The tale of Fabulous Harry — Never kid a kidder — part deux!

18 Apr

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Sometime towards the summer of 1985 I was sitting in my office in Glasgow’s George Square, minding my own business and trying not to think about the day ahead. As a second year legal trainee I had been tasked with the tedious job of writing up the company books of the numerous companies that used our office as its registered base.

Admittedly, it was a change from drafting wills, buying council houses, taking divorce affidavits and any number of other things which can make a legal trainee’s day about as exciting as standing at a bus stop for hours on end on a wet night.

I had come in early in the hope that I could get all of the dreaded books done on the one day rather than face two days of corporeal tedium.

About 8:30am the bell over the front door sounded signifying that someone had entered the office, and I automatically presumed it would be one of the partners or another member of staff.

How wrong I was!

I wasn’t really paying attention but somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that the entrant to the office was clearly female as I could hear what sounded like high heels walking up the corridor that passed my door which was slightly open. Sure enough, a smartly dressed woman walked clean past my door towards the reception desk which, of course, she found unmanned.

After maybe ten seconds or so, the heels started clicking again and this time they stopped at my door which was pushed open after the heel wearer had given it a gentle knock.

And there, for the first time, I came face to face with the absolutely gorgeous Annette. Of course I didn’t know she was called Annette – all I saw was a stunningly good looking woman in her mid to late thirties, dressed in a very classy looking pin striped suit, dark blue blouse with what appeared to be matching leather shoes with, sure enough, a fairly high heel.

She had shoulder length dark hair, stood about 5’7 in the heels, mesmeric eyes, great legs, a stunning figure and an awesome smile. My morning had just gotten a great deal more interesting than any 25 year old could have imagined.

Then, Annette spoke – revealing that not only was she drop dead gorgeous but that she was also French making her all the more interesting.

Within the space of her first few words it was obvious that she was in state of panic! However, within seconds it became clear that she needed someone to come with her immediately to provide some form of legal representation for     “ ‘Arry” who I gathered was just around the corner somewhere in his office which had received an unexpected and unannounced visit from some kind of unwanted official.

I had no hesitation at all in dumping the boring corporate files, throwing some note books and a couple of pens into a briefcase, before  following “La Magnifique Derriere “ out of the door and onto George Square.

When Annette said literally round the corner, she was neither joking nor exaggerating as she immediately lead me into the offices at No 5 St Vincent Place which more or less stood above Murray Frame the tobacconist at the corner of Queen Street and St Vincent Street.

For anyone who has never been inside that particular office building, I would forever describe it as the nearest Glasgow ever came to having the type of building where a Scottish Sam Spade would ply his trade.

There were corridors with various doors leading off to individual offices and suites, and after turning a corner or two, Annette finally opened a half glass door which boasted the name H.M. Enterprises Ltd. Inside, the door opened onto a small hallway off which there were three further doors, and Annette immediately made her way to the furthest away of the three which she opened without knocking and ushered me inside.

When I walked into the room I found three men sitting around a rather large and ornate desk. Two of these had their back to me and both immediately turned to face me as soon as the door opened, and it was obvious that these were the “unwanted visitors” who had descended on the premises unannounced.

Behind the desk and facing me was the man who was clearly the owner of the premises. I had never seen him before, but in the few short yards between George Square and 5 St Vincent Place I had figured out that this must be one of the firm’s most famous – or should that be infamous – clients, the semi legendary Harry Maguire.

Before any of the room’s occupants could say anything, I strode strongly into the room and said confidently “Good Morning, Mr Maguire, I didn’t expect to see you today. I gather you wanted to see me urgently?”.

A somewhat bemused Harry quickly recovered from the surprise at seeing me saying “ Oh Hello son, sorry to drag you over here but these gentlemen have suddenly turned up to ask some questions, and I thought it best if you were here so that they couldn’t  ask me any tricky ones or to be honest write down a load of cobblers that I never said in the first place!”

This drew an instant protest from a small bespectacled man who was seated nearest the door, but silence from his rather more laid back colleague who merely raised his eyes to the ceiling.

I quickly introduced myself as Mr James, gave them the name of my firm and in turn found myself being introduced to Mr Robert Wilson of Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue ( the small intense chap with the glasses ) and Superintendent John Carmichael – the altogether taller and more laid back representative from Strathclyde Police – both of whom, it appeared, had a substantial interest in whatever the fabulous Harry was up to.

