Authors: Nicholas Rhea
“Maybe they have, Sergeant, maybe the big greyhound stadiums all began like this? They must have started in a small way.”
“No, son, I can’t accept that. They’re in cities with big money behind them, they’re big business right from the start. They don’t begin in little ways, don’t big business stadiums.”
“This is just a bit of fun.”
“No, son. There’s summat funny here. They’re up to summat.”
I couldn’t see what was bothering him. I went home and read my lawbooks but found nothing to disqualify those
from racing their animals around Harold’s field. Half an hour after I’d begun my studies, the phone rang.
“Sergeant Blaketon,” said the voice. “Did you say they’re having bookies?”
“That was the intention, Sergeant. They want to have bookies, just like a proper racetrack. There’ll be hot-dog stalls, ice-cream and soup.”
“They can’t,” he said triumphantly. “They can’t have bookmakers. It’s not an approved course.”
I didn’t answer for a moment or two. Without bookies, what fun would there be? That was the whole idea – the men and their ladies would proceed to Harold’s field, place their bets on the few races and then adjourn to George’s pub to drown their sorrows or to spend their winnings. Without bookmakers on the track, the whole idea was a non-starter.
“Are you there, Rhea?” I heard him call.
“Yes, Sergeant. I was just wondering if there was a way round it.”
“A way round it? Our job is to adminster the law, not to find ways round it. No bookies. That’s final. Tell them they can hold their meeting if they like, but without bookmakers. There must be no obstruction of the road outside the track, no noise and no trouble of any kind.”
And having made that decision, he replaced the telephone. Sitting at my desk, I wondered if he was secretly smiling with immense satisfaction. I could almost see the smirk of inverted pleasure on his face. I felt sorry for George and his pals, for the notion seemed a good one. I lifted my phone and was dialling George’s number at the Hopbind Inn when I recalled a visit to a donkey derby. There had been bookies there, and it had been held in a field. And it certainly wasn’t an approved racetrack. If they could have bookies, why couldn’t George?
I replaced the telephone and lifted my battered copy of
from its shelf and began to examine it. There was a good deal of information about approved racetracks and I learned that a ‘dog race’ meant “A race in which
an object propelled by mechanical means is pursued by dogs.” That was contained in section 20 of the Betting and Lotteries Act of 1934, then in force. A ‘track’ meant premises on which races of any description, athletic sports or other sporting events took place.
There was a lot of information about the procedures
to secure licences to authorise betting on tracks. I learned, however, that special rules appertained to dog tracks. For example, betting could not take place in connection with more than eight dog races and was restricted to one
period not exceeding four hours. George’s proposal seemed to comply with this provision. I discovered that the Totalisator could be set up on a dog track on any appointed day while the public were admitted and it could be operated for persons resorting to the track, on dog races run on that track on that day.
All this appeared to be running in George’s favour and I even learned that bookmakers could not be excluded from a track being lawfully run, and that space for bookmaking should be afforded them. But all this applied to “approved” racetracks. It seemed that the local councils were empowered to grant licences for racetracks and to authorise betting on them, provided two months’ prior notice was given.
I began to accept the superior knowledge of Sergeant Blaketon. His long experience was his salvation. He knew what could or could not occur. George couldn’t function with bookies! And then I found the salvation clause!
I learned that bookmaking could not be carried on on
track unless the occupier held a licence in force under the provisions of the Betting and Lotteries Act 1934, authorising betting facilities on that track. And I discovered that the prohibition did not apply to any track on which bookmaking had not been carried out on more than seven previous days in that year, beginning on July 1, provided seven days’ postal notice of the intended bookmaking had been given to the chief officer of police by the occupier.
So there it was. Long-winded, but there in print. George would be the ‘occupier’ of the field for this purpose, and all he had to do was give written notice to the chief constable. This did not even amount to a request for permission. It was
simply a notification of the event, so I rang George. I
this to him and told him that he could hold no more than seven days racing in any year, starting each July, and that bookies could come and accept bets on the field. He was delighted.
