"I was 11 at the time," he said, "and it was on a Saturday. I was on my way to the football ground and my father stopped me. 'John, my boy,' he said, 'will you lay this seven bob for me with my bookie?' I didn't mind, because there was a bookie who worked the corner across the way, but Dad did not want me to lay the bet with him. This was in the old days, before the bookmakers were licensed; they operated illegally, the way they do in the States."
His wife came in, bringing him a tray with his breakfast. Anne-Marie is a dark, attractive woman. His 27 racehorses are registered in her name.
"Thank you, dear," he said, then went on with his story.
"I grumbled a bit when Dad told me not to take the bet to the book on the corner nor to the book on the next corner, either. In those days, if the book had a bad day, he would disappear and lay low until he was able to move his operation to another part of the city. Dad had been doing business with a bookie who was about a mile away and I had to take the bet to him because he was known to be honest.
"Every Saturday after that, I'd take my father's few bob to the bookmaker, and the book would give me two bob as an incentive to bring him more bets. From then on I'd remind Dad if he didn't make his bet, saying, 'Come on, Dad, what's your bet?' and I decided after a while that any business that had as much money as that flying about, I wanted to be in."
Banks quit school at 15 and became a messenger boy for a Glasgow bookie, but after two months on the job he told his employer he wanted to be more than a runner. Thereafter, he worked as a clerk in a shop, learning the business, and at 26 he went on his own with $250 in capital.
"I was always a great backer of horses myself," Banks said. "So I traveled all over England and Scotland for a year, betting horses, and at the end of the year I had accumulated $55,000 and I opened a credit book." A credit book is just what it sounds like—a betting shop which offers credit to its customers.
"When I started, I could not understand why some books would not offer certain bets, so I offered them myself and in a year I had lost the $55,000. I couldn't understand how I had lost so much money so fast, so I sat down and went over the year and sorted out the mistakes I had made. I have never made them since."
He had finished his breakfast and he put aside the tray, stood up and glanced at his watch. "Eleven-thirty," he said. "We had better be off." He stopped in a closet on his way to the door and came out carrying a six-inch-thick packet of 10- and 20-pound notes, holding them as casually as if they were a pack of cigarettes. "I'll take the Mercedes," he said to Anne-Marie.
He was going to Brighton on this cold, gray day, for a race meeting there. Brighton is an hour and a half drive from Sunningdale, but Gordon, Banks' graying chauffeur, would probably have made it in a good deal less without the bank stop, which required some 30 minutes since the clerk had to count the thick wad of bills.