However, as yet, I had no idea what that interest was, or what Harry actually did, or had done, to merit any sort of enquiry.

“ So – what do you want with my client?” I asked trying not to show either nerves or any lack of experience.

It was the neat and precise Mr Wilson who provided the answer.

“ Well, we at the Inland Revenue have reason to believe that Mr Maguire here has under declared his income for several years with the net result that he owes the Inland Revenue a substantial sum of money – a VERY substantial sum of money. In cases where the sum is large enough, we contact the Police just in case there is some kind of illegal activity taking place, and in this case Superintendent Carmichael is here to investigate the possibility of your client being involved in a fraudulent activity. However, before you protest, he will not be asking any questions as he is merely a witness to my civil enquiries at the moment, and depending on the answers that your client provides in response to my enquiries, Superintendent Carmichael and his colleagues can then decide whether or not to pursue a criminal enquiry.”

I started to explain that perhaps my client would not be answering any questions at all when the bold Harry decided to take control of the entire proceedings.

“……. Eh Gents, before we go any further here, I want to have a word with my boy here in private if you don’t mind. So, in the interim, can I offer you gentlemen a cup of tea or coffee – it is uncivilised to go through the morning without a cup of something – it is no good for the bowels!”

This last remark brought a rather stunned silence before both Wilson and Carmichael opted for coffee which they were assured would be provided by the gorgeous Annette within moments.

With refreshments organised, Harry Maguire and I excused ourselves from the room and had our first ever direct conversation.

As soon as we were far enough away from his office door, Maguire turned to me and asked in his lightly high pitched and rasping voice:

“ So – who are you? Where is wee John?”

The Wee John concerned was the senior partner of my firm, my boss, and Harry’s lawyer.

“ Sorry Mr Maguire, but when the young lady came into the office and explained that you needed someone here urgently there was no one else in so I thought I had better come over and see if I could be of any assistance rather than send her back saying no one was there to help. If we keep them waiting or just refuse to answer the questions for the moment, no doubt one of the partners will come in soon enough and we can get them to come over here and relieve me. Unfortunately, Mr Quigley ( Wee John ) is in Kilmarnock this morning so he won’t be available all morning.”

“ Is that so?” said Harry eyeing me up and down before bursting into a bit of a smile.

For those who never met the fabulous Maguire during his lifetime, by this date he was in his early fifties, had a slightly broken nose, a mane of silver hair and looked not unlike Jack Palance the movie star.

On this particular morning, he was dressed in a very classy looking (but slightly dated to my eye) herring bone pin stripped suit, white shirt, blue tie and sported black patent leather slip on shoes. He wore no watch or any other kind of jewellery, and appeared completely unfazed by the fact that he had received an unexpected visit from a Policeman and a man from the Inland Revenue alleging substantial back taxes and potentially fraud.

“ So what’s your name. son?”

“ James”

“ James what?”

“ James” I replied with a smile.

“ What? “ asked Harry with his rasp reaching a new high in terms of pitch.

“My name – Its James James! You know? As in Jimmy James, the comedian? My dad – who is called Charlie – was a big fan and so thought it would be fun to name me after the comedian, Jimmy James. However, Jimmy doesn’t sound very professional so here I am…. James James!”

It was an explanation which I had given many times, and I felt I was now quite good at it.

I waited for Harry’s reply and when it came it was somewhat surprising.

“ Ach well son, it could be worse, yer da could have been a fan of Dick Richards the film director in which case you could have been Dick Dick!” and at that he burst out laughing at his own joke.

After a few seconds I again suggested that we should try and delay things so that someone more senior could come and take my place at any interview but by this time Harry was having none of it.

“ No son, I am happy with you here. I wondered what the hell you were on about with all that Hello Mr Maguire nice to see you stuff when you walked in but I get it now. Did the lovely Annette tell you my name? She is a good girl – I’d be lost without her you know?”

“ Actually, no she didn’t give me your name, I just knew it from files in the office and knew you had an office at this address so….”

“ Clever boy! You’ll go far! Right—let me do most of the talking when we go back in here and if I need your help I will give you the signal to jump in…”

“ Eh I am really not sure that is a good idea Mr Maguire – I am not sure you are obliged to answer any questions and I will be up front with you I am a trainee and you would be far better off with someone else here!”

“ Listen, Dick Dick, I am not afraid of these guys and have nothing to hide at all, besides I like you—I think we will get on famously!”

