Now licensed betting shops were in full swing and there were jobs aplenty for shop settlers/managers/counterhands. I started work as settler/manager in the Sunnyhill Road betting shop owned by John Parry.
Johnno, as we often called him, was typical of many Londoners who came up "the hard way". He was about 5' 10", broad-shouldered and with forearms twice the normal size. Solid muscle; not a guy you'd willingly tangle with. He was a decent chap as far as I was concerned. Play fair by him and you'd benefit. Try to get one over on him? My advice: forget it!
Johnno, like my first bookie boss, was very fond of cars. He was forever changing them and getting something newer and costlier. He once bought the James Bond type car, the Aston Martin DB6. When I first had a ride in this car I seemed to be almost lying down in it. It was traded in after about six months for something much bigger: a large Mercedes saloon. It was light blue and virtually brand new. Johnno had a call from one of the largest Mercedes dealers in London saying that they had this car and offered him first refusal. Apparently a member of the Cadbury family, the chocolate manufacturers, had ordered this car to have a special paint job when he bought it new. On delivery he decided he didn't like the colour! The dealer then agreed to sell it on behalf of Mr. Cadbury - and Johnno bought it. The DB6 was part-exchanged and this marvellous new car took its place.
The Merc looked like one of those state cars used by diplomats and other bigwigs. It had everything. Fully automatic; stereo radio; cream leather upholstery; an engine that literally purred, no matter what speed you achieved.
After I'd been with Johnno for a couple of years he asked me to take over management of the twelve shops he owned. These were in Streatham, Brixton and Bermondsey. All were busy shops; good earners. Our London Road, Brixton shop was known as the "grand shop" as it seldom earned less than a £1000 a week, which was good going in those mid-1960 days. I thus became his general manager. No more "settling" but much more responsibility.
I now shared an office opposite the Sunnyhill Road betting shot with Johnno. I got to know him a lot better. He was easy-going for most of the time; he also spent a lot of time in his villa in Majorca. He had a lovely yacht out there too.
Johnno had a scar running down the right side of his face and down the side of his neck. It was an old scar. One evening we were having an after-work drink in the local pub and I asked Johnno about this scar.
He said that in his younger days, when he was about 18 or so, he was a 'minder' for a south London 'business man'. This person had been threatened by somebody called Jack Spot, a gangster of some renown in the underworld apparently. Johnno was to deter this gangster and he did so by confronting him with a dagger. He stabbed him in the side, threatening to finish him off if he ever troubled Johnno's boss again.
A month or two later, Johnno was waiting to cross the busy London Road in Brixton. He was about to step out when he was grabbed on each arm by two large men. They dragged him into the road as a tram was approaching and slammed him onto the tram-lines. He just escaped decapitation but the steel wheels at the front of the tram caught the side of his face and neck. The deep wounds were now fully healed, but highly visible, scars.
I've more to say about my Johnno days, but that's enough for tonight.