Next to Association Football, the chief spectator sport in English life is horse racing. Partly because of the laws which forbid such activities on Sundays, horse racing is organized rather differently in England from other countries. There are many race tracks all over the country, and each of these has from two to about six "meetings" every year, with each meeting consisting of two, three or four consecutive days of racing; most horse racing take place on working days and during working hours. There are totalisators* at the race courses, but bookmakers are also allowed, and in each spectators' enclosure there is a long line of bookmakers offering their odds against the horses. Associated bookmakers in different enclosures employ "tic-tac men" who communicate miraculously over the heads of the crowds by making signals according to mysterious private semaphore-type signalling systems.
* (totalisator - (coll ) "tote", a machine used on racecourses and greyhound tracks for registering bets and paying out winnings without the service of a bookmaker.)
When, on a particular day, there are races at, for example, Epsom, people all over the country bet on the results with bookmakers off the course. Until 1961 it was illegal to bet by cash off the course, though betting on account was allowed. But most working men like to make their transactions by cash payments, and there was a vast number of illegal bookmakers operating in back streets, and employing agents in nearby factories, workshops and offices to collect bets from the employees and bring them in to the bookmakers' hideouts before the races began in the afternoon. The illegal bookmakers were usually known by the police and fined from time to time, but the total fines charged were in many cases much less than the expenses of maintaining a proper office would have been if their activities had been allowed by law, and had been conducted openly. In 1961, after many years of argument, Parliament changed the law so as to allow "betting shops", and to escape from the absurd scandal of the old system, which created opportunities for many abuses.
The whole atmosphere of a race meeting still belongs in some ways to the eighteenth century, and in particular it is pervaded by old divisions between upper and lower people. The difference between the most expensive parts of the course, where people pay as much as £ 5 to go in, and the cheap or free sections, is very plain to see. Apart from the bookmakers, there are many tipsters and others who hope to make money out of the gullible public. There are also pick-pockets, men who steal field-glasses and men who expect to make their profits by playing cards in the train. Most of the racegoers are just having a day out, and many are missing their normal work in order to do so; but one result of having the races during working hours is that there is quite a large professional element connected with racing.
They'd Gamble Their Souls Away
Henry Cecil Leon, who writes under the pseudonyms of Henry Cecil and Clifford Maxwell, was born in Middlesex in 1902. He was educated at King's College, Cambridge, and in 1923 was called to the Bar. From 1949 to 1967 he worked as a County Court Judge. Henry Cecil's first book, Full Circle, was published in 1948. Since then he has written a great number of light-hearted books as well as others which are more serious in contents, including non-fiction. Among his most successful works are Brothers in Law (1955), Friends at Court (1956), Much in Evidence (1957), Sober as a Judge (1958) and Settled out of Court (1959).
The present extract has been taken from Henry Cecil's uproariously funny book Brothers in Law. The story is set in the London Law Courts and describes the adventures of a very young and ignorant* barrister, who has just been called to the Bar and who gets himself entangled with the processes of law. The extract deals with Roger's third case, a judgement summons, and throws light both on gambling and the workings of the law.
* (here: "green", "inexperienced".)
In the next case before Judge Perkins the debtor admitted that he went in for football pools in a small way. The judge immediately made a committal order.*
* (committal order - the order to imprison a person.)
"You can't gamble with your creditor's money," he said. "It's not my concern whether you bet or not in the ordinary way, but if you could send half a crown a week to the pool promoters you could have sent it to the plaintiff, and you ought to have done so. Committal order for twenty-one days suspended so long as one pound per month is paid."
The next case was an even worse one. The debt was due to a wine merchant and the debtor admitted that he had been going to greyhound racing regularly ever since.
"This is quite outrageous," said the judge. "You will be committed to prison for six weeks and I shall suspend the order for seven days only. If the whole amount is not paid within that time, the order for your imprisonment will be effective."
"But I can't pay twenty-five pounds in seven days," said the alarmed debtor.
"Then you will spend six weeks in prison," said the judge. "I have no sympathy whatever with you. You buy drink on credit, don't pay for it, and spend the money you could have used to pay for it on going to the races."
