In 1952 the family were at rock bottom, my mother Edith, daughter Diane and I were the only two living at home with her,nit that it could ever be called a home, a cousins two story slum, three of us in one room, It was my duty to play the part of bread winner, a 16 year old,
I had one job as a butchers boy delivering the area’s meat, Saturday and Sunday morning, I had been working as a sheet metal worker making runner boards for the motor car industry. but that was never going to last.
From day one it had become obvious that runner boards on cars was a thing of the past, and what had been a thriving family business, was now down to 3,staff, The Gaffer, a Foreman and me, and to think that they were offering me an apprenticeship.
I had been working on festivals and bank holidays, for a racecourse bookmaker, and this particular morning I had been invited to make my way to Worthington’s coach depot, to meet up with the firm,s clerk, the rest of the team were to travel by car.
On a good day I could expect £3 wages, if the Bookmaker had a losing day, all the staff would get a walk over (Nowt) if the firm did very well it was possible to receive a bonus. if an extra £1 ot £2.
Following instructions, as to how I should dress and conduct myself, my mom had impressed inti me that I should be polite, to every one I spoke to, I had spent what seemed to be hours polishing my shoes. after all my grand dad Albert who had spent over 20 years struggling to breath, always polished his shoes even when they were shoe less.
The embarrassing thing about the consignment, was that I was told to wear short trousers, for although I would be working the Bookmaker didn’t intend paying for me to enter the track.
The charabanc depot in Hurst St, opposite the Hippodrome was less than a 5 minute walk from Balsall Heath, and Wiliiam Edward Street. so I was there before the coach arrived,
Within 15 minutes of my arrival. there were a 100 race goers, 90% made up of Bookmakers, there clerks, tick-tacks, general floormen and a few well dressed individuals, who I become aware over time they were financial backers, or private layers, individuals who had there name on a Bookmakers waiting list for pitches but were to far down the numbers to every be considered these would stand behind a Bookmaker of there choosing and offer him a private service, when he wanted to reduce a liability. .
When I had discovered very quickly that the seats at the back were already taken even though, no one was sitting in
“You cant sit there Bab” (Young Child) that,s a card school”.
I am sorry sir, I quickly moved away towards the front, to the small seat near to the driver.
Next to me was an old wizened fellow called Billy Payne, I had seen him before at the dogs, as soon as I sat down he began a conversation, so interesting that the time to Leicester racecourse flew by.
Billy had been part of the Sabini, extortion team from the 30s, known as the Italians.
He must have been in his eighties, so I doubt that he was any threat, to a 15 year old kid. who wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
However as I gazed at his mouth, his teeth, would slide up and down I was mesmerized, from the corner of his mouth along his cheek was a faint white line that stopped at the lobe on his ear.
I didn’t have to wonder how he had gained this mark, for mt father had informed me that it was a Calling Card,
When the race wars were at there peak, if someone stepped out of line, he would be cut, using a open razor blade, it would be a reminder, that if the dominant race gang, Sabini in the southern courses and Kimber,s “brummies, every were else requested a bung, for a service, any thing from a little wooden box to stand on, water, chalk, and in the case of Mr Payne numbers, in fact Bill was the last of the number callers, allowed to carry on the historical bung just because he was an old man with memories of the past, less than 10% of the new Bookmakers, paid anything, but as it was as low as 6 pence or a shilling, it was surprising how much an 80 years old could make in a week.
What my father had told be was not to underestimate, the fact that all the leading Bookmakers who had been part of the wars, were still in the rings, having moved up over time into the senior positions.
And they could still pack a punch if any one ever took a liberty with them.
This period was a great eye sight for me, Bookmakers from the wars, new my father and my uncle Tom Fletcher, who had been a hero in WW1, so it wasn’t long before many of the old school would acknowledge me.with a wink. “Hello are Kid”
It was during the conversation with Bill that I nearly had a fit, had I brought my white gloves, like conkers, that were better the older they got, these gloves that I assumed were once spotless and white. were now a brownish or yellow.
When I arrived in cheap enclosure there was a line of stall’s dividing the car park and the track. selling every thing men women or children would require. meat, fish, jelled earls. the spell was great certainly for someone who had left home with no breakfast.
Bill Payne just walked strait past the open door, inviting me to follow him in.
When I arrived in the area were my firm were operating, it was soon clear that they were offering a specialist service, on the three meetings taking place simultaneously. this known as “Aways” only 2 other firms in competition.
As for the straight Bookmakers those betting at Leicester there must have been 80 all over the place.
The names and place they were from was the only recognition who they were I had become friendly with a few from Birmingham,
I was more interested in the racecourse Tipsters, already in full swing was “Paddy” an Irish man, who had one leg shorter than the other, and he used this disability to full affect.
When I had first seen the “Cake” Paddy used to promote his service, I couldn’t wait to get back home to tell my Dad that I had seen a tipster with a role of money that he had said was £2000.
It was my mother who scoffed “Probably no more than £20….
“No Mom it was this big”. holding my two hand to confirm the size of the Role.
“Yes £20 and the rest You;et paper”
I got close to Paddy, nit to see the Cake but to hear his conflab. . for it was certainly a Con.
“Waiving the money he called out this horse I have today is such a certainty that I will have all this £2 Grand it, we have been waiting 6 months to land this coup.”
Get you bets on quickly for it is sure to shorten,”
I began to laugh, but quickly restrained when I imagined what my mother would say if she knew I was being disrespectful even to a tipster.