And that is how it came to be that I found myself a few minutes later sitting side by side with the fabulous Harry facing the questions from the diminutive Wilson with the languid Superintendent looking on.

“ So, gentlemen, fire away, how can I brighten your day?” asked Harry to get the ball rolling.

“ Well” said Mr Wilson delving into his brief case and pulling out a folder containing various papers, “ As you are aware Mr Maguire, over the past several years some of my colleagues have been trying to resolve matters with regard to our enquiries into your declared income.”

“ I thought that had all been settled?” said Harry

“ No Mr Maguire it has not been settled as you very well know!” replied Wilson somewhat agitated.

“ Well I haven’t heard from anyone from the revenue in ages! I used to speak to….. oh what was his name?” mused Harry

Wilson looked up from his papers and seemed very determined to get something off his chest:

“ The case officer before me, Mr Maguire, was my colleague Mr Standing, and before him it was Mr Wyper – both of whom have now retired, leaving me to take up the cudgels so to speak.”

“ Oh – they have retired?” said Harry.

“ Yes, Mr Maguire – both have taken early retirement on health grounds, and to be honest Mr Maguire both cited dealing with you as something that materially contributed to the deterioration of their mental well being!” responded Wilson with clear resentment.

He continued:

“ But you will find me a very different kettle of fish Mr Maguire and I will not be put off or in any way distracted by the tricks and procedures you have used previously!”

At this Harry, who had been leaning back in his chair while Wilson was making this speech, suddenly perched forward, rested his elbows on the desk, cupped his chin in his hands and said rather softy:

“ Are you saying, Mr Wilson, that your ex colleagues had lost the plot? Gone mad? Are now in need of medical treatment? And that you are here, as sane as sane can be, to pursue a case which these poor deranged fellows prepared whilst in some state of work related madness? That doesn’t seem like a very good plan to me!”

Superintendent Carmichael let out an involuntary snort at this tongue in cheek rebuke which only resulted in Harry rounding on him with a smile: “ And you Superman, did you know you were here on the back of case papers prepared by two men who are deemed semi lunatics by their own department? Is that not wasting Police time?…… I am only asking you understand!”

Carmichael went to open his mouth but quickly closed it when Wilson’s hand shot up indicating that his silence was preferred if not demanded.

Instead, Wilson fixed Harry with a stare:

“ Mr Maguire, there is nothing wrong with my colleagues’ sanity, they have merely retired and have indicated that they found the job stressful—and that one of the causes of that stress was you. That is all!”

“ Me? I caused stress? I have no idea what you mean? How on earth did I cause stress?” protested Harry with an overshow of dramatics worthy of James Cagney.

“ Well, for a start, Mr Maguire they found it impossible to contact you as you repeatedly misled them as to your whereabouts and the address of your business premises. You refused to disclose that this is your place of business, the true nature of your business, the contact details – namely telephone number of your business – and any details whatsoever which allowed them to conclude their legitimate enquiries. Is that not so?”

At this point I interjected:

“ I am sorry but Mr Maguire is not going to answer any questions like that as you are asking him to admit to misleading government officials and he is not obliged to make any such admission or even comment on such an allegation. So why don’t you get on with why you are here as opposed to what happened or supposedly happened to your colleagues?”

Harry burst out laughing:

“ See Mr Wilson! That is why I wanted the boy here—cause he is smart. Knows his stuff! Knows when you are trying to back me into a naughty corner!” he said smiling “ But, notwithstanding his warning and indeed his advice – I have no idea whatsoever what you are on about so why don’t you explain it to me?”

Harry waved away any concerns I had about this and so gave Wilson full reign to ask whatever he wanted – I just hoped that Harry had good answers—ones which would not get him in trouble.

Wilson continued:

“ Mr Maguire, not once in over three years worth of trying have my colleagues ever been able to reach you on the telephone!”

“ I spoke to them often” said Harry

“ Yes, you did speak to them but always by way of a call which you made to them, and which calls were always interrupted by your having to hang up because something extraordinary happened which meant that you had to terminate the call! I have notes here which indicate that you had to end various calls because you had suddenly been bitten by a stray dog, had received an electric shock from the telephone, were suddenly overcome with Diahorrea, were calling from a telephone box where you were suddenly overcome as a result of something foul smelling or had ran out of money, and on more than one occasion when you seemed to think you had somehow got a cross line and that there were various parties on the line who, according to you, were ordering a new tyre, or half a dozen hot pies, or asking for the speaking clock or directions to Culloden! In short, Mr Maguire, all your calls were nonsense calls and have been noted as such!”

