My grandad Ben was a bookie. He made a book at Hackney Wick dog track and bet in the ‘Silver Ring’ at various horse racing tracks in the South of England. He fathered 13 children, eight boys and five girls. One daughter, Rose, passed away at an early age. The rest of the clan have generally been long-lived.
Seven of the eight boys fought in the Second World War, following in the footsteps of Ben who enlisted in the First World War. The only reason it was not eight out of eight is that uncle Mark was too young.
After the war, Uncle Raphy got pitches at some London dog tracks and became a significantly successful bookmaker in his own right. Uncle Harry also practised the profession and my father Joe, managed to ply the trade over a many years at West Ham, Dagenham, Romford and Wembley greyhound stadiums. Uncle Philly and uncle Ben worked as tic-tac men. Uncle Barney worked with Raphy, and Uncle Bob was the exception, he had a fruit and veg business.
Bookmaking is all about percentages, and with my genes, it was odds on that I would be attracted to ‘the game’. However, my parents gave me a good education. I was a clever kid and excelled in the 11-plus exam which rewarded me with a place at a public school. My dad rather hoped that I would become a judge.
In a manner of speaking this became true. I idolised Lester Piggott, and began to follow the racing form in the Daily Mirror instead of getting on with my studies. When I was about fifteen, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of British Flat racing form and persuaded an older boy from school to place 4 each way bets for me on the Epsom Derby. The horses finished 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th. Snow Knight ridden by Brian Taylor was victorious and I won about £60, an absolute fortune in 1974.
Meanwhile, during the school summer holidays, my dad would be setting off for the racecourse. ‘Peanuts’ was the driver, and he would collect my father from our house. Normally he would be accompanied by ‘Mickey Fingers’, the racecourses’ number one tic-tac man. These characters smelled of Havana cigars and wore Crombies, even in the summer. They were always friendly with an intoxicating worldly charm as they spoke in the vernacular of the racetrack. Their conversation was littered with ‘monkeys’, ‘ponies’, ‘grands’, ‘carpets and so on.
I so desperately wanted to be a part of it…. (to be cont)