Sergeant Blaketon did not express his feelings when I acquainted him with this piece of legislation. He simply said, “Oh, yes?” and put down the telephone.
I was off duty on the night of the first meeting in Harold’s field and went along in my civilian clothes to enjoy an unusual evening’s entertainment. As I entered the field, George waved me across for a chat.
“Nice gathering, Mr Rhea,” he beamed his appreciation and gazed around the chattering crowd. The place was almost full and even on this small field, there was the
atmosphere of a racecourse. Bookies were calling the odds, people were talking shop and discussing the runners, a hot-dog stall was making a fortune and the car-parking fees would keep Harold happy – whoever Harold was.
“Have you many runners, George?” I asked, walking into the centre with him.
“Full house,” he told me. “Thirty in all. Some good dogs among ’em too. Six races, five to a race. Having a bet, are you?”
“I’m not much of a betting man,” I said, truthfully.
“Put ten bob on No. 3 in the fourth,” he advised, winking at me. “My way of saying thanks. I rang your office some weeks ago, you know, before I spoke to you. They said I couldn’t have bookies. I know you found I could and I appreciate that.”
“It’s all part of the service, George.”
“Don’t forget then, No. 3.”
I left him to go about his duties and went to one of the bookies’ stands where I learned that No. 3 in the fourth race was called Rob Roy. I put ten shillings each way on him and settled to watch the intervening races. Just before the start of the fourth, I spotted Sergeant Blaketon, towering above the race-goers. I was in two minds whether or not to approach him, but decided I should. I pushed through the crowds and hailed him by waving my race sheet.
“Good evening, Sergeant,” I was very formal.
“All quiet?” he asked, as if I was on duty.
“A very well behaved bunch, Sergeant. Their cars are all off the road, and there’s no noise. Just good-humoured fun, all around.”
“I didn’t know whether you’d be here, son, seeing you’re off duty.”
He started to walk into the arena and I fell into step at his side.
“I came to see what goes on, Sergeant. I’ve never been to a thing of this kind.”
“Me neither,” he admitted. “Have you had a bet then?”
“Just one. I’m not a betting man,” I told him.
I looked at him as we walked. I wasn’t on duty, therefore I was permitted to have a bet. Was he catching me out?
“Rob Roy, Sergeant, in this race.”
“Is it any good?”
“I was advised to put my cash on that one, Sergeant,” I smiled. “It’s the only bet I’ve placed.”
In a flash, he had his wallet out and was waving a pound note at me. “I can’t place a bet when I’m in uniform – stick a quid on for me, ten bob each way. That dog, same as yours.”
I hurried to a bookmaker and managed to place his bet just before betting closed. To our delight, Rob Roy won
at four to one and we were nicely in pocket.
“You know, P.C. Rhea,” he was always very formal. “I could have made a nasty mistake there, couldn’t I? If I’d forbidden that meeting, someone might have discovered those sections in the Betting and Lotteries Act. They could have complained to the Chief Constable, eh? I’d have been in serious trouble. I’m pleased you sorted it out – you did a good job. And you did it without twisting the law. We administered the law, which is our duty. Well done, lad,” and he strode off.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” and I adjourned to the Hopbind Inn where celebrations were already being held. I had the reason, and the cash, to celebrate.
One sport which I had never seen before and which was
totally new to me, was hare coursing. I had never been in contact with it, but soon after my arrival at Aidensfield, I learned that the headquarters of the Ryedale Coursing Club was at the Brewer’s Arms, Aidensfield. The pub was the headquarters of almost every other village organisation,
from the Catholic Women’s League to the British Legion, so the identity of the Coursing Club’s HQ did not surprise me. Coursing meetings were held at Aidensfield during the winter of each year.
My very first coursing meeting came one crisp November day. I was on duty at the time, which meant I could officially visit the scene; in fact, I was allocated that duty because of the expected traffic influx and other associated problems. There would be a bar, for example, and I had to be on guard against youngsters buying ale. Such is the lot of the rural policeman – he attends everything on his patch “just in case”.