“ That is not true!” said Harry ever so calmly.

However, Mr Wilson was on a roll and so ignored him.

“ Further, Mr Maguire, you have often given my colleagues various telephone numbers on which they could call you back. Unfortunately, as you well know, none of those numbers had anything to do with you and were completely false.”

Harry started to protest, but the little be-spectacled man just kept on going:

“ Over the years you have represented to my colleagues that they could call you at telephone numbers which, when dialled, put them through to Calderpark Zoo, The BBC,  The Scottish National Orchestra, Cotters Tours, The Gay Switchboard, The Samaritans, The Save the Whale Campaign and various others including the fan club for a Brighton based pop group called “ Micky and the Tax Inspectors”! – In short Mr Maguire I am here to ensure you cannot and will not muck us about any further!” announced Mr Wilson in triumph.

At this juncture I will confess to stifling some laughter. I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on here but the idea of two tax inspectors making all these daft phone calls inwardly had me in stitches, but at the same time I was trying to keep a degree of decorum although the more strident wee Mr Wilson became the more difficult that was.

As for Harry, he was absolutely deadpan.

“ Those numbers were all correct” he said matter of factly “ I have no idea what you are on about!”

“ All correct? “ spat Wilson “ Are you seriously telling me that you were at any of these places?”

“All of them!” said Harry

“ So what were you doing at The gay switchboard or the Scottish National Orchestra?” sneered Mr Wilson

For the first time Harry showed a little temper- although on looking back now I have no idea if it was faked temper or not.

“ It is none of your bloody business what I was doing at The Gay Switchboard or why I was there, you stupid little man, but I was there. And as for the SNO I was there helping them out after an audition!”

“ I am sorry but that is sheer nonsense Mr Maguire, I don’t believe you, and there is nothing to suggest that you have ever worked for The Gay Switchboard in any capacity, or ever been part of the SNO! You are nothing but a liar!”

I was about to jump in but instead Harry jumped up abruptly and suddenly marched over to a cupboard—as he did so he more or less shouted at the tax man:

“ Have you ever heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan?” he didn’t wait for an answer “ I never worked at the Gay switchboard—I was a volunteer helping them out—for a fortnight!”

As he spoke he opened the cupboard door and without warning he suddenly produced a violin and a bow. He propped the violin under his chin and began playing the instrument with a degree of seeming expertise which was so unexpected it was jaw dropping.

After about 90 seconds of his impersonation of Nicolo Paganini he stopped and simply said “ At the request of a friend who is an arranger for not only the SNO but also the BBC symphony orchestra – I have gone on the fiddle so to speak for both of those organisations – again as a volunteer! So stick that in your file and wipe your arse with it! – if you pardon the expression!”

The look on the tax inspectors face was a picture.

Superintendent Carmichael had covered his face with his rather large hand and was clearly hiding a huge smile.

I could barely believe what I had just seen and the gorgeous Annette merely remained in the corner pouting for all the world like something straight out of Les Folies Bergère.

However, if I thought that this remarkable show of virtuosity on the violin had brought the meeting to an end I was very mistaken.

Mr Wilson was very quick to move on.

“ How much money do you have in the bank Mr Maguire?”

Again I started to interject but Harry ignored me and simply sat down once again in his seat.

“ I have no idea Mr Wilson – I haven’t been round to the bank today to check!”

“ Well how much did you have there yesterday?” asked Wilson

“ Which Bank?” mocked Harry

“ You have more than one?” said Wilson apparently intrigued

“ I have four different banks” said Harry again catching Wilson by surprise          “ and I don’t add up all the balances to the penny and so can’t tell you exactly how much I have in there”

“OK – so how much did you have in the Bank of Scotland across the road on George Square when you checked yesterday”

“ About two hundred thousand pounds” said Harry matter of factly.

“ Actually, as at yesterday, the balance was £215, 467.98 Mr Maguire!” said Wilson showing that he was very much on top of Harry’s finances.

“ Aye well I was near enough” was the only reply.

“ You also have an account in the Nationwide Building Society do you not?”

“ You tell me” said Harry “ I suspect you know the colour of my underpants!”

Wilson ignored the remark

“ Your Nationwide account yesterday stood in credit in the sum of £412,762.08 Mr Maguire is that not so?”

