Bookmakers are in a bad way

If I was to be self-critical for a moment, a regular pitfall of this blog is that I tend to blog about "worthy" stories - things that are newsworthy and comment worthy. This has been hitherto an unconscious thing, but from now on, I will be mindful of falling into cliche territory.

Summers in the 1960s always seemed long and hot. None longer and hotter than those we spent on the terrace of a family friend, where the jazz men got together and played trad jazz and the kids ran around being kids. This family friend became my step-father, but that is another story. In the mid sixties, he was a bookmaker - a wealthy one. The terrace, which became the venue for Sunday lunch-time jazz sesssions, part of an impressive, custom-built house. There were garages, cars (including a rather nice Radford conversion Mini ) rooms for the championship winning dogs and a paddock for the horses. These were the golden days for independent Turf Accountants. Bookies were always on the edge. They were on the edge of legality right until the early 1960s when off-course betting was legalised. They were always coming into contact with the forces of law or the forced of disorder.

Every bookie knew the local criminals and knew the bent coppers. The way it worked with the coppers (before legalisation) was that the bent copper would call the bookie and say "we have to raid you today". The bookie would then make sure the regulars were out of the way and the evidence was minimal enough to get a fine or a caution. My step-father told me that one of these bent coppers, who regularly got a brown envelope, rose to be a chief constable. Occasionally, someone - an anonymous voice - would ring up from London. The voice would explain that Mr X was in town and was to be given credit betting facilities. This was no more and no less than a protection racket, but it was absorbed into the business.

Bookmakers were able to be rich in the sixties because there was no betting tax and every bookie had two books; the one they kept in the safe, and the one they showed the taxman. There was so much cash flying around it was difficult to spend it. I said they lived on the edge - well they also lived on the edge of the entertainment industry, for, like the drug dealers of today, doors were always open to them. My stepfather met Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, who were huge in the 40s and 50s, and inexplicably took the name of their act from a novel by Joseph Conrad. Another duo with whom they flirted was Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. Flanagan, you may recall, recorded the theme song for "Dad's Army", a parody of wartime propaganda, shortly before he died. One of Flanagan and Allen's songs was "Underneath the Arches". In their stage show they preceded the song with a review of the papers of the day, reading each other the headlines; "Do you remember when we first read that paper Bud? It was Nineteen Hundred and Twenty Three"...

One of the "headlines" was, "Bookmakers in a bad way" (a ficticious one that played upon the activities of the characters the duo inhabited). "Ah, that'll be the day!"

As far as I know, all the independent bookmakers are gone. It's all run by William Hill and Ladbrokes. My stepfather struggled on until he could barely pay the wages. His brother (the business one) got out much earlier and diversified into more lucrative sidelines. Today I read that Ladbrokes is in debt to the tune of £962 million.

Well, Ches, that day has come. Bookmakers are in a bad way.


Jim Baxter said...

Ah yes, Flanagan and Allen. I wonder how they'd do on the X Factor, now that the public taste is so much more mature and sophisticated.

I mean, compare 'The Old Umbrella Man', and its strange subtext of a door-to-door restoration service for housewives, with 'Aye, yi yi, yi yi, will always love


Appealing of Ealing said...

Trivia: my dear old grandfather, (long gone before us), knew the real (Sergeant Major) Flanagan with whom "Bud" served in WW1, and from whom he took his stage name. BSM Flanagan's son is Ronnie Flanagan, former Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Chief Constable of the RUC. Small world (sort of).

banned said...

Distant echos of early childhood, thank you.
Soho porn was still run pretty much that way into the 1980's, raids were tipped off and illegal material ( probably pretty tame by todays enlightened standards ) was available easily enough " under the counter ". Sir Robert Mark then chose to drive out corruption in the Met, notably within the vice-squad.

How do you suppose your future father-in-law would get on with the Independent Safeguarding Authority ?