Roger went back to chambers feeling that he knew Judge Perkins's methods of dealing with judgement summonses fairly well. A day or two later he had a conference with his client, a cheerful gentleman called Starling. He came with his wife, who was also cheerful and was, in addition, an attractive young woman. They were brought by their solicitor, Mr Fergus Trent, who was an old friend of theirs.
"Well, here we are," said Mr Starling. "When's the party?" "Next Tuesday."
"That's awkward. Traid we shan't be able to come. It's Lingfield* that day."
* (Lingfield - the name of a racecourse.)
"D'you mean the races?" said Roger, a little alarmed. "Don't be so prim and proper," said Mrs Starling. "Don't tell me you've never had a little flutter."
"Well, just on the Derby, you know. I've never been to a race meeting, as a matter of fact, only to point-to-points."* "Well, you ought to, old boy," said Mr Starling. "Do you a power of good. Champagne and brandy to begin with. Take a lovely girl with you. And you'll be on top of the world. I just take my wife. She's still pretty high in the handicap."
* (point-to-points - a cross-country race, a steeplechas.)
"I say, you know," said Roger, "this is rather serious. I don't know if you realize it."
"Serious, old boy? I'll say it is."
"I'm glad you appreciate that," said Roger.
"I meant if we couldn't go to Lingfield," said Mr Starling. "We always do well there."
"Look," said Roger, "this judge sends people to prison." Mrs Starling laughed.
"Don't try and frighten us," she said, "that stopped a long time ago."
"But he does really. What was this debt for?"
"Repairs to a car, old boy. Had a nasty smash on the Watford by-pass." [...]
"The debt's forty pounds. Judgement was obtained three months ago. Now can you honestly swear you've lost nothing on horses since then?"
"Come again," said Mr Starling.
Roger repeated the question.
"Old boy," said Mr Starling, "I can honestly swear, cross my heart and all that - I can honestly swear that we haven't won a penny. Otherwise, we'd have paid."
"How much have you lost?"
"Is that fair, old boy? Don't rub it in. Why, Sheila actually sold a couple of dresses. Talk of taking the clothes off your back."
"Mr Starling," said Roger, "I'm afraid this is going to be rather a shock for you. I know this judge, Judge Perkins, and unless you can pay the whole of that forty pounds within a week from Tuesday next, he'll send you to prison for six weeks."
"You're not serious, old boy?"
"I am, absolutely."
"But that's terrible. I couldn't possibly go to jail. It's Sheila's birthday in a fortnight, and we're having a party to celebrate."
"What with?" asked Roger.
"Oh, we can always raise a fiver or so."
"Well, you'd better raise eight fivers," said Roger. "That's a different thing altogether, old boy. Just can't be done."
"Then you'll go to prison."
"But I'll lose my job."
"Haven't you any furniture you can sell?"
"All on h. p.,* old boy. Only just started to pay for it."
* (h. p. - hire purchase.)
"Still on the Watford by-pass, I should think."
"I thought you had it repaired?"
"That was the other fellow's."
"Mr Thursby," intervened Mr Trent, "please don't think me impertinent, but are you quite sure about this particular judge?"
"Absolutely," said Roger. "I was down there last Thursday and he sent a chap to jail for six weeks because he'd been gambling. Only gave him seven days to pay."
"Oh, well," said Mr Trent, "I'm afraid there's nothing for it."
"Come, come," said Mrs Starling, "you're not going to let us down, Fergie. Frank just can't go to jail. I won't have it, I tell you. I'll speak to the judge myself and explain."
"I'm afraid that wouldn't do any good, Mrs Starling," said Roger. [...]
"We'll just have to go bankrupt."
Roger thought for a moment.
"But," he said rather tentatively, "don't you have to owe fifty pounds in order to go bankrupt?"
"Quite so," said Mr Trent. "Our friend only owes forty pounds. Quite correct. It costs ten pounds to go bankrupt. I lend him ten pounds. He then owes fifty pounds and has the funds necessary to enable him to go bankrupt."
