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Welsh children in the 1940s request a ‘Penny for the Guy’. In a world without Guy Fawkes there’s a very good chance they would’ve been requesting money to burn Nye Bevan instead and there would be no National Health Service.



Best Case Scenario

British children for many years used to make a Guy Fawkes effigy to burn on Bonfire Night, November 5th. The Guy Fawkes effigy would be paraded around the streets in the days before Bonfire Night, often in a pram, by the children who would ask pedestrians for ‘A Penny for the Guy’. The effigy of Guy Fawkes was usually a rather poor reproduction of the man himself and could rarely stand up unaided. More akin to his father after his visits to the hostelries in York.

In this best case scenario, in a world without Guy Fawkes and thus bonfire night, children would instead look to burn something similar to a Guy. This would be bad news for Nye Bevan, the Welsh Labour politician often called ‘The Architect of the National Health Service’ who would likely meet his end a good couple of years before the formation of the NHS in 1948 on a bonfire in Merthyr Tydfil. Any bargaining power with his child captors would be quickly eradicated when they realized that allowing him to live would mean them having to take medicine and visit doctors and dentists with increased regularity.

Contrastingly, Joseph Storrs Fry would have been in a great position to negotiate his release from being touted around the streets of Bristol, England under the banner ‘Penny for a Fry’ as his mass produced chocolates would appeal greatly to his juvenile captors. Thus, in the best case scenario Britain would be without its ‘Jewel In The Crown’ the NHS but still have a plentiful supply of chocolate and that men called Brian will insist that their names are never shortened to Bri.

Worst Case Scenario

The best case scenario presupposes that children will simply adopt a very similar model to the Penny For the Guy tradition that would no longer exist. The worst case scenario adopts the more realistic viewpoint that totally devoid of any tradition on which to base the new demands for money, that anyone’s effigy could be paraded around the streets and no limit placed upon the money requested.

In this scenario most Britons of a limited income will be forced to stay indoors for fear of being accosted by juveniles with demands of ‘Fourteen pounds eight shillings and threepence for the Sir Robert Peel’ or ‘Twenty Guineas, two shillings and sixpence for the Benjamin Disraeli’. Furthermore, the celebrities themselves might want to remain indoors for fear of coming across such a scene and discovering that their effigy is earning more than they are. There would be no ‘Penny for the Guy’ in existence for pedestrians to excuse their reluctance not to contribute to other effigies by saying that they are already donating to ‘The Guy’. The London Marathon would only be for the mega rich to compete in as they would be the only ones who could negotiate 26 miles of the capital’s streets strewn with effigies charging arbitary amounts and still remain in credit with their bank.

Adolf Hitler would have indefinitely postponed the blitz on Britain in 1940, quite rightly surmising that to bomb the place would rid the streets of all the extortionately demanding effigies and thus give a boost to the British economy. Similarly, the reluctance of Britons to leave their homes would have resulted in a drastic rewrite of Winston Churchill’s famous ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech of June, 1940, to ditch the seaside and incorporate the living room, hallway, porch and coalshed.

Furthermore, and this really is the stuff of nightmares, with no Guy Fawkes effigies to burn, there would be no template upon which to base the destructive destination set for the effigy to experience. Burning would be but one option. In all likelihood, the end for the effigy would be appropriate to whoever it was meant to be. Imagine Dame Clara Butt, the famous opera diva, alighting upon her effigy being paraded around the streets with demands for nine pounds, eighteen shillings and twopence, and being informed upon polite enquiry, that the effigy is destined to be smashed to smithereens by tennis players wielding their equipment because its fitting that one who makes a racket should perish by it. And furthermore that a crowd will assemble to enjoy the spectacle and let off fireworks. It would take an artiste of consummate professionalism and a hide as thick as that of a rhinoceros not to feel that such an encounter had a detrimental effect upon their confidence.

Britons would rarely venture out of their homes and creative people whether in the arts or sciences would avoid becoming famous. So a television entertainment show such as Britain’s Got Talent would simply not exist instead a programme that showcased the effigies and the appropriate ending earmarked for them would take the primetime weekend evening slots called Britain’s Got Malintent, won by an effigy of Sir Isaac Newton that would be pushed out of a plane at 35,000 feet to the words ‘See if you think gravity is so great now, you prat!’

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