George Carrigill, Dewsbury bookmaker

George Carrigill, in his Mirfield shop in 2011.  Picture by Bruce Rollinson
George Carrigill, in his Mirfield shop in 2011. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
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George Carrigill, who has died at 84, had been Britain’s youngest bookmaker, and lived long enough to be its oldest.

It was in the 1940s, as a grammar school boy in Dewsbury, that he saw his career stretch out before him. It was rumoured that his form master was also a practising nudist, so Mr Carrigill opened a book on it.

Betting his classmates sixpence that he wasn’t and a further sixpence that he would ask him direct, he sidled up to the teacher and popped the question.

The answer didn’t matter, he recalled much later. “It was simple - as long as I asked the question, I couldn’t lose.”

But betting was still illegal and no profession for a grammar school boy. So he took a job instead on his local newspaper in Dewsbury and sold his stories for extra cash.

He spent it at Dewsbury’s dozen or so illicit bookies, but quickly decided that the best way to win was to open his own.

At 21, and using £350 left to him by his father, he opened his first shop, sharing the premises with Phyllis Wilson’s hair salon.

In his late seventies, at which point he ran six shops around Dewsbury and continued to work seven days a week, he recalled the transaction.

“I told her I was a bookmaker and she thought I made books for a living,” he said. “By the time she realised I was actually opening a betting office, it was too late.”

It was another seven years before bookmaking was legalised. In the meantime, the heavy woollen district’s bookies and police ran each other a merry dance.

“The Dewsbury chief constable said he wanted to see all the bookmakers in the town,” Mr Carrigill recalled. “He told us, ‘Look, I’m going to have to come and raid you, but don’t worry, it will be on a Tuesday and I’ll let you know the day before. If you could have some betting slips and a little cash ready, I’ll make it as painless as possible’.”

A few customers legged it down the drain pipe, but the rest gave their names and addresses and were bound over. Mr Carrigill escaped with a £5 fine.

The horses were not his only interest, and he became a noted greyhound trainer, beginning at unlicensed courses and graduating to win the 1965 Scottish Grand National.

He also excelled at table tennis, representing Yorkshire in his twenties and famously defeating an up-and-coming Huddersfield Town footballer named Denis Law.

At its height, his betting empire extended to nine shops, but he was as well known in Dewsbury for his charity work, especially through the Rotary Club and Freemasons, and for his well-attended annual pilgrimages to the Cheltenham Festival and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, as for his business.

He is survived by Edith, his wife of 62 years, three children and seven grandchildren