As one of Charles Dickens's most memorable characters, Ebenezer Scrooge has captivated generations of readers of A Christmas Carol - and this year, his story has been remade in a 3D animated film, with the American actor Jim Carrey voicing the lead role.
Yet few people realise that this unpleasant old sourpuss, who greets all Christmas joy with the dismissive words 'Bah humbug', did not come out of the novelist's imagination alone.
Inspiration: Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Jim Carrey in the new Disney film of A Christmas Carol, can be traced back to 18th century MP John Elwes
Despite inheriting a vast fortune, Elwes hated spending a single penny - living almost like a tramp, squatting in uninhabited homes and eating rotten food rather than see it go to waste.
Even in his capacity as MP for the wealthy county of Berkshire, he refused to live the indulgent lifestyle of his fellow members.
Miserly: Mr Elwes, who inherited £33million from his uncle, refused to spend any of his money and squatted in his own rented homes
So eccentric were his habits that he was the butt of contemporary satirists. Cartoonists depicted him as a thin and pinched figure holding tight to a moneybag.
And though he died 35 years before Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, his story would certainly have been well-known to the author.
So who was this real-life Scrooge - and what led him to become so tight-fisted?
In fact, Elwes was born John Meggot (a Dickensian name, if ever there was one), the son of a successful brewer in Southwark in London.
John's father died when the boy was just four years old, leaving his mother Amy £100,000 - more than £13million in today's money - plus a country estate on the borders of Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
It might have been a recipe for a luxurious lifestyle, yet Amy counted the pennies so carefully that she ended up dying of starvation.
Scenes from A Christmas Carol as Disney's Ebenezer Scrooge finds some friendship for a festive dinner
At the end, there's happiness in the Disney version, and there was also generosity in Elwes' life
Educated at the elite Westminster School, he was quite a socialite in his youth.
He became one of the best horsemen in Europe, spending time on the Continent where he was a fan of the French philosopher Voltaire, to whom he was said to bear a remarkable physical resemblance.
On one occasion, Elwes hid himself away in an empty house in Soho, where he fell so ill that he nearly diedElwes was less impressed by the Frenchman's famous utterances than he was with the horses Voltaire kept at his country estate near Geneva.
Perhaps eager to run his own magnificent stable, John returned to Britain to cultivate assiduously his maternal uncle, Sir Harvey Elwes, MP for Sudbury, with a view to inheriting his considerable estates.
Like John's mother, Sir Harvey was a notorious miser who prided himself on spending a mere £110 a year on himself - and now he proceeded to inculcate the same stinginess in his obsequious young nephew.
The two of them would spend entire evenings together sharing just one glass of wine, berating the extravagance of all their contemporaries.
Sketches by Boz, written by Charles Dickens and illustrated by George Cruikshank, painted life in London in 1836
Charles Dickens may have used the name 'Ebenezer Scroggie' as inspiration
When Sir Harvey died 12 years later, John inherited £250,000 (£33million today).
Some might have celebrated their good fortune in style. Not John, who proceeded to spend as little as he could of his uncle's money - and indeed managed to cut his annual expenses to £50.
When questioned about such frugality, he would tell friends simply that he wanted to hang on to his ancestral wealth for his own heirs - his nephew, a Colonel Timms, and his two illegitimate sons, George and John, whose mother was never publicly acknowledged.
Though fond of the children, he refused to educate them, saying putting ideas in their heads would only lead to their frittering away money.
Certainly, John's own habits were modest to the point of absurdity.
With each passing year, Elwes grew more eccentric. He started going to bed at sundown so he did not have the expense of buying candles.
He bought no new clothes and was seen so often in filthy rags that passers-by would conclude he was a beggar and press a penny into his palm.
Rather than spend money on fresh food, he ate meat so maggoty 'that it walked about his plate' and once even devoured a dead moorhen that had been pulled out of the river by a rat.
When he was obliged to travel in town, the stingy Elwes would often walk miles in the pouring rain rather than hail a cab which might have cost a couple of pennies.
EnlargeArriving at his home drenched, he preferred to sit for hours in wet clothes rather than go to the expense of buying firewood.
The tale of Scrooge has captivated generations, with Michael Hordern playing Marley's Ghost in the 1951 film version
He neglected to mend the roof of his grand country house and if rain came into his bedroom, would move the bed around till he found a dry corner.
So extreme was his penny-pinching that he got a perverse pleasure from watching others waste their fortune.
He would often spend the night in London's glamorous gaming clubs observing as his friends would squander thousands of pounds.
At dawn, he would venture through the cold to Smithfield, to watch the cattle from his Essex farms go to market and haggle with the butchers over the price of a carcass.
The two of them would spend entire evenings together sharing just one glass of wineThen he would head home to whichever of his rental properties did not have a tenant at the time.
Whenever one fell vacant Elwes simply moved in with a table, two chairs and two beds - one for himself, the other for his elderly housekeeper.
With so few possessions, the two were able to move quickly, frequently leaving no forwarding address, which very nearly led to Elwes's early death.
On one occasion, Elwes hid himself away in an empty house in Soho, where he fell so ill that he nearly died.
It was only thanks to a keen-eyed young lad who told Elwes's nephew, Colonel Timms, where he could be found that his life was saved.
Timms brought a blacksmith to break down the door just in time - the housekeeper was dead and Elwes was gravely ill.
On this occasion he recovered, but in the grip of increasing dementia he imagined any visitor to the house had come to rob him and was gripped with the fear of dying in penury.
In fact, thanks to his parsimony and income from property, his fortune had now increased to some £800,000 (£115million today).
In the end, Elwes lived to the age of 75, but the doctor who attended his deathbed said he would have lived at least another 20 years if he had spent some of his money on taking care of himself.
But aside from the fortune he passed to his heirs, he did leave another legacy. He was a great supporter of the geat architect Robert Adams, and encouraged him in the redevelopment of London's West End - much of which survives today.
Elwes supported the architect of London's West End - where Scrooge actor Jim Carrey hosted the Christmas Carol's premiere recently
He also had a reputation for foolhardy selflessness.
Once, while out shooting with a notoriously bad marksman, he found himself on the receiving end of several lead pellets in his cheek. Instead of rounding on his cack-handed companion, the bleeding Elwes praised him.
'My dear sir,' he said, holding out his hand, 'I congratulate you on improving. I knew you would hit something in time.'
It was such eccentricity that inspired the writer William Harrison Ainsworth to publish a novel, The Miser's Daughter, in 1842, based on a character like Elwes.
Ainsworth wrote: 'To expose the folly and wickedness of accumulating wealth for no other purpose than to hoard it up and to expose the utter misery of a being who should surrender himself to the dominion of Mammon.'
Just a year later, Ainsworth's friend Charles Dickens wrote his own interpretation, A Christmas Carol.
The name of Scrooge was probably inspired by an inscription Dickens found the year before on the Edinburgh tombstone of a certain Ebenezer Scroggie.
But the miser himself came alive in the hands of the master only because of the idiosyncrasies of the truly bizarre John Elwes.