I had read a good deal in the papers about the coursing of live hares. It had, and still has, a lot of enemies, particularly among Socialist Members of Parliament. Attempts have been made since 1924 to place an Anti-Coursing Bill upon the statute book but, to date, all have failed. I knew that the political atmosphere surrounding the sport could lead to some aggravation, but was that likely to happen at Aidensfield?
Against that background, therefore, I attended my first coursing meeting. Sergeant Blaketon advised me to be on the alert for trouble because he had learned of a similar meeting, in Lancashire, where a crowd of anti-blood sport fanatics had demonstrated. They had invaded the coursing field into the bargain. Chaos had resulted, with some violence from all parties and I was warned against a repetition of that. Chaos must not occur at Aidensfield, ordered Sergeant Blaketon.
In uniform, with wellies on my feet, I walked down to the course. It was held on the flat fields of Home Farm. These were spacious grassy areas, although some were of stubble, and all were bounded by trees and interesting copses. They provided good running for both dogs and hares, and I was happy to learn that there were adequate parking facilities, with ample space for the roving crowds. Spectators at coursing meetings do not stand still, but wander around to see
the action. The action depends greatly upon the location of the hares which are the focal-point of the sport.
Another feature of the place was the mobile canteen and its supplies of hot soup, meat pies and sausage rolls. Next door stood the mobile liquor bar, and although it was only ten o’clock in the morning, it was open and serving alcoholic refreshment designed to warm the cockles of anyone’s heart. The necessary licence had been obtained – I checked that. The arena was growing busier by the minute.
The essence of this misunderstood sport is that of hunting a hare with a greyhound. The sport has persisted since the beginning of time and the first laws of coursing were drawn up in the sixteenth century. The modern sport, however, differs from the ancient in that the killing of a hare does not necessarily determine the winning dog. Many enemies of the sport believe that this is one of the rules – it is not, as I was to learn from that day’s duty.
Mingling with the spectators and competitors, I watched the sequence of events and soon the objects of the sport and the marking system became reasonably clear. I was helped by the chap who served the beer on the make-shift bar and learned that he was secretary of the local club. It was
to the Old Yorkshire Coursing Club which had closed forty-eight years before this meeting, but which had been revived only a year earlier. The headquarters of that club were also at a pub.
With the barman, whose name was Sid, I watched the prelude to the day’s events. A long line of beaters, each equipped with a white flag and a good voice, were despatched into the distance. When they were some 400 or 500 yards away, each man smartly about-turned and began to advance towards the clear field before us. This was the coursing field, an area set aside for the purpose. The beaters spread
across the width of the countryside and began to wallop the undergrowth with the flags and short sticks, shouting and making a terrible din. Ahead of them was the coursing field where two competing greyhounds were held on slip-leads. The object was to locate a hare and drive it into the field so that it would be seen by the eager dogs. Only two dogs compete in each course. These fit, shivering animals were
therefore waiting for the first hare to come bounding into the flat field, whereupon, at a signal from the judge, they would be slipped from their leads by the slipper. The judge was mounted on a horse to give clarity of vision and ease of movement as the dogs chased the hare around that field. From the moment the dogs are slipped, the course is on.
As was expected, there were several abortive beats and on one occasion that day, a leveret was put up. For those not familiar with rural life, a leveret is a young hare, but he was allowed his freedom. Coursing is for fit, adult hares only.
Eventually, a suitable hare was put up. A signal came from one of the beater’s white flags which was held aloft for all to see, and the beaters began to warble as only coursing beaters can. The expectant crowd waited for the hare to bolt through the hedge and into the coursing field. He was driven that way by the oncoming beaters and their horrendous voices; finally, he entered through the hedge, ears flat against his body as he raced for his life. He legged it for all he was worth, heading for the far side of the arena and darting across the frontage of spectators. When he was about two hundred yards ahead of the straining dogs, they were slipped. The first course was on.