“Yes that will be about right I think. Is that about right Annette? You know I would be lost without her—she does all the bank reconciliation thing as I am rubbish with numbers. Sure I am rubbish with numbers Annette?”

For the first time the four males in the room all focused on the stunning Annette who simply shrugged in a film star sort of way and said “’Arry is terrible with numbers – he can barely count to ten!” all in a French accent.

Wilson immediately rounded on Harry:

“ I am sorry but I am not going to accept that, Mr Maguire, you are clearly proficient with numbers and finance if you can earn that sort of money and more.”

“ Oh” said Harry “ I never earned any of it, I won it!”

“ Ah now we are getting somewhere Mr Maguire, are you seriously telling me that you have won something like £600, 000 or so!”

“ Oh no” said Harry “ I have won nearer £2Million—maybe more! And before you ask or complain – you don’t pay any tax on money you have won do you? And I suspect that is why you have your knickers in a twist, Mr Wilson, because you think I have earned the money when in fact I won it fairly and squarely—in which case it has nothing whatsoever to do with you!”

Now we were into the nub of the reason for the sudden appearance of the tax man and the policeman. Harry Maguire clearly had amassed huge sums of unexplained money and the tax man was coming after him for it and looking for unpaid tax, while the policeman found the whole thing suspicious.

As I sat there, the only thing I was certain of was that I knew squat all about tax law and that someone else should be here instead of me – someone who knew the law and someone who could shut Harry up for his own good.

However, that was not to be, and Mr Wilson pressed on.

“Are you telling me, seriously, that you have earned all that money from gambling?” he asked derisively.

“Absolutely!” Said Harry with a huge grin “ Mind you it has taken me the best part of 20 years”

“ I have your tax returns for at least a decade, Mr Maguire, and it shows no evidence or declarations saying that you have earned any huge sums of money, or declared interest on huge sums of money or anything like that. In fact your returns say that you earn something like £20,000 per annum and does not disclose any substantial assets at all.”

“ That is correct” replied Harry “but it does declare the interest earned from the sums in the bank, and shows no business expenses other than some petrol etc. Currently, I am getting a very low rate of interest because the manager at the Nationwide is a clown—I intend to fix that which should mean more money for me and more tax for you! Won’t that be nice?”

“ Yes, I will give you that it shows sums by way of interest, Mr Maguire, but are you saying that you live off the interest from the bank? And I don’t get the point you are making about business expenses at all.”

“ OK Mr Wilson, let me explain.” And with that Harry opened a drawer and produced four sets of bank accounts and a calculator. “ I have four bank accounts, and if I add up all the sums in the various bank accounts I think I have just over £2m in cash there.”

Wilson nearly choked and the police superintendent suddenly sat up in his chair and paid attention.

“ Every year I get a statement of the interest paid on whatever I have in the bank and that makes up the vast majority of my declared income—and that is entered on my tax return. You will find it is all perfectly above board.”

“ So you are saying you have no other income?”

“ No, I do have other income, some of which I declare and some of which is just not taxable.”

“ Over and above the interest I earn a further £2,000- £5,000 per year which I declare and pay tax on”

“ And what is this non-declarable income you claim to have?” asked Wilson with more than a hint of scepticism.

“ It is money I earn from gambling” said Harry as a matter of fact.

“ And just how much is that?” asked Wilson

“ Don’t answer that Harry” I said suddenly. “ Mr Wilson are you here to make an accusation against my client or are you just here on a fishing exercise? To be honest, Mr Maguire has given you a considerable amount of his time, told you his tax returns are correct and up to date, and to be honest if you think that is not the case then go back to your office and  put that in writing together with the reasons why you think that is the case. Do not, simply start fishing around when you have been told what the position is!”.

To be honest, I was only trying to stop the irrepressible Harry from saying something that he might later regret or which might cause him some trouble, but even if I say so myself, I sounded pretty convincing.

Except, Wilson was not for budging and my outburst seemed to only annoy him and make him more intransigent if anything.

He turned to me:

“ Mr James, with all due respect to you, the position here is that your client declares a certain amount of income each year. The sums declared do not explain vast sums of money which are held on deposit in the name of your client, or how that money came to be there, where it came from and so on and so forth. Notwithstanding the virtuoso violin performance we saw earlier on, your client has avoided and evaded all reasonable and proper lines of enquiry from my office and has deliberately avoided proper telephone contact, answered no written enquiry and has not volunteered any explanation as to how he obtained the money in the bank. I am now asking for that information and upon receiving any explanation I will make a decision on behalf of my department. However, until I receive that explanation, the department is looking upon the funds as undeclared income and is of the view that your client owes something like £450,000 in back taxes plus interest and penalties!”

