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Bookies and the men in mufflers.


BACK in the 40s and 50s when money was tight, there was no legal gambling as such, but every few streets around there were the bookies... and the hard-working, hard-up Brummies would go to these bookies with their hard-earned pennies, trying to make a few quid on the horses.

Where I lived as a kid, the local bookie was a bloke called Wheeler who served the inhabitants in our part of Aston and Summer Lane.

This bookies was in Brass Street, and from memory if you turned into Brass Street from Summer Lane, there was an entry on the right.

This entry had a solid wooden door with a letterbox in it, and it was bolted and locked on the inside. This was to protect the money that the bookies would take on a daily basis.

What was also there to protect the bookies' takings of the hard-earned pennies of the local punters was a load of blokes hanging around the corners and doorways nearby. These blokes were almost always dressed the same - they would have on a flat cap, a muffler round the neck and a coat or a mac depending on the weather.

If, as sometimes happened, my uncle George had a win on the horses, he would send me to collect his winnings from the bookies. You would go up 'The Lane' into Brass Street and knock on the entry door, then the door would open a crack and when you showed the invisible guard the betting slip, he would let you in.

To the right were a couple of steps leading up to a high counter and you would put your betting slip on to this counter and when it was checked you were given the winnings.

More importantly for a skint kid, the bookie would always without fail give you a yellow threepenny bit or a shiny silver tanner, depending on the size of the winnings.

One day a bloke who I had never seen before asked me to collect some winnings for him.

I took his slip to the bookies, which seemed to cause a bit of bother. "Who give you this slip to collect, nip?" said one of the muffler men.

"A bloke down by the Birmingham Arms," I said. The pub in question was just down the road.

"Where you going to meet him?" "The back of the pub," I replied. A glance at his muffled mates and they were off. "Here's his winnings," he said as he handed me the money, wrapped in a piece of paper, "and a tanner for you. Go and stand on the corner by the pub till he comes for his cash."

I did as he said and stood there for ages, but the lucky punter never rolled up.

One of the runners finally came and took the paper-covered cash back off me. "You can go home now, nip," he said and went back towards Brass Street.

I asked my uncle George what it was all about, and the next day he told me that the bloke who had given me the betting slip had been trying to fiddle the bookie.

Brummie Kid, More Tales from Birmingham's Backstreets, by Graham V Twist, is published by The History Press, priced pounds 9.99 (
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2011
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