To pay up would constitute a precedent

Kenneth Tynan by Godfrey Argent
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Kenneth Tynan was a towering figure in the British theatre scene, known for his sharp criticism and a remarkable ability to discern the pulse of contemporary drama. Born in Birmingham, England, in 1927, he began documenting his life and thoughts in diaries from the age of six, a practice that would continue throughout his life and result in a published volume in 2001. He wrote the following entry on 18th November 1973, at a time when many were following the unsettling saga of John Paul Getty III, the recently abducted 16-year-old grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty.

The Diary Entry

18 November 1973

John Paul Getty III, grandson of the richest man in the world, was kidnapped last July in Italy. A ransom of £1,000,000 was demanded; Grandpa, who has roughly 1,000 million dollars, has refused to pay a cent. The seventeen-year-old boy’s parents, who are divorced, did nothing. Last week his ear was sent through the post to his mother. We now learn that Grandpa is still holding out, maintaining that to pay up would constitute a precedent. The kidnappers have threatened to send one of the boy’s feet next. No doubt Grandpa will continue to resist the pressure; after all, the lad is a prisoner-of-war in the battle of world capitalism, and must learn to take his medicine. What is a limb or two, measured against the loss of face that would be incurred if it were suspected for one moment that capitalism valued human life above property? I have no doubt that Getty will be praised for his grit and courage as, piece by piece, the dismembered carcass of his grandson speeds through the mails. What astounds me is that, although the case has been fully reported, not one word has been printed in criticism of this savage miser.

Further Reading

The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan were first published by Bloomsbury in 2001, edited by John Lahr. They are engrossing, witty and shocking.


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