“ Ach you are off your head” said Harry bemusedly “ But I will tell you what. I wouldn’t mind if you sent me a letter stating that you think I am due £450,000 in tax in respect of undeclared income.”

“ Why would you want such a letter?” asked Wilson suspiciously.

“ Because I want to use it as a bank reference!” said Harry with a mischievous grin “ The Bank manager doesn’t recognise gambling winnings as income and so won’t give me a loan based on that money and won’t give me a proper rate of interest. However, a letter from you, Mr Wilson, might just do the trick!”

One again Superintendent Carmichael stifled a laugh.

I thought Wilson was going to explode.

“ Look, you are a tax cheat and a fraud!” he bellowed  “ it would be up to you to prove that the money came from gambling, if you cannot do that the money is deemed to be taxable. So – how much money do you say you earn by way of gambling and do you have the betting slips to back up whatever figure you are about to declare?”

“ Harry, you do not have to answer any of this now” I advised

“ Yes you do” Wilson almost screamed.

Harry simply smiled and waved my objection away.

“ Mr Wilson, I earn approximately £120,000 to £150,000 a year from gambling – but I have not one single betting slip to prove that. In fact I do not bet – or very rarely bet – on anything!”

It seemed to me that the rest of the room was stunned—apart from the gorgeous Annette who simply remained silent and from where I was sitting seemed absolutely unfazed by the entire situation.

“ Well in that case, Mr Maguire, all the money in the bank must be deemed as income. Tax , penalties and interest  must be paid and it is up to Superintendent  Carmichael here to determine whether or not this amounts to an attempted fraud on the revenue and whether a report should go to the procurator fiscal. In the interim, unless you make a substantial payment to account, I have no option but to leave here and freeze your bank accounts!”

Wilson was all business and deadly serious, but so too was Harry who suddenly switched his tone and started out on another extraordinary virtuoso performance – one which I would remember for the rest of my life.

“ The problem with you, Mr Wilson, is that you are stupid! I will not be paying any money to account and you will not be arresting my bank account. If you even attempt to do so I will get Dick Dick here to sue your ass off. In fact your department will be sued so badly that they will have no option but to pension you off and hope that no one ever mentions your name again.”

Wilson was clearly outraged and went to speak but Harry steam road rollered right over him!

“ Come with me and let me explain why you are being stupid.”

At that Harry walked out from behind his desk but never stopped talking.

“ Not only are YOU stupid Mr Wilson, but the Government is stupid, the public are stupid and to be frank damn near everyone is stupid. The only people that I know who are not stupid are me, Annette and young Dick Dick there!”

I was glad to have been excluded from the stupid class but had no idea what I had done to demonstrate this lack of stupidity.

Harry was by now out in the hall with everyone following on.

“ Let me give you a guided tour” he continued and with that he opened the middle door of the three and walked inside.

Once inside I saw a larger room than the one we had just left and immediately noticed that the walls were completely covered by blackboards. Each blackboard was written on with a series of vertical columns showing names at the extreme left hand side of the board and each board had about 30 names written in this way. I couldn’t count the boards quickly enough.

Beside the names there were 5 boxes, and each box seemed to have a different name to the one on the left hand side.

That was all I had time to take in before Harry started speaking again.

“ Have a look at this.” Said Harry producing a copy of the sporting life which was opened at an advert which someone had circled with a pen.

I craned my neck to read the advert which read:

“ BETTING CONSORTIUM: Join our betting and tips consortium and be guaranteed daily winners at race tracks throughout Britain, Ireland and Europe.

Entry Fee £50 non returnable. In return you will receive expert advice on how to gamble successfully each and every day with guaranteed winners and guaranteed winnings. Send your cheque for £50 to register to PO Box 861 Glasgow. Established since 1965.”

Printed over the advert in huge block capitals were the words “ NO VACANCIES”.

Wilson, Carmichael and I read this simultaneously and more or less at the one time looked up to Harry for a further explanation:

He continued:

“ I have ran that advert every week since 1965, though back then it was only £10 to join” He explained.

Wilson jumped in “ So Mr Maguire, you charge people £50 per head to join your consortium, if that is what it is, and that income is taxable!” he said triumphantly.

