In the July/August edition of BOS Magazine, former bookmaker Michael Wallis took Jamie Reid, author of 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner ‘Doped’, to task over some of the comments in the book and challenged what he perceived to be “inaccuracies and misinformation”.
Jamie Reid has responded as follows to Michael Wallis’s criticisms.
I am sorry that Michael Wallis didn’t enjoy ‘Doped’. The Laurie Wallis firm is famous in the history of bookmaking and you will find no-one who reveres the great characters and gambles of the old racecourse betting ring more than myself. I have no wish to enter into a feud with Michael but it seems that he just didn’t understand some parts of the book while some of his comments are nitpicking at best.
For example: Of course I was not saying that Bill Roper was literally ‘Mr Racing’. It was a nickname. It was how gang members like Joe Lowry referred to him; it was picked up by the newspapers and used frequently during the Lewes Trial. Roper was flattered by the description and basked in its glow. It enhanced the kind of image that he was trying, however fraudulently, to project.
When Bill stood up in the dock and said that he had laid bets to everyone from Lord and Lady Rosebery to the Newmarket postman he was telling the truth. Yes, Michael is right, Bill was Max Parker’s runner from 1948 to 1960 and for those twelve years he was continually busy, on and off the track, laying bets to Parker’s clients, like Rosebery, as well as doing business for himself. It was entirely par for the course, socially, in 1963 that when the scandal broke Lord Rosebery said that he had “no recollection of the man Roper.” He was emulating Lord Astor who, at the height of the Profumo Affair, said he had “no recollection” of meeting Mandy Rice-Davies who famously replied “he would say that wouldn’t he.”
In 1960 Roper started up his own off-course business with an office in Covent Garden. Again, he may not literally have had a pitch at Hurst Park in 1962 but he was there, ducking and diving in amongst the faces on the rails and in the ring.
I never suggested that all the bookmakers of that era were corrupt. I mention Archie Scott often in the book and William Hill who tried his best, in the face of the Jockey Club’s ineptitude and snobbery, to steer the JC investigators in the right direction. I could also have mentioned Victor Chandler’s father, Victor Senior, and Laurie Wallis.
But long hours spent trawling through the court records in the National Archives and talking to observers alive at the time fuelled the suspicion that Max Parker was heavily involved, that his nephew, Cyril Stein, knew what was going on and that there were other bookmakers who saw it all but declined to share that information with the authorities.
That’s partly why the dopings went on for so long. In fairness some of the bookies were intimidated by the gangsters in the background but, with no-one prepared to testify on oath, it was impossible for the police to bring charges against Parker as well as Bill Roper. That’s why Clive Graham, an extremely reputable journalist and an ardent punter, described the bookies as “a body of plaster saints” when they objected to him pointing the finger in their direction.
Finally, I do know the difference between permits and licenses. A great friend of mine was the actor and comedian Mel Smith who died last year. Mel’s father Ken had a small chain of three betting shops in West London and the first of them, a conversion of his mother-in-law’s old grocery store, opened soon after legalisation in 1961. On many occasions Ken entertained us with descriptions of the comic opera nature of the business back then, beginning with the apparent lack of scrutiny of an applicant’s character references and financial solvency. Regardless of that, Ken Smith – like Laurie and Michael Wallis – was an extremely honourable man. But not every rival was cut from the same cloth.