Whatever cards were dealt, they were holding all the aces
Welcome to London in the 1950s. A city awakening from post-war austerity. A craze for the card game called 'chemmy'. A society full of adventurers - impoverished toffs, charming social climbers, discreet conmen. And John Burke and Bobby McKew, two Irishmen in search of a new life.
John Burke and his partner, John Aspinall, ran the best illegal chemmy games in town. Together, they fought the law and as a result gambling was legalized. In the bonanza that followed, they set up the exclusive Clermont Club. Bobby McKew moved in a world of deadly glamour, cracking safes with Eddie Chapman and working with crime boss Billy Hill. When Bobby McKew drew John Burke into Billy Hill's web the two friends found themselves involved in 'the Big Edge', one of the century's most outrageous scams.
The Hustlers will reveal full details of the con - how it worked and who was involved.
It is also a fascinating slice of gambling history, with a fantastic cast of characters ranging from the notorious 'Mr Money' to Sam Spiegel, Ian Fleming to the Maharaja of Baroda , Louis the Rat to Lord Lucan. This sampler contains an edited selection of tales about some of those colourful characters and the London society they moved in. The details of 'the Big Edge' cannot be revealed until publication.
London 's high life and low life meet in this explosive story of one of Britain's most successful cons
A potent mix of true crime and gambling, this is the next must-read for those who loved Bringing Down the House, Breaking Vegas and The Great Casino Heist.
Revelations guarantee media interest on publication. As we approach a new casino culture, this is a timely reminder of the links between gambling and crime.
'The race is not always to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
but that's the way to bet,'
-- Damon Runyan's paraphrase of Ecclesiastes.
More than a dozen years or so ago I wrote a
series of newspaper articles about the ongoing mystery of Lord Lucan. At the time my inquiries involved the Clermont Club. I heard the name John Burke. He knew all the famous and infamous people and their stories but was 'retired'; the word was he wanted to protect his secrets. There were 'reasons'.
Later, working with Christine Keeler on her best-selling autobiography, 'The Truth At Last', she told me of the characters who inhabited The Star pub in Belgravia including John Burke whom she liked. He was, she said a gentleman, who knew everybody but kept his own counsel. At the same time a series of rather racy drawings by Stephen Ward, to some the most important and central character in the Profumo affair, were put up for sale.
I traced the seller, Michael 'Dandy' Kim Caborn-Waterfield. One of the more colourful characters in the country, he told me endless stories of London in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. One involved
a man called Bobby McKew who Kim had spent time in jail with in the South of France -- a little something to do with a robbery at Hollywood film
tycoon Jack Warner's Riviera mansion.
McKew, it transpired, was as legendary as Kim but in a far less flamboyant way. He knew people that people didn't want to know. He played his cards quietly, kept his counsel.
Yet, against all his instincts Bobby joined me and Kim for lunch on the King's Road in Chelsea. With him was his great and longtime friend and fellow Irishman John Burke.
It was then that the two men who had met in
Dublin began to tell me the story of 'The Big Edge', one of the most outrageous but brilliant, unconscionable, corrupt,unscrupulous, deceitful
and plain crooked schemes of the 20th Century.
It was also hugely successful -- given that it involved tens of millions of pounds in profits. As John Burke put it: 'It was brilliantly designed. It was psychologically and mathematically brilliant. Einstein would have been proud of it.'
They also told of a cast of characters, rogues, villains, chancers, conmen, aristocrats, makers of and people who delighted in devilment, in mischief-making, almost all gamblers of one sort of another, a gallery of eccentrics worthy of Dickens at his most ingenious and Damon Runyan at his most fanciful.
In truth, it was a tale not just stranger but far more fascinating than fiction, more colourful and intriguing than the myth or the legend so far recorded about the people and events involved.
This is the story of 'The Big Edge'.
The Inside Cover of the Hardback
It was December 1963 and the exclusive Clermont Club was full of the rich and titled, come to gamble the evening away. Upstairs American high-roller Ray Ryan sat down to play a game of chemmy with the club’s owner, John Apsinall. Ryan considered Aspinall a friend – until he realized that the sleek Italian at the table was a card sharp hired to steal from him.
So begins The Hustlers, an explosive true story told for the first time by two beguiling Irishmen who arrived in 1950s London and were key witnesses to an extraordinary period in gambling history.
John Burke teamed up with Apsinall to run the best chemmy games in town in those exciting days when most forms of gambling were illegal. He tells how, when they were finally arrested, they were able to win their case with the help of a bent policeman. As a result gambling was legalized in 1960, changing society for ever. Aspinall went on to set up the famous Clermont Club, where Burke was a fellow director.
Bobby McKew moved in a world of deadly glamour, where no one was quite as they seemed. He describes cracking safes with legendary thief Eddie Chapman, smuggling in Morocco, and working with terrifying crime boss Billy Hill. He was a friend to princes, movie stars and the criminally-inclined from all levels of society.
And both men reveal how, when Billy Hill learned of Aspinall’s desperation for cash, he saw a chance to involve the Clermont in his best scheme yet, a scam called the ‘Big Edge’. Racy and entertaining, with a fantastic cast of characters from Lord Lucan and the Maharaja of Baroda to Mr Money and Louis the Rat, The Hustlers is a gripping account of the twentieth century’s most outrageous con.
Inside The Cover of the Paperback
Meet the roguish gamblers John Aspinall and John Burke, who run the most prestigious card parties in London. They are highly illegal in 1950s Britain, where most forms of gambling are outlawed.
Tread lightly into the presence of crime boss Billy Hill and his lieutenant Bobby McKew. Two men who only gamble when the cards are bent and they are holding the winning hand.
Discover how - thanks to Aspinall and Burke - gambling is legalized and society changed for ever. And let John Burke and Bobby McKew reveal how Billy Hill drew John Aspinall and his exclusive new club, The Clermont, into an undetectable, outrageous scam...
The Hustlers is a riotous journey back into the heady days of 50s and 60s London. With a cast of characters ranging from safecracker Eddie
Chapman to the reckless Earl of Derby, from croupier Louis the Rat to unlucky Lord Lucan, it vividly recreates the exploits of the gamblers and gangsters whose lives collided in the clubs and pubs of Mayfair.
'Criminally good' Charlie Richardson
'intriguing... [a] Hogarthian tableau of a generation gone by' Ray Connolly, Daily Mail
'a fascinating glimpse into a bygone world... when chemmy parties took London by storm and toffs were often found to be rubbing shoulders with gangsters' Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
'A well crafted, terrific tale of one of gambling's greatest strokes' Angus Loughran, BBC and Daily Telegraph betting expert.
Sunday Express London, March 30, 2008
BYLINE: DAVID CONNETT
THE HUSTLERS: GAMBLING, GREED AND THE PERFECT CON
Gambling and the Gaming Act are never far from the headlines in recent times after Labour's abortive plans to turn the whole country into one supercasino managed to upset all of Manchester and the rest of north-west England.
When the ideas were first revealed, all and sundry were up in arms about the dangers of a turn of the card or the roll of the dice. If you've ever wondered how it came to be that we find ourselves in this sorry state of affairs then Douglas Thompson's book is a timely and entertaining reminder of how gambling came to be legalised in 1960.
The story of an outrageous gambling scam, it strongly suggests that any changes being currently suggested had better be well policed or else unsuspecting punters will be taken for a wild ride. Given the cast of truly colourful characters involved from John Aspinal to gangster Billy Hill, it truly is deserving of the description: a caper.
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