”
“No, thank you, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington firmly.
“In that case,” said Ronnie Playfair as he triumphantly banged the gong, “I must ask for the five pounds back. The answer is one foot. If I had a piece of wood eight feet long and I cut it in half I would have two pieces four feet long. And if I cut those in half I would have four pieces two feet long. And if I cut each of those in half I would have eight pieces one foot long.”
Having finished his speech Ronnie Playfair turned and beamed a self-satisfied smile on the audience. “You can’t argue with that, bear,” he exclaimed.
“Oh no, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington politely. “I’m sure that’s right for your wood, but I cut mine the other way.”
Once again the smile froze on Ronnie Playfair’s face.
“You did what?” he exclaimed.
“I cut mine down the middle,” said Paddington. “So I had eight pieces eight feet long.”
“But if you’re asked to cut a plank of wood in half,” stuttered Ronnie Playfair, “you cut it across the middle not down the middle. It stands to reason.”
“Not if you’re a bear,” said Paddington, remembering his efforts at carpentry in the past. “If you’re a bear it’s safer to cut it down the middle.”
Ronnie Playfair took a deep breath and forced a sickly smile to his face as he handed Paddington a large bundle of notes.
“I think you’ll find they’re all there, bear,” he said stiffly as Paddington sat down on the stage and began counting them. “We’re not in the habit of diddling people.”
Ronnie Playfair looked anxiously at his watch. The programme seemed to be taking a lot longer than usual. Normally he would have got through at least five contestants by now.
“There are only five minutes left,” he said. “Do you want to go for the final prize of five hundred pounds?”
“Five hundred pounds!” exclaimed Judy in a tone of awe.
“If I were Paddington,” said Mrs Brown, “I’d stop now and make sure of what I’ve got.”
The Browns grouped themselves even closer round their television screen as one of the cameras showed a close-up picture of Paddington considering the matter.
“I think I would like to carry on, Mr Playfair,” he announced at last amid a burst of applause.
Although Paddington was not the sort of bear who normally believed in taking too many chances as far as money was concerned, he was much too excited by all that had taken place that evening to think clearly about the matter.
“Well,” said Ronnie Playfair in his most solemn voice, “Here, for a prize of five hundred pounds is the last question of the evening, and this time it’s a much harder one.”
“It would be,” said Mrs Brown, holding her breath.
“If,” continued Ronnie Playfair, “it takes two men twenty minutes to fill a fifty-gallon bath full of water using one tap, how long will it take one man to fill the same bath using both taps. This time you’ve got twenty seconds starting from now!”
Ronnie Playfair pressed a button on the clock by his side and then stood back to await Paddington’s answer.
“No time at all, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington promptly.
“Wrong!” exclaimed Ronnie Playfair, as a groan came up from the audience. “I’m afraid this time you really have got it wrong. It will take exactly half the time.”
“I’m very sorry, bear,” he continued, looking most relieved as he gave the gong a bang with his hammer. “Better luck next time.”
“I think you must be wrong, Mr Playfair,” said Paddington politely.
“Nonsense,” said the Master of Ceremonies, giving Paddington a nasty look. “The answer’s on the card. In any case it’s bound to take some time. You can’t fill a bath in no time at all.”
“But you said it was the same bath,” explained Paddington. “The first two men had already filled it once, and you didn’t say anything about pulling the plug out.”
Ronnie Playfair’s face seemed to go a strange purple colour in the studio, and even on the Brown’s receiver it went several shades darker as he stared at Paddington. “I didn’t say anything about them pulling the plug out?” he repeated. “But of course they pulled it out.”
“You didn’t say so,” cried a voice in the audience as several boos broke out. “That bear’s quite right.”
“Give him the money!” cried someone else as several more voices added to the general uproar.
Ronnie Playfair seemed to shudder slightly as he withdrew a silk handkerchief from his jacket pocket and patted his brow. “Congratulations, bear,” he said grudgingly, after a long pause. “You’ve won the jackpot!”
“What!” exclaimed Paddington hotly, as he gave Ronnie Playfair one of his hardest ever stares. “I’ve won a jackpot? I thought you said it was five hundred pounds.”
“That is five hundred pounds,” said Ronnie Playfair hastily. “It’s the top prize of all. That’s why it’s called a jackpot.”
As the applause rang through the theatre Paddington sat down on his suitcase hardly able to believe his ears. Although he knew there must be five hundred pounds in the world he had never in his wildest dreams thought he might one day see it in one big pile, let alone be told it was his.
Ronnie Playfair held up his hand for silence. “One final question before we end the programme,” he exclaimed. “And there’s no prize for this one. What are you going to do with all the money?”
Paddington considered the matter for a long time as the audience went very quiet. When you usually counted your money in terms of how many buns it would buy it was very difficult to even begin to think about a sum like five hundred pounds let alone decide what to do with it, and when he tried to think of five hundred pounds worth of buns he grew quite dizzy.
“I think,” he said at last, as the camera came closer and closer, “I would like to keep a little bit as a souvenir and to buy some Christmas presents. Then I would like to give the rest to the Home for Retired Bears in Lima.”
“The Home for Retired Bears in Lima?” repeated Ronnie Playfair, looking most surprised.
“That’s right,” said Paddington. “That’s where my Aunt Lucy lives. She’s very happy there but I don’t think they’ve got very much money. They only have marmalade on Sundays so I expect they would find it very useful.”
Everyone applauded Paddington’s announcement and the applause grew louder still a few moments later when Ronnie Playfair announced on behalf of the television company that they would see to it the Home for Retired Bears in Lima was well supplied with marmalade for at least a year to come.
“After all,” he said, “It isn’t every week a bear wins the jackpot in one of our quiz programmes.”
“Well I’m blowed,” said Mr Brown, mopping his brow as the programme came to an end and the captions began rolling past on the screen over a picture of Paddington as he stood in the middle of the stage receiving everyone’s congratulations. “I never thought when we bought a television set it would come to this.”
“Fancy Paddington giving it away,” said Jonathan.
“He’s usually so careful with his money.”
“Careful isn’t the same as being mean,” said Mrs Bird wisely. “And I must say I’m very glad. I never did like the thought of all those bears only having marmalade on Sundays.”
“After all,” she added amid general agreement, “if it hadn’t been for Aunt Lucy we shouldn’t have met Paddington. And if that doesn’t deserve a bit of extra marmalade I don’t know what does.”