“ Go to the top of the class Mr Wilson, it is absolutely taxable and I declare all the money gained that way in my tax return” said Harry.

Wilson was slightly crestfallen I thought.

Harry continued.

“ Now, you will see that the advert is marked clearly as saying “No Vacancies” so I am clearly not asking for the £50 and I am saying that the consortium has precisely that—“ No vacancies”.”

“ So you are not getting any £50 subscriptions?” asked Wilson

“ Only when I take the no Vacancies sign off the advert, which I do about three times per year. And when I do Mr Wilson I get between 50 and 100 cheques for £50 and that is my extra income of between say £2,000 and £5,000 which I declare. Capice?”

Wilson nodded.

Harry then turned to the Blackboards.

“ The names on the extreme left of each board are the current consortium members who have paid their subscriptions. Some paid over a decade ago, some will be only this year. They are only asked to pay the £50 once and in return I give them the tips which they then use or don’t use as they see fit.”

I thought this was beginning to make some sense.

Wilson picked up the paper again and his old self confidence seemed to return.

“ So, you are allegedly an expert on horses Mr Maguire, and you would have me believe that you are so expert that you can pick winners so regularly that you can make over £100,000 per year from this……. racket? – and all without any insider information and with no jiggery pokery at all? I am sure Superintendent Carmichael will want to know just how you do this?” he said smiling.

Fabulous Harry pulled at the cuffs of his jacket, raised his eyes to the heavens, fixed Wilson with a stare and replied.

“ God, you are stupid! On the contrary, Mr Wilson, I know nothing about horses at all – I barely know the arse from the head, and I know no horse trainers, jockeys, owners or anyone connected to horse racing whatsoever!”

Wilson was again beside himself.

“ Well in that case you are clearly defrauding these people – your advert says that they will get expert advice on horses and that you guarantee winners!”

“ Well done Mr Wilson, you can read – almost! Nowhere in that advert does it say that I am an expert on horses. It says “expert advice” but it does say guaranteed winners – and that is what the members of the consortium get – guaranteed winners!”

“ How is that then?” asked Wilson

“ OK look at the boards – I have precisely 250 names in the left hand column. Sometimes it is less than that but there is never any more than 250. Beside each name there are 5 columns. Each day I supply each of those names with the names of 5 horses and at least some of those horses will win or be placed. Guaranteed!”

“ How do you know that?” asked Wilson

“ Because each of the horses given comes from a race where there are no more than 5 or 6 runners. and every one of those runners is given to someone on the board and so as a matter of fact a large percentage of the people named on the board will be allocated the winner of the race as a matter of practice. An even larger percentage will have the winner or a placed horse. If you follow that practice through a total of 5 races per day, it is virtually impossible for each of the names on the board not to have been given  the name of a winning horse. In fact the odds – and don’t ask me to work out the odds as I am rubbish with numbers as I said – the odds are that each of the names will have been given the names of three horses who will have won or been placed. Further, you can almost always guarantee that in a five or six horse race, one of the horses concerned is an absolute donkey, and so you can discount that one from the selection process so increasing your chances of picking the winner from the remainder. The odds might be short, but I do not promise big odds, I promise winners and placed horses. ”

There was a silence in the room as everyone stared at the Blackboards.

Harry moved to a filing cabinet and pulled out some typewritten sheets of paper and handed one each to myself, Carmichael and a dumbfounded Wilson.

“ When you pay the £50, we will send a copy of these terms and conditions by return. It states there that by accepting the terms and conditions, the consortium member agrees to “share” their winnings with me. It further states that they will send me a cheque once per week with my share of the winnings from all the races they had a bet on that week but in the event I do not receive a cheque for a three week consecutive period or for six weeks in any one year then the consortium member has been deemed to leave the consortium and that I am free to sell the space to a new member. That covers people going on holiday or being in the hospital and things like that. However, if I don’t get a cheque for a month then they are out!”

I caught a glimpse of Annette who smiled knowingly back at me as she knew that ‘Arry was running rings round Mr Wilson who at that point piped up with a question.

“ How do you check that these members are not fiddling you?” He asked.

“ What do you mean?” replied Harry?

