Hello and hi. When you come to the UK (and I hope you do) you will see William Hill pretty much everywhere. Of course you will not see our William Hill in the flesh, as he left this earthy realm quite some time ago. However, you will see the fruits of his labour, the legacy he left behind, as evident in the betting shops which bears his name up and down this not so small island. So, who exactly was William Hill? Well, today, you are going to learn. Yes. Yes, you are. Let’s do this.
William Hill was born 16 July 1903 and died 15 October 1971. Hill was the founder of William Hill-which is one of the UK’s LARGEST firms or bookmakers. Please know that a bookmaker, bookie or turf accountant is an organisation that, or a person who, takes bets on sporting and other events at agreed-upon odds. So, if you did not know the true meaning of: bookmaker…well, now you do. You are welcome.
Hill was born in Birmingham and left school at the age of 12 to work on his uncle’s farm. Later, he worked in a factory in Birmingham where he started collecting illegal bets from local people, while on his motorcycle. Quite the entrepreneur. Respect. Then in 1919, Hill joined the Black and Tans.* In brief, they were temporary Constables-not the Black and Tan drink which is a beer cocktail made by layering pale ale and dark beer. But if you want to know what and who The Black and Tans were: see the explanation at the end of this post. Please and thanks.
Black and Tan drink
Image: Paste Magazine
The other Black and Tans
As I mentioned, in 1919, Hill joined the Black and Tans while underage and was stationed in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland. He set up as an on-course bookmaker in 1925 but quickly lost his capital. Yikes. But Hill was not deterred. No. No, he was not. After his first foray (and failure) into bookmaking, he moved to London Town in 1929 where he commenced taking bets on greyhounds before opening an illicit gambling den in Jermyn Street in 1934. Just a quick note-Greyhound racing is an organised, competitive sport-am not sure if they still do it here in the UK. I do know, however, that some people in the US will go watch (and bet) on monkeys riding small dogs. Who ARE these people? LDF…I am talking to you. That being said…Hill started taking bets on greyhounds-then opened up a gambling den in 1934. Hill was able to exploit a loophole which allowed credit/postal betting but NOT cash.
- In 1944, Hill produced the FIRST fixed-odds football coupon.
- In 1954 Hill reversed his business into Holders Investment Trust (a shell company, thereby securing a listing on the London Stock Exchange)
- Although Hill called legal betting offices “a cancer on society” he opened his first in 1966-after his competitors had stolen a march on him (erm…if you know what that last sentence means…do let me know. Please and thanks.)
Hill was also interested in breeding horses and subsequently bought a stud in 1943 at Whitsbury in Hampshire. Hill bred and owned Cantelo, a filly, who won the St Leger Stakes in 1959. Hill retired in 1970 and died the following year, aged 68.
William Hill was quite something. He was generous and colourful in equal measure. It could not have been easy to build his betting empire during a time when betting was illegal in the UK. If you want to know more about Hill along with some pertinent facts about the UK gambling history, check out this link from the William Hill Website. Do it. Do it now. The Real Facts about Britain’s favourite Bookmaker
Image: William Hill
No doubt you will find out what sort of person our William Hill was by reading the above link. But I do know for a fact, that he was indeed a kind man. Please find below an anecdote from my mate H, who along with his Mum, had an opportunity to meet William Hill and was on the receiving end of his kindness. Here you go.
Born in Mexico City to English parents, I was making my first journey to England, with my Mum at just 18 months old. We were terribly excited to fly the Atlantic on a Boeing Statocruiser. Of course, this plane is a relic now, but back then, it was a big, hulking, massive plane. Show you.
On the Stratocruiser, and no different from today, there was coach and first class. First class on the Stratocruiser had bunks to sleep in, and this allowed air travel to be far more comfortable-rather than being wedged between 2 people or sitting against the window or sitting on an aisle seat and having people trip over your leg. I think you get the point. The point is that the Stratocrusier had bunks to sleep in.
However, Mother and I were not privy to that class and flew along with everyone else in an ordinary seat. But, I was a fretful, wriggly 18month old baby, sitting on my mother’s knee. Not exactly ideal for me or my Mum. Anyway, a short while later, a well-dressed man in a beautiful suit walked down the aisle and approached my Mother and said: ‘Madam, I have a bunk. If you and your baby would like to take it, I would be happy to change places with you.’ My Mother smiled a beautiful smile and thanked the stanger, as she accepted his kind offer.
My mother and I spent a comfortable night on the bunk, which the stranger gentleman had offered up (I think the flight was 18 hours or so from Mexico to the UK).Upon landing, my mother asked the cabin staff who the man was. The cabin staff responded, “Why, Madam-that was William Hill, the betting shop magnate.”
And while me nor my Mother ever placed a bet in our lives, we maintained a soft spot for William Hill and the kindness he showed us. To receive such an unexpected kindness from a stranger is indeed a wonderful thing.
So, there you go. That is who William Hill was. Knowledge is power, people. Yes. Yes it is.
*The Black and Tans was officially the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve and was a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the RIC (Royal Irish Co-Greynstabulary) during the Irish War of Independence. A brainchild of Winston Churchill-then the British Secretary of State for War.