Once I had spoken to the Bookmaker I was working for, I had to walk over to the main enclosure , Tattersalls, For over three hours I carried out my function, gaining the information as to runners, the betting as it fluctuated, then showing all this information as it transpired, then the results and the official starting prices.for all the meetings other than Leicester. http://www.racepedia.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Leicester-Thumb.jpg
These were gathered from a team working for the exchange telegraph company, who did all the trading for the off course industry. for this service my gaffer paid them £5.
The weather was intermittent, a little rain followed by sunshine.
Fortunately for me the results at the other meetings, were great with a few odds on favourites having been turned over, and winners as big as 20/1 33/1 and 100/7.
It didn’t require much thought to imagine a little bonus, if my gaffer had done well.
I had very little money on me so I was told to get back on the coach and one of the firm would give me my wages,
The last race at Leicester, was after the other meetings so as soon as I had completed my function I was to get back on the coach, making sure that no one commandeered my seat as I walked back, I noticed that the fish and chip vendor was just getting ready for a rush, of customers, as was Billy Booth, selling meat in a massive bread sandwich, just watching him cut the great big joint of beef made me hungry.
I ran the 100 yards to the Fish and Chip vendor, and found that I was first in the quie, but even as I looked back the last race at Leicester had concluded and there were 100s of punters joining me for Fish and Chips.
I looked in my pocket and I had 10 penny,s just enough for a piece of cod and chops.
The smell of the food was wonderful I hadn’t eaten all day,
I could just see the Chips,sizling to there reasonable colour, when a cheer went up from opposite the large que
I looked over towards what was causing the cheer it was a Rolls Royce that had stopped right next to me, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/RollsRoyceSilverCloud1_1959.jpg/280px-RollsRoyceSilverCloud1_1959.jpg
The rear window had opened and there was a little head a bit like a baby’s balloon. looking out towards the crowd.
“Get me a piece of Cod, Sonny..will you”
It all happened so quickly that before I knew what had happened, The Cod was delivered, following the persians instructions of no salt just Vinegar,
I had passed the Fish to the man in the car, and paid for it with my 20 pence.
“Keep the Change Billy”
Within a few seconds the full act took place and the window to the Rolls was down and off it went towards the main road.
It all took place with me in a gaze it wasn’t until. the man behind me was being served that I realized that I had no money of my own for my own meal.
As I stepped away I heard that the person who had poleaxed my into paying for his meal was non other than Gorden Richards the Millionaire Jockey,
I walked back to the Coach and after a while we were in our way back to Birmingham.
It was fortunate that we had done well in the days trading and I had been given £4, wages,
I was grateful that no one had actually understood that I had been duped by the world famous Jockey,
When I got home I never mentioned the incident to my mother or Dad, but on Sunday, my Grand dad
O walked to my mothers parents home also in Balsall Heath,
As soon as I got my Granddad in his own I told him the full incident.
Even through his sputtering, from lack of breath, I could sense that he was laughing his bollox off.
“Son you could be pounds in next time you go racing and Gordon is riding there, just go up and ask him to tell you a winner”,
“After all he owes you a favour.Dont He”
It must have been 3 weeks before I was working again this time at Nottingham and Gordon was riding at the meeting.
I got there early as usual and walked all over the car park looking for the Roll’s Royce,
Without Luck I walked to the entrance to the members, and after 30 minutes, I noticed two men one must have been 6 ft 6 inch the other not much more than 5 ft,
It was indeed the Champion Jockey, Even though I was well behaved and polite, I didnt think anything off the fact that I was interrupting a icon, after all I could just walk up to Mr Richards and say
“He mate you owe a 2 Bob,
As he walked towards me the person with him, stepped in front and shouted “Out the way you”.
Fortunately Mr Richards recognised me,
“Helo Son It was you who bought me that Fish at Leicester.”
Come over hear, he moved away from his friend and Whispered in my ear,
“I have three mounts today Kid you back em all.”
I was once again mesmerized, and within a flash he had disappeared towards the Members enclosure.
I was in a much better state financially for I had received some holiday pay from the factory I was working at, and had £10.
I must say that I was more than a little excited,
Even though I had work to do, the Bookmaker I was working for was actually betting at Nottingham and not on the away meetings, the reason was that there was only one meeting on,
Gordon never had a runner in the first two races I was finding it difficult to wait the excitement. over powering. in race three Gordin was riding the favourite, I took the evens and was feeling like a clever dick when it shortened to 1/2.
I got myself by the winning post on a large stool that I used to inform my Bookmaker the correct odds.
As the race commenced, Gordon was fast away and was clear all the way until the last 10 yards when three horses all challenged together,
Mr Richards 4 th,
I am not sure how I felt this moment as bad or worse than the loss of the Fish.
The next two horses he rode finished no better than the first, I had not only lost my £10 Holiday Pay but an extra £3 in lue of my wages,
For the next 6 months, when ever I was at a race meeting that Gordon was in attendance I would hide when ever I saw the great man, and it was then that I had a little good fortune for
Sir Gordon’s riding career ended in 1954 following a pelvis injury, although he continued to indulge his passion for racing, by becoming a horse trainer and ADVISOR.
A few years later in 1955, the Government sent me a letter to attend West Kirby so for three year conscription I was hidden away from Sir Gordon’s Advice, this was followed by the commencement of the 1961 Betting and Gaming Act, were I moved into the High Street Betting Shop industry, I could only listen though a little Tanoi system on the betting shop wall. what he was up to.
I never had the enjoyment of seeing the great man, face to face again.
If there is life after death, I will hope that Sirs, Lords, and Lady’s live in a different area than Bookmakers, for if it is true that we are all equal on and under the turf, I am content that my instructions to be cremated will save me any more inconvenience.
RIP Sir Gordon.