Monday, 15 June 2009

Characters I've Met in the Bookie Game

My time spent learning the settling game was hard going. Like all things, it gets easier in time; practice makes perfect. Well, almost perfect.

In the 1950s the Sporting Life newspaper held an annual "Settler of the Year" contest. It was held some place in London. If you took part you had to work out various complex bets as speedily as possible. It was a speed test, the fastest settler won a cash prize. You had to get the test bets right, to within a couple of pennies.

My pal, Dicky Cox, entered it a few times. He came very close to winning on two occasions. Pipped on the post by a few seconds on the clock.

Nowadays of course most, if not all, the settling is done by a computer! Glad I am not having to work in the game now.

Whilst working at Arthur Hortons office we had a Glaswegian "manager" (Jock Lindsay) who used to work for William Hill, the then biggest bookie in the UK. Jock was about 5 feet 6 inches tall. A thin scrawny-faced chap with a broad Scots dialect.

He used to scare the pants of me at times. One evening we had to go to a pub in New Addington to collect some money from one of our "runners". This runner, Chippy Marshall, had a reputation as a hard man. A cut-throat razor was his favoured weapon. Nobody spoke out of turn with him. Except Jock!

We were waiting in this pub for Chippy to arrive. Dicky Cox, Jock Lindsay, the Boss and myself. Chippy enters. Jock had never met him before. The boss pointed him out to Jock.

In a loud voice Jock said: "Hiya Chippy, over here!" It sounded like an order, not a request. Chippy Marshall saunters over; Jock extends his right hand, which Chippy grasps as though to shake hands. Jock pulls Chippy so that their noses almost touch.

"You know what youse are Chippy ... you're a real right liberty taking bastard!" bellowed Jock. The hub-bub of the bar diminished. All eyes seemed to turn towards our little group at the bar.

Chippy replied: "Oh dear; we'd better go into the office Jock." The office was the gents toilet! Jock and Chippy disappeared into the toilets. Arthur Horton, my boss, said: "I think a couple of you should go in there ...." Both Dicky Cox and I declined.

Within a few minutes Jock and Chippy emerged and came to the bar. Jock handed the boss a bundle of £5 notes, saying: "Chippy apologises for not sorting this out earlier Arthur and here's most of what is owed. He'll get the rest in a couple of days."

All smiles. I'd expected buckets of blood! Jock was either very brave or just plain stupid. Either way, his confrontational attitude always seemed to work. Except with one person: his wife!

I'd met Jock's wife, also Scottish, in the Goat House pub one evening. Jock had said she was coming there for a drink with us later on. He was describing her in a very complimentary and loving way. He called her his "fillum star" lady.

We awaited her entrance. She came into the saloon bar and Jock's face beamed as she sashayed up to us. She was tiny! Probably a couple of inches under 5 foot. She literally glittered. Her eyes had some sort of bluey-silver sparkly makeup. Her cheeks were heavily rouged. Her dark brown hair was just visible under another kind of glittery spray. Some "fillum star". Minnie Mouse perhaps, but no Marlené Dietrich!

But Jock certainly loved her, so good for him. We would learn later on that she belied her diminutive frame.

About a week or so later Jock, Dicky Cox and I were having a drink after work. It went on a bit longer than usual. About 11.30 that evening Jock invited us to have a night-cap in his flat. We both said we really ought to get off home, but he insisted.

We climbed the iron staircase leading up to the top flat of a three storey building. It was approaching midnight. We entered the flat to find Jock's wife waiting for him. She was in her dressing gown and with curlers in her hair. I don't think she was expecting company! Jock asked if it was OK for him to offer us a drink. She looked daggers at him and said: "Just one drink, just the one, OK!"

Dick and I accepted a small whisky from Jock, downed it swiftly and said that we'd best be on our way. We scampered back down the iron staircase, never looking back.

Next morning we arrived at the office at our usual time, around 10 a.m. Usually Jock was first in, but not today. He finally turned up around midday. He did not look well.

He had a bandage around his forehead and his upper lip was swollen. We made no comment other than to ask if he'd like a cup of tea. He said no.

Eventually he told us that his wife was none too happy with him for inviting us into the flat so late at night. She had hit him a few times with a heavy cast-iron frying pan, cutting his head. No wonder he was late to work!

Our boss, Arthur Horton, used to take part in the TT races in the Isle of Man before he became a bookmaker. His father was a bookmaker too, with a regular pitch at Wembley Greyhound stadium. Arthur was the side-car passenger in these TT races and some of the old black and white films of these events were quite something. How anybody could lean so far out of a speeding side-car as it sped around the bends was beyond me. Arthur's main weakness was booze. He was a member of a few "after hours" clubs and frequently he would still be imbibing into the wee small hours of the morning.

His passion was fast cars. Jaguars, XK120, 140 and others were his favourite fast cars, but he also had a lovely vintage Lagonda car which he adored.

This bookie game was full of characters. Some were lovable rogues; some just plain rogues. Such as the Kray Twins. More later...


Jo said...

The Kray twins...! Omigosh, you lived right on the edge. Even I have heard of them.

Interesting posts. :-)

PhilipH said...

Thanks Jo. Colourful people, as well as notorious. Probably quite a few of them at Royal Ascot today, especially the ladies with their expensive headgear.