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Gordon Moody
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Lesson 1

GORDON MOODY HAS that fresh-air, alert, well-scrubbed look of a bookish boy scout.  In his early 70s,his step has the same spring, his eye the same gleam of humour and interest, as in those far-off days when he started out as a Methodist minister, on circuit around the English shires.  He inherited a strong and simple faith from his parents, particularly his mother who took him to church on Sunday mornings but in the week there was no contact with the church at all, none of his close friends were from church-going families.  Belief became a part of him, mixed with a good streak of old-English common sense.

            At the age of 11 at his London high school, the biology teacher asked the class how different languages had come about.  Gordon upped his hand: ‘The tower of Babel!’ He was dismissed as an idiot, and from that moment came to accept that religious belief must be accompanied by a scientific approach to the understanding of life.  The early chapters of Genesis, he realized, were a myth, albeit a colossal message wrapped up in it.
            He grew up to feel there were two parts of his life: he lived in the world, and the beliefs he accepted from the church lived in him.  He learned, as he put it, not to turn the world inside out but to accept it, as it is.  A quality of mind summed up in the young Gordon’s estimation that ‘People are people’ – regardless of who they are or what they may believe.
            Or whether they are in trouble from gambling.  Over the years no individuals has had more influence or a closer knowledge of the social issues involved in gambling in Britain than the Rev.  Gordon Moody.  Yet his own involvement with gambling was the purest chance.
            When he left school, where he had been regarded as a no-hoper, he managed to find a job with an import firm in the City of London.  At the age of 19 it suddenly struck him, as he describes it, that he ought to be ordained.  He was accepted into the methodist ministry, and this time went to college with a will; next came probationary service, traveling around country parishes, leading to his ordination in 1942, the year he got married.  The young couple were as poor as church mice.  Moody got on fine with his congregation, but still felt claustrophobic.  The church did not seem to realize that it cost more to have a minister with a wife than a man on his own seemed in those days to be acting stingily.  His wife Jess felt depressed.  Moreover, the Rev. Moody with his motto of ‘People are people’ was not used to confining his activities to churchy folk.  He was a mixer.  Volunteering as a chaplain to the forces, he was accepted by the Royal Air Force.  Mixing with all ranks, being treated as an equal by all ranks, was a great release.  The question was what to do in 1958, after his term of six years was up.  Out of the blue a friend suggested he should become Secretary to the churches’ Council on Gambling.
            Moody had never heard of it.  he guessed it must follow some kind of temperance approach and felt a bit insulted.  He wrote back and asked what qualifications were required.  His friend told him he could get on all right with the Anglicans.  And secondly, as regards the job itself, Moody knew how to talk to ‘lewd fellows of the baser sort ’ as the New Testament expression has it, people like bookmakers: for he too was a man who did not speak the language of Zion.  In Short the job was like a frontier post from which he could go out and meet his fellow men on their own ground.  His motivation for accepting, he recalls, was of the lowest, but he rather esteems low motivations.  ‘They get you through, they go on.  High motivations burn you out.  They really only operate at key points.’  He took the job on.

            Street bookmaking, illegal bookmaking, was the dominant characteristic of gambling in Britain in 1958.  The well-heeled punters, the owners and trainers at the upper end of the racing fraternity, had telephone credit accounts with bookmakers, who were themselves, in their brown trilbies and tweed suits, treated almost as gentlemen.  ‘Five’ undred pounds the favourite, m ’Lord? Very good, m ’Lord.
  Five ‘ undred invested’.  (They always used that word.) ‘Thanks ver’ much, billy.’  As so often in England, class distinction set the rule.  The ordinary working bloke without a bank account or references could never open a telephone credit account for off-course betting.  But damn nearly everybody in the country wanted to bet, especially on Derby day.  The result was the proliferation of street bookies with their runners watching out for the police.  Only in the north and in Scotland were there any betting shops, under arrangement with the local police.  There were no casinos.  Instead the smart set had private gaming parties, whose ‘scandalous’ goings-on from time to time fizzed into the popular papers.
            In Britain when the Government of the day wants to review policy about something but does not quite know how to go about it – typically on big social issues – it appoints a Royal Commission on the subject.  This committee of the great and the good, experts and lay people, then deliberates for a year or so, publishes its report, sometimes with dissenting opinions, and sets the stage for a grand debate which rolls gently on, allowing the Government, if it so chooses, to take no further action at all.  That is how British public life works.  The Royal Commission on Gambling of 1949-51, however, annoyed the Churches’ council on Gambling very much.  Its report was adjudged to be light hearted and shallow compared with the Royal Commission of Gambling 1932-33.  The latter said that there were serious social consequences from gambling.  The new report said not so.

