There are those, like PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, who use their inherited wealth to bibble inconsequentially about in a happy haze of tea rooms and dance halls.
And then there are the Bruce Waynes of this world.
Bruce Wayne – or Batman to the likes of you and me – has no superpowers: just crates and crates of cash.
Which allows him to invest in a very large Batcave beneath his mansion and a plethora of boy’s toys, the like of which Gotham City’s naughtiest have never before beheld.
The playboy lifestyle is forgiven him by millions because he’s a haunted soul with a batty side. And ever-faithful, ever beside him, is Alfred Pennyworth: the butler, Wayne’s ‘Q’.
Now there is one secretly very useful member of society; with his secret lab and his secret butler.
And here’s another. Although eventually, he came out.
This one is Italian. He was drawn, like a moth to a flame , to the work of Heinrich Hertz.
Hertz had just, in 1888, begun to to show that with the right conditions you could produce electromagnetic radiation: to you and I, radio waves.
Look: no wires. What if – just conceivably – one could send messages through the air ? If one could telegraph someone using nothing more substantial than invisible waves?
Our hero – let us call him Guglielmo – was a lucky young man. His father was an Italian landowner of substance, and his mother the Irish granddaughter of the founders of a notable Ireland whisky distillers. And just down the road from his parents’ Italian palatial mansion was another such palatial mansion, and in this lived one of the foremost proponents of Hertz’s work: Augusto Righi .
Guglielmo pulled a few strings, and found himself studying Hertz’s ideas under Righi at the University of Bologna. The moment he had a grasp of the physics, he came home and set up a secret laboratory to test his ideas.
It will ring even more so when you hear that his only helper in those upper rooms of the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio, Italy, was his faithful butler, Mignani.
Not even his parents knew what was going on up there at the top of their own house.
This was not new technology. Others had discovered it all before our hero, but he could see with x-ray eyes into the future, how lucrative messages could be, sent undetected by human eye.
He started small, with a storm alarm which rang when lightning set it off; and before long he could press a button on one side of a room and a bell would ring on the other.
One night, he was ready. How does a millionaire playboy superhero announce his intentions to the world?
Well, if she’s still around, he tells his mother.
One night in December, 1894, Guglielmo woke his mum up in the middle of the night. He ushered her into the attic rooms, and he showed her how messages could fly through the air unaided.
The next day, he had gained enough family kudos to show his father.
And, moneyed families being what they were, his Dad emptied out his wallet to fund more materials for the experiments.
And there began a tale of superhuman persistence. One which wormed itself irresistibly into the history of England: for he travelled to London and captivated William Preece, Chief Electrical Engineer of the British Post office.
And many of his finest experiments happened here: signalling across Salisbury Plain, across the English Channel and, ultimately, carrying messages from Presidents to Kings across the Atlantic Ocean.
Bertie was a dead loss in the whole getting-things -done business, but Batman had much more promise.
Guglielmo Marconi has this on both of them: that he possessed real live, flesh and blood, gadget playboy genius.