I moved on from Arthur Horton's bookie office and moved to Albert Cook & Son, 808Wandsworth Road, then a bit later into betting shop work. Along the way I met quite a few 'interesting' characters. The most famous, or infamous, were Reggie and Ronnie Kray, known by most simply as 'The Twins'. I'll start with these two chaps; it was some time around the early to mid sixties.
I was working for a car-dealer whose mother-in-law was a Croydon bookie, Beat Chapman. I worked for her in her Tamworth Road betting shop for a while when she asked me if I'd help her son-in-law, Brian, to learn the betting game. I agreed.
Met Brian and his aim was to add another string to his bow. He thought betting shops were a licence to print money. Not always true, but 'the bookie always wins' was burned into his brain I think.
Firstly he had to find premises. He bought a corner café in Purley Way Croydon, with many factories just opposite. Looked a good site to me. Applied for a bookmakers licence and it was approved. Set about gutting the café and turning it into a plain and simple betting shop, complete with Extel broadcasting installed. I was the 'settler/manager' and employed two girls as counter-hands. They took the betting slips and paid out the winnings. I just settled the bets and kept a general eye on things. Brian frequently helped out during the afternoon.
At about 1.30 one afternoon I was sorting through the early morning slips with my back to the counter. Brian came to my desk and sat on the corner. He whispered to me: "Get on the blower and tell Charlie and Bomber to get here now! The Twins have just come in." I went to look round; Brian hissed "Don't turn round, get on the blower now." He was obviously very tense. I made the call. I simply said: "Brian wants you now - the Twins have turned up." The line went dead.
Four minutes later the door burst open and four of Brian's 'acquaintances' came striding in. I knew Chas and Bomber, but not the other two. I was now able to witness what all this kerfuffle was about. Very smartly dressed in blue mohair tailored suits; pristine collar and ties and expensive looking shoes - that was the Krays. Their Mum would have been proud of them, which, as we all know, she was!
Chas went straight over to Reggie Kray, hand extended and they shook hands - as did Bomber, and then Brian joined the mob. There was much back-slapping and "How you doing?" small talk.
Chas asked Ronnie: "Wotcha doing round these parts then? Bit out of your way, innit?"
Reggie answered: "We're on our way to Brighton but we're gonna miss the first race or two. Just wanna have a couple of bets, that's all."
Brian's face regained some colour; he'd gone quite pale. There was a bit more general chit-chat and the Krays, plus their three associates, left the shop and went on their way. Chas, Bomber and the other two heavies also departed.
Brian was obviously relieved when they'd all gone. He said to me that he'd been convinced the Krays were going to 'protect' the new shop! The Krays knew Brian as he and his Dad had often supplied cars for them. That's all I knew about his dealings with them; it was all I wanted to know too. My business was to look after the betting shop; any other business was nothing to do with me, and that's the way I liked it.
The Krays had about £20 in a couple of bets; they lost. No doubt they could afford it! I met them on a couple of other occasions when I went to a couple of boxing events in London. The Twins were great boxing fans and they were once very well thought of as boxers themselves.
They also liked to contribute to 'good causes' - donating plenty of cash, usually in a very public way. One evening at a boxing match there was a an 'auction' of a few things from the ring. Tommy Trinder, a well-known comedian (You Lucky People being his catchphrase) was the auctioneer. The Krays bid for everything, often bumping the bids up between them! The final item was a huge bouquet of flowers. The Krays were the highest bidders. After the applause died down, they passed the bouquet back to Trinder and said: "Give this to the nurses home, with our compliments".
Yes, they were villains and murderers. They terrified all of their victims. Not the kind of people one would want to associate with normally. However, in many people's eyes they were generous 'businessmen', running clubs, giving to charity and doing good things generally. It's similar to thousands of people who admired Hitler and Stalin, and some still do - sickening though it is to even think such a thing.
Next time I'll write a bit about my time with a Streatham bookie who started life as a sort of 'minder' for a London crook...