There's an old saying: "Where there's muck there's money". You can also be sure that where there is money there's a risk of robbery and violence. Certainly so during the 1960s in the betting shop business.
I first felt a "threat" of violence when I left the betting shop in Streatham one evening. I locked the door and started to walk to my car. I noticed a Jaguar saloon parked a few feet from the shop. The engine was running; I could see exhaust fumes from the twin tail pipes. The sun visor was also down; the driver was reading a newspaper. His face was completely obscured. Hmm .. I thought; never seen this car here before.
Kept my eyes on the rear view mirror as I drove off. Wanted to see if I was being followed. No, all seemed OK.
Next evening, same car, engine running, driver's face obscured. Same again next evening but I ducked back into the shop after noting the licence plate number.
Phoned the police station which was only yards away in Streatham High Road. Spoke to a CID chap; he knew Johnno as it happens. He said "Stay where you are, I'll ring you back in a few seconds." He came back on the phone. "The person who owns this Jag is known to us. Stay in the shop and in a few seconds you'll see a transit van pull up".
I looked out of the window and the van appeared. The doors opened and five policemen jumped out and surrounded the Jag. Within a minute or so the CID officer tapped on the door and I let him in.
"It's OK" he said, "you can get home now. He's waiting for a lady-friend but doesn't want anybody to see him here." Obviously an affair the driver wanted to keep private. The police said I'd been perfectly right to phone them. Betting shop staff were frequently being robbed and as they "knew" this car and its owner they had good reason to pounce on him.
On another occasion, our Brixton shop manager was attacked whilst walking through a park on his way home. He had ammonia sprayed onto his face and was robbed of the cash he was carrying. He was off work for a fortnight as his eyes were hurt in the attack. Badly shaken up, too. Carried on with his job for a few years more but did not take a short cut through the park again.
A smaller shop in our Angel Road, Brixton, branch was robbed at gunpoint one evening. The robber got only a couple of hundred pounds, but the manager was so scared of a future attack he resigned and left the business entirely.
However, the worst event occurred in our Tooley Street betting shop. This had only been opened, after conversion from its former warehouse use, for a few months. It was in August when I had a phone call from a CID officer at Southwark Police Station.
He asked for Johnno. Not possible, Johnno was in Majorca for a month.
He went on: "What I want is permission to plant some officers in your Tooley Street shop on Friday next. We have information that it's going to be robbed then."
I said I'd have to get back to him as soon as I could contact the boss. Johnno was on his yacht when I phoned his villa but they contacted him with a ship to shore radio. He soon phoned me back, anxious to know why I'd phoned him.
After explaining the police proposition Johnno said it was OK, provided I made sure that the police assured me that none of our other shops would be hit. Johnno thought that their "information" might be a blind, in order to divert attention from the real target shop. The CID chap gave me his absolute assurance that Tooley Street was going to be attacked by a known gang of violent villains, so I approved the plan that the police had in mind.
I was now general manager so I stayed in Tooley Street from lunch time on that Friday. The attack was thought to be at around 5 p.m. Evening racing would be on this day but the main afternoon racing would be finished by 5 p.m. It made sense to hit the shop then as there was likely to be more takings in the till.
In place of our usual counter staff we had two male plain clothes officers acting as counter hands, plus the sergeant CID acting as "manager". There were also two other plain clothes police reading the newspapers on the wall, making out they were punters. In the adjoining butchers shop and in other neighbouring shops there were uniformed officers hiding out, ready and waiting to pounce.
Almost on the dot of 5 o'clock a man wearing a fawn raincoat comes in and starts to read a paper. I heard the CID sergeant whisper into a hand microphone: "The first one's in ... get ready."
Another guy comes in a few seconds later, similarly dressed. "Number two's in ..." whispers the sergeant.
Door opens, a third man enters. "That's it, don't wait any more ... go!"
The door bursts open and five uniformed policement charge in. The plain clothes officers in the shop, plus the "counter-hand" officers literally jump on these three villains. They are pinned down to the floor with a heavy uniformed officer actually sitting on each of the suspects.
A strong smell of ammonia filled the room as a "squeezy" bottle burst in the raincoat pocket of one of these crooks. A large revolver was snatched from another one and a sawn-off shotgun from another.
It was all over in seconds. A car roared away from outside the shop and sped off. The police did not give chase; they had plenty to deal with on the spot.
I later found out that the driver of the getaway car was the 'informer'. An undercover policeman who had finally stopped this vicious gang from doing any more harm. They had been robbing shops throughout the UK. The leader was from Scotland and a professional and callous thief. They were fully armed with loaded weapons and had used them on other jobs. They all got hefty prison sentences and they thoroughly deserved it.
People have often said that bookies are there to be shot at ... but not with guns! It simply meant that punters would try to relieve the bookie of his cash by backing many winners!
That's enough sex and violence for now; well, enough violence anyway. As the late, great John Betjeman remarked towards the end of his life: "I've not had enough sex...". He was answering the question: "Do you have any regrets...?"