Betting at Newton Abbot on Monday, just about able to crouch under their racecourse mush betting as ‘Jack Bevan and Co’ were Paul and Archie Metcalfe. The last time I saw Archie on a racecourse, he was knee high to his grandfather Ian. Archie is now a strapping young man maybe evening edging his dad Paul in the height stakes.
Archie is the fifth generation of Metcalfe to bet as ‘Jack Bevan’. The firm, based in Torquay, was founded in 1897. Nobody actually knows if there ever was a 19th century bookmaker named Jack Bevan at all. Legend has it that the current firm’s founder retrieved a bookmaker’s hod with the name emblazoned on it. We can only assume that its previous owner for whatever reason decided that the bookmaking game wasn’t for him before lobbing the hod into the hedge. I’d love to know the story behind that, but I suppose that’s been lost through the mists of time.
It’s said that he hod was retrieved by a chap named Jack Wiltshire who it appears decided to have a crack at making a book himself. You have to admire his conviction that he could succeed where poor old Jack Bevan failed. Well, here we are in 2021 so he evidently did. Ultimately the firm powered on, not under the guidance of Jack Wiltshire but the Metcalfe family. First up was Percy, now Percy was before my time but was by all accounts real character. As well as betting on the racecourse he also set up a credit betting office in Torquay. The firm used to put in the miles too, bearing in mind the roads and cars in those days. Jack Bevan and Co (Est 1897) bet at top pitches including front rows at Ascot, Newbury and Cheltenham was well as all over the West and South West of England. There’s even a photo of the firm betting at the long since gone Torquay races from the back of a horse and cart. My old boss Jack Lynn used to tell me that the Bevan firm had the top pitches because Percy used to pay the gangsters that ran the racecourses more than their requested ‘Dollar in the pound’ protection money. Jack used to say a lot of things that may or may not have been true, but there does appear that there might be a semblance of fact in it. Old point to point bookmakers’ lists that were recently posted online show that Jack Bevan with partner Billy Kimber held the top spots. Billy Kimber was a notorious Midlands gangster who ‘retired’ and relocated to Torquay ultimately dying in a nursing home in the seaside town in 1945.
Next up was Harry. Now Harry made a real impression on me when I first started going racing. He’d stand tall topped by a perfectly groomed mane of silver hair and dressed immaculately in a suit you certainly didn’t buy off a peg. He’d call the odds over the heads of the punters looking like a film star and taking on all comers. He occasionally had a lift home with fellow Torquay bookmaker Dave Phillips who I worked for from 1995 to 2000. I’d generally be behind the wheel, if Harry had a lift my top pocket would have a fiver tucked into it as he left the car. He was a real gentleman. The old bookmakers’ seniority list used to show Harry Metcalfe, David Pipe and Bernard Redfern all down as 1946 at the Westcountry tracks but evidently went back way further than that.
His son Ian was next to take over the mantle. He was another real gentleman and gave me work as and when he could on top of my usual positions with Dave Phillips. Ian was a man of many sayings, ‘You won’t beat the price boys, you’ll wear your shoes out trying’ was one of his favourites. He also like to have a bit of fun goading his punters. I remember one occasion when a punter asked if he could have a sizeable bet at the joint. Ian took his shoulder, pulled him in a bit closer and said, ‘Of course you can, have you seen the size of my house?’ He also had a way of getting the punters in to bet when they were standing back. If a horse was even money and the punters were keeping their hands in their pockets he call very loudly ‘An even monkey down to Colonel Gazimes’ and rub the price off. This jolted the punters into action, they’d pile into Ian fearing if they didn’t they’d miss the even money too. Good old Ian would benevolently tell them all that they were on because they were regulars. Of course, Colonel Gazimes didn’t exist. I’m told Harry also had a similar ‘punter’, but he was the less flamboyantly named ‘Mr Forster’. Ian gave me a week’s work at Royal Ascot in 2006 and the honour of taking bets on the Number One pitch there. Ian found infamy for a short time when he was likened to the fake bookmaker ‘John Batten’ who took all the money and ran after betting on Hill at the Derby won by Benny The Dip, he even made the Racing Post in this context but was soon eliminated from investigations. When Ian ran Jack Bevan and Co full time his wife Diane used to clerk for him. She was a beautiful lady who always looked a million dollars. They both passed away within a few months of each other, much too young.
Their son Paul Metcalfe left a good position in IT to join the firm when his parents’ health was ailing. He’s really taken Jack Bevan and Co into the 21st Century. Paul still bets under the name Jack Bevan and also Pickwick-Bevan at some courses as a partnership. For a while Paul and team bet under the cheeky moniker ‘Ivor Biggun’ predominantly at big meetings like Royal Ascot and on bank holidays. The ’Ivor Biggun’ firm was very popular with the ladies, they particularly enjoyed being adorned with a free badge emblazoned ‘I’ve Been Laid By Ivor Biggun’. I was all good fun but sadly the trading name fell foul of the ‘Fun Police’ who put a stop to it. Shame. Still holding top pitches at many tracks Jack Bevan and Co established 1897 show no signs of throwing their current kit into a hedge and with young Archie appearing to enjoy working on the pitch who knows how many generations will follow in the firm’s footsteps.
Anyone with an 1897 formbook, have a look and see if the favourites went through the card at any meeting Torquay, we might just find out when the original Jack Bevan turned it in. I expect he’d be tickled he’s still betting in 2021!