153. Cyril

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Cyril was nothing like Leroy.

Ladbrokes didn’t really want Leroy in their East End shops. Like almost all punters, he lost money, but his relatively large bets caused shops to run out of money when he won, irritating the regulars. The overall security threat to company employees was also a big minus for senior management. Police visits to the premises were no good for business.

If Leroy was mayhem, Cyril was placidity. To be courted, solicited and feted.

The job of managing a bigger shop, in Ripple Road, Barking, was thrown my way sometime in the spring of 1984. Steve Robinson, the District Manager, said the remit was all about keeping Cyril happy.

I didn’t see this mysterious punter for a few weeks until one Saturday lunchtime, when a dark-haired, middle-aged white bloke walked in, dressed in a suit and carrying an attache case. He had a minor sense of self-importance about him.

A frisson ran through the cashiers. Cyril was always allowed into our kitchen quarters, where he would produce his bets, neatly written out in small capitals, and unload the cash. We let him through and I introduced myself. Can’t swear by it, but I think his bet that day was a £500 yankee. With a total cost of £5,500.

For the uninitiated, a yankee involves four selections, and 11 bets. Six win doubles, four win trebles and an accumulator. The bottom line is you need two winners to get anything back, via a double.

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Think about that for a minute. Even if you know nothing or have no interest in betting, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see that getting two winners from four selections is a big ask. Just one is hard enough. 50% of Cyril’s horses had to win for any return, and even then there was no guarantee that the prices would be big enough to recapture his overall stake.

I had been told that he had once picked three winners, which did gain him a big return. But clearly he was not a shrewd punter, or he would have been banned. That’s what betting companies do to winning punters. No thanks, not anymore, they say.

Ladbrokes wanted his cash.

He carefully placed his case on the kitchen table, produced a key and unlocked it, flipping the lid back to reveal neat bundles of £20 notes. ‘How about that, little Ladbrokes employee?” his eyes seemed to say. “You’re playing with a big boy now.”

I counted it, rung up the bet. Cyril sauntered out, not a care in the world, smiling enigmatically.

Such a sum had to be immediately rolled up into metal cylinders that were inserted into an under-floor safe. So that no opportunist thief who had sussed out Cyril’s proclivities could hold us up and make off with the wonga. Leroy notwithstanding, Barking was more dangerous than Green Street: my new shop was frequented by several hustlers and petty criminals, and robberies at knifepoint were not unknown in London betting shops.

I rang the bet away to headquarters in Harrow so that they could monitor any potential big loss. If the first three horses somehow won, and an 11 winning-bet yankee was on the cards, instructions would be sent to the racecourse where the Ladbrokes representative would back that horse so that its price reduced and cut Cyril’s profits.

I don’t reckon they ever worried much on that score.

Again, I cannot recall exactly, but he either had no winners or just one that day. And thus my shop balance sheet looked incredibly good that week to the accountants who pored over these things.

Cyril came in three or four times in my early weeks. On just one occasion did he return for winnings, which came to little more than he had laid out.

About a year later, when I was working as a relief manager, it transpired that he had been arrested and imprisoned for defrauding his employer out of tens of thousands of pounds.

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