QUICK ONE: Betting in Pubs, 1961

Bill Kell as the McEwan's Scotch Ale mascot.
Detail from the cover of the book: a portrait of Bill Kell by Ralph Liddell.

As part of our mission to read every publican’s memoir available in the pits of the online second-hand book barns we’ve recently whizzed through Best Scotch or Ordinary: A North East Publican’s Tale by Bill Kell, published in 1996.

Mr Kell ran various pubs on Tyneside eventually settling in Ashington in 1955 where he ran the Portland, the pub where he grew up and which had previously been under his father’s management.

Here’s an interesting detail that we’ve not previously seen linked to the decline of The Pub (or at least, in this case, a pub):

On the first day of May 1961 the first betting shops were opened in Britain. This made quite a difference to our morning trade in the bar. The three bookies’ runners we had at the Portland were all paid off, and the backstreet bookies all became legitimate, opening betting shops up on every street corner… Before those shops opened, all those punters would have had to call into the Portland or one of the Clubs, to put on a bet. By one Government Act, we had our morning trade cut to shreds and no one could say or do anything about it, because the previous method of places their bets was totally illegal in pubs.

This is not the kind of line, as Mr Kell suggests, that you’d be likely to hear coming from the Brewers’ Society or the Licensed Victuallers’ Association.

Would it be too much to argue that the pub trade as a whole was given a boost for a long time by the incidental illicit practices that went on in and around the premises, from betting to prostitution, via the sale of stolen goods?

One thought on “QUICK ONE: Betting in Pubs, 1961”

  1. Illicit betting in pubs (and elsewhere) had a resurgence after the introduction of general betting duty in 1966 – initially at the rate of 2½%, by 1974 it had risen to 4% on on-course bets, and 7½% on off-course bets. If you could place a bet with an illegal bookmaker in a pub, you were saving yourself the 7½% deduction charged in a betting shop. In the mid-seventies, I knew several pubs in south London where illegal bookmakers operated – and indeed where Customs and Excise raided the pub and prosecuted the offender.

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