            Gordon Moody in his new job was inclined to side with the new report.  He put it to himself that with high unemployment, half a crown a week (This coin, long since withdrawn, was a handsome silver piece, then the price of a good dinner) wagered on a horse made serious inroads on a man’s wages back in the ‘30s, but in the 1950s it had no effect at all.  He felt us unenlightened on the subject of gambling as everyone else.  Reading through the Churches’ Council evidence and submissions to the royal Commission, some of it seemed unreal.  For instance the churchmen claimed that starting quietly with football pools, the public were led on in a fever of desire to all types of gambling.  Moody felt that was not right – so far as the pools were concerned it was obvious that what attracted people was the lure of a big prize; most people would go on with their lives as they always had done.  When the church looked at these things, it did not seem to have the human race in view.
            His position brought him on to various methodist committees where he had the same experience, for instance the fear expressed that if divorce were made easier, everyone would go wild.  likewise with abortion:  the official line seemed to base itself on the need for new law, taking no account of the strong natural pull of motherhood; if that ever changed, something would have changed in human nature itself.  Some people, Moody felt seemed to believe in the power of eveil more than the power of good.  The same principle doing something, like opening betting shops, the Churches’ Council resisted it.  it was also part of human nature to seize on any argument, good or bad, to bolster a moral view, and the churchmen were no exception.
  Moody concluded early on that the Council was playing charades.  What they were saying about gambling had got nothing to do with what people were doing when they were out gambling.
            The first thing to do was to discover what gambling was all about.  He did not pursue the ethical discussion of gambling – the high church view was that gambling was not wrong unless taken to excess, as opposed to the low church view that it was wrong in itself- which he had been drawn into many times.  No one ever changed their minds in such discussion.  (when he had worked in the City, and people had offered him sweeps take tickets in the office lottery for the Derby or the Oaks he had sometimes bought them, and sometimes refused, feeling bad either way for judging people he could see were doing no hard.)  What was it which attracted people to gambling?  Why did people bet?  He began to look around for ways of finding out.

            Moody got talking to the porter at the Churches’ Council building, whom he thought might know a thing or two.  The man tried to introduce him to a bookie but couldn’t find one who would talk to him, but he did know a chap who would take him to the dogs.  So off they went.  In each race of the night, the bets that this fellow made went down.  Mindful of his reputation as a good mixer, Moody suggested he pick a dog in the next race,   number three.  It was the only poker winner they had all night.  It did not take long after he started going to the greyhounds on his own to realize that serious social consequences stemmed from gambling.  Gathered together in the cheap enclosure at the tracks, he saw people not adequately dressed or fed, who looked very pinched and hard pressed.  They looked like the miners seen on a hunger march at Durham.
            In 1959 the Betting and Gaming Bill was coming in and Moody led for the Churches’ council.  He still hadn’t got much real knowledge.  The one advantage he had, so he felt, was his dog collar.  At one of the hearings a man came up to him and asked if he took a special interest in the proposed legislation.  He was a street bookie.  Moody asked if he would take him down to his pitch, which was in Bermondsey in the East End.  It was quite a revelation.  The bookie had a man standing on his pitch, taking in betting slips and stakes and a look-out man round the corner, while he himself kept right out of sight.  If any client had a dispute, he was directed to the bookie to sort it out.
            The visit confirmed for Moody the idea that betting shops should be opened. It wouldn’t change the ethos of people having a bet every day, but it would be a far better way of doing it.  the mistake in his view was to have the shops open throughout horse race racing hours, which encouraged gambling by continuous betting.  Gradually Moody became acquainted with a wider circle of people engaged in the business of gambling.  A greyhound stadium manager spoke up to support the need for legal controls at the council’s annual meeting and press conference: ‘If you don’t prune the trees, you don’t get the apples.’  He went to gaming clubs.  His experience of mixing with so many different people in the Air Force was paying off.  He saw that if the Council was going to have any value, he had to get close to gambling.

            He went to the Derby and had a wonderful day.  He did not watch the races, he watched the people.  He ate sweetmeats he hadn’t tasted since he was a child, went to the fair and saw the boxing, joined in the shouts of protest when the all-in wrestler kicked the amateur.  The Derby was more than betting and racing, he realized, it was about life; people left their problems behind them.  It was another stage in his enlightenment.  It helped persuade him, in writing reports for the Council, to get the relevant facts checked out by people who knew gambling from the inside.
            The darker side of gambling had impressed itself on him quite early on, during his visits to the dogs.  One day he saw a cutting in a the Daily Express, only a couple of inches long, about gamblers’ Anonymous being set up in the United States.  Was this a bona fide organization?  He wondered if something similar might be started in England.  On May 27, 1964, (he remembers the date) Moody went to address a meeting about gambling in Croydon and was asked some questions about gambling in Croydon was asked some questions about addiction.  Afterwards a fellow came up to him and said he knew about GA because, as a compulsive gamblers, he was a member of it.  he was an American called Henry.  ‘Right. let ’s get cracking!’ said Moody.  He invited him to attend a meeting of the executive committee of the Churches’ Council.
            Henry had ruined himself through petty cookery to get money for gambling.  The committee gave permission to hold a press conference to launch him.  Moody gave out the council’s telephone number for anyone who might want help.  They got enormous press coverage.  No one had ever heard a story like Henry’s before, and Moody’s phone didn’t stop ringing for three days.  It was like taking the lid off a sewer.  The stories came pouring out.  A meeting was arranged one evening for these desperate people and about a dozen turned up.  Henry told his story.  Then he asked if anyone else would like to recount his own experience.  Everyone did.  The effect was sensational.  The last person to speak was a taxi driver.  He said how he couldn’t go on any more, how he had gambled the money put by for his wife’s birthday present, how he’d become sick and tired of gambling.  ‘Is there anything you can do to stop gambling?’ the taxi driver demanded rhetorically.  ‘Yes! You ’ve just got to stop.’  On that ring of truth, the meeting closed itself.

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