"Anyway," said Mr Starling, "I could rustle up some other debts if you really want them. I didn't know they'd be a help."
"Will you excuse me a moment?" said Roger.
He left the room and went hurriedly to Henry. [...]
"I'm so sorry to have left you. I just went to make sure that there are no snags about Mr Trent's suggestion. I gather you've got a job, Mr Starling?"
"That's right. It's called a job, but between you and me, old boy, it's grossly underpaid."
"And your furniture's all on hire purchase. Well, then, Mr Trent's idea seems an excellent one provided you don't mind the stigma of bankruptcy."
"What's that?" said Mrs Starling.
"The stigma," repeated Roger.
"Hold everything," said Mrs Starling. "Could we use your telephone?"
"Why, certainly," said Roger, puzzled.
"What is it, old girl?" said Mr Starling.
"The Stigma. It's running in the 3.30. We've just got time."
"Good show," said Mr Starling. "Gosh - wouldn't we have been wild if we'd missed that? Could I use the phone, old boy? Won't be a jiffy. How much, old girl, d'you think? Half a quid each way?"
"Make it a quid, sweetheart," said Mrs Starling. "Then we'll have the doings to go to Lingfield."
"O. K.," said Mr Starling. "Which way do I go?"
Roger showed him, and came back to his room whilst Mr Starling was making his investment.
"That's two pounds you've put on, is it?" he asked Mrs Starling.
"Yes," she said. "Wish I could have made it a fiver. You don't have things like that happening every day. It's bound to win."
"D'you know anything about the horse?"
"Anything about it?" said Mrs Starling. "What more d'you want? With a name like that it couldn't lose."
Suddenly Mr Starling dashed in, almost like Mr Grimes.
"Look, old girl," he said, "there's an apprentice called Thursby riding it. Dare we risk a fiver?"
"Gosh, yes," said his wife.
"O. K., old girl."
And Mr Starling rushed back to the telephone.
"That's a bit of luck," said Mrs Starling. "You haven't a paper, I suppose?"
"I've a Times" said Roger.
She looked for the sporting page.
"It's in the twenty-to-one others.* That'll mean one hundred and twenty-five pounds. How many runners are there? One, two, three, four - " she went on counting up to seventeen.
* ("It's in the twenty-to-one others." (see also, sixty to forty, p. 177) - a term used in betting on horses, greyhounds, etc.; it refers to odds laid about the still undecided result of a race.)
"Goshf I wonder if he ought to do it on the tote. Some of it anyway. They might pay a hundred to one. Would you excuse me?"
She rushed to the door and almost collided with her husband coming back.
"Did you do any on the tote?" she asked excitedly. "It's in the twenty-to-one others."
"Relax, old girl," said Mr Starling. "Three quid each way on the tote. Two at S. P.,* O. K?"
* (S. P. - starting price (in betting).)
For answer, Mrs Starling kissed him.
"Oh, darling, I'm so happy. We'll celebrate tonight. Who'd have thought it? The Stigma with Thursby up." "And he gets a seven-pound allowance, old girl."
"Can he get down to the weight?"
She took The Times and looked at the sporting page again. "Yes - easily. It's in the bag."
"Please forgive me, Mr Thursby. I don't suppose you understand this sort of thing. It means a great deal to us." "As far as I can see," said Roger, feeling much older than twenty-one, "you've just backed a horse and stand 1o lose ten pounds, a sum which you're about to borrow from Mr Trent in order to go bankrupt."
"Old boy," said Mr Starling, "it does sound a trifle odd put that way, but Fergie understands. We put him on a good thing once. I say, old girl, you didn't happen to see if there's anything to double it with, did you? Quick, let's have a look." He took The Times from her, and started reading out the names of horses.
"My godfathers," he shouted, "excuse me. Jolly Roger in the 4.30. I'll see if I can get a half-quid each way double. Forgive me, old boy, I saw the name on the brief. Won't be a jiffy."
He rushed out of the door and nearly crashed into Mr Grimes, who was about to make a telephone call from the clerks' room.
"So sorry, old boy," said Mr Starling. "Terribly urgent." And took the receiver away from him.
Mr Grimes said nothing. For once he could not think of anything to say. Mr Starling might be a solicitor for aught he knew.
"Hullo, hullo - " said Mr Starling frantically. "Is that Vulgans? This is Frank Starling - Boozer. Are they off for the 3.30 yet? Oh, they are - damn - oh, well, can I hold for the result? Thanks so much." He turned to Mr Grimes. "Damned shame, old man," he said. "They're off." "Dear, dear, dear," said Mr Grimes.
"Well, we'll get the result first anyway," went on Mr Starling. "Then we can put half the winnings on the next, can't we, old boy? That's better really than a double. Make sure we have a fat win, anyway. Not much in your line I gather, old man?"
"Oh, well, my dear fellow," said Mr Grimes, "it keeps the telephone operator busy, if nothing else."
"I'm terribly sorry, old boy - what's that, what? Who between? It's a photo finish. Who? But of course you can say. No - that's too ridiculous. Excuse me a moment, old man. Don't hang up."
Mr Starling rushed back to the pupil's room.
"It's a photo finish," he announced excitedly.
"Who between?" asked his wife.
"But that's absurd. They'll always tell you if you ask them. Excuse me."
"You ask them, old girl."
Mr and Mrs Starling rushed out of the room to the telephone in time to hear the last of Mr Grimes's remarks to Alec.
"I don't know what we're coming to, I really don't."
Meantime Roger looked at the solicitor whose expression had hardly changed and who sat still, looking mournful.
"Odd," said Roger, "very odd."
"Not when you've known them as long as I have," said Mr Trent. "They'd gamble their souls away if anyone would lay the odds. I'll bet - now look what they've got me doing. Until I met Frank I didn't know one end of a racehorse from the other. And now I can even understand the sporting edition of the evening papers. I actually read the stop press* - to see how much they've lost."
* (stop press - late news inserted in a newspaper after printing has begun.)
At that moment the door burst open and Mr and Mrs Starling rushed into the room.
"We've won, we've won, we've won," they shouted, and proceeded to dance together round the room.
"The Stigma with Thursby up," they shouted. "Good old Stigma, good old Thursby. Here, where's that silly piece of blue paper?"
He picked up the judgement summons which had been in front of Roger and tore it into small pieces.
The solicitor appeared quite unmoved.
"I'm glad they've won, anyway," Roger said to him. Mr and Mrs Starling were too occupied in making frenzied calculations on Roger's Times to be spoken to. "Aren't you?" he added.
"If you'd seen this happen as often as I have," said Mr Trent, "you wouldn't move a muscle. They'll spend it all in a week and then we'll be back where we started. Still, it's saved me ten pounds for the moment. But only for the moment," he added sadly.
Mr and Mrs Starling continued with their calculations for a little time and then started to make suggestions to Roger for every kind of celebration. After just over a quarter of an hour of this Mr Starling suddenly said:
"Ought to be able to get the tote prices now, old girl. Would you excuse me?" He went out to telephone again. Meanwhile, Roger started looking at the sporting page of The Times. He glanced idly at the information about the meeting. A few minutes later the door opened slowly and a very dejected Mr Starling walked in. As soon as his wife saw him, she knew.
"What's happened, sweetheart?" she said anxiously. "Objection?"
"Yes, confound it," said her husband. "By the stewards. Upheld.* Upheld, now I ask you."
* (upheld - uphold, to agree to an objection (a betting term).)
"That's extraordinary," said Roger. "D'you know, I've just happened to see that senior steward's name is Perkins."
"Don't see anything funny in that, old man," said Mr Starling gloomily.
"Well," said Mr Trent, "I said it was only for the moment."
He looked at his watch.
"Now we've missed the Bankruptcy Court. Never mind, vve can do that ^tomorrow."
Sadly Mr and Mrs Starling and their solicitor left Roger. When they had gone, Roger said to Henry that he thought Judge Perkins must be quite a good judge.
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