“ What percentage of the bet are they meant to give you and how do you check up on them?” replied Wilson

“ Well, I don’t really” replied Harry “ but if you look at the terms and conditions again you will see that in the bottom paragraph it states “ This consortium is operated for the benefit of serious stakeholders and those interested in horse racing. If you are addicted to gambling in any way you should not participate in the consortium and should seek professional advice. For those who do participate and bet on each of the tips provided either by way of single or multiple bets, we would expect winnings to be such that a reasonable average weekly share to be sent back to the consortium administrator to be around £10. If any member consistently sends the exact sum of £10 then their membership shall be terminated automatically as they shall be deemed to be acting outwith the spirit of the consortium. Further, the administrator reserves the right to “spot check” the bets of any member by asking to see the member’s betting slips for any one or more weeks. In the event that the member concerned refuses to produce the requested betting slips then they shall be automatically ejected from the consortium and their place in the consortium shall be taken by the next person on the waiting list.” So you see gentlemen, I don’t really check but I know that on average these guys will send me £10 per week no matter what!  Now, my maths is sufficiently good to know that 250 x £10 x 48 weeks comes to £120,000 a year minimum in my share of bets successfully placed. And all of it, Mr Wilson, is free of tax as it is the proceeds of gambling!”

Wilson was absolutely dumbfounded. His mouth was open but no noise came out at all until he finally said

“ But this must take ages to administer?”

Which set Harry off again with a wicked grin and a glint in his eye.

“Well, that is where Annette comes in. You see we look at the race card the day before, pick out the races we want to focus on, then allocate the horses on the board, and then we used to call each and every consortium member by telephone to give them the tips. Nowadays we simplify things by sending them by fax via the two machines you see over there. Some people still prefer a phone call as they don’t have a fax but most do and we try and persuade them to invest in one.”

Harry Continued:

“ Annette also opens the mail and so receives the cheques logging them against the names of the senders. That way we keep tabs on who has or who has not sent cheques. We then just bank the cheques, every day – unless we are on holiday in which case we just repeat the tipping process using a ledger instead of the blackboards and we leave the banking part until we come back. I would add that all of this is very hard work and that by lunchtime most days we are always very tired and so at that stage we go for a wee lie down!”

And with that he opened a connecting door to the third room which everyone could see was fitted out as a bedroom complete with an ensuite shower!

I thought Mr Wilson was going to have apoplexy, whereas Superintendent Carmichael merely blushed a crimson red whilst the gorgeous Annette merely pouted some more and feigned a very poor excuse for mock embarrassment.

I just felt my face wearing a huge grin which I could not disguise at all!

Five minutes later, we were all back in the main room with Harry behind his desk. It was still only mid morning and Harry asked Annette to fetch everyone a coffee and a scone.

Mr Wilson, checked and rechecked his papers, and mumbled on about undeclared income but you could see that his heart was no longer in it and that he knew he was wasting his time. Harry’s scheme, whilst very clever, could never be called illegal and sure enough the money appeared to come from gambling which was not taxable.

I thought all was going swimmingly well until the big policeman found his voice and asked an innocent enough question:

“ Mr Maguire, that is one of the cleverest ways of making money I have ever heard of – not that I necessarily approve you understand—but can I ask how you thought it up and what you did before this?”

Mr Wilson was not paying much attention to this as he was busy writing something on a sheet of paper when Harry began to answer.

“ Well, Superintendent, it’s like this. I started out doing this in 1965 after someone else did the dirty on me in relation to something else. Something else which just showed me how stupid people were.”

“ What was that?”

“ Oh I am not sure I should tell you that, Superintendent, you might disapprove of what I was up to then.”

“ Go on try me!” said the Policeman jovially “ what were you up to?”

Harry looked him straight in the eye and said “ I robbed trains!”

I spilt my coffee all over myself and shouted “ Harry!”

Mr Wilson immediately looked up and the Superintendent nearly jumped out of his seat!

“ What did you just say Mr Maguire?” asked the Policeman purposefully

And again Harry was off.

“ I robbed trains Superman, or to be more precise I robbed a train!”

The room was silent for a moment.

“When was this?” asked the no longer languid Carmichael

“ 1963” replied Harry.

I immediately tried to interject as the two men were now just staring at one another with the tone altogether different after the levity of Harry’s betting scheme being explained.

“ I am not sure I believe you Mr Maguire” said the Superintendent “ but go on satisfy my policeman’s curiosity: What kind of train?”

“ Oh a mail train” said Harry in an absolutely deadpan voice.

Carmichael now spoke very slowly and purposefully.

“ Be very careful Mr Maguire, listen to what Mr James there said earlier before replying, are you voluntarily telling me, knowing that I am a serving policeman, that you were involved in the robbing of a mail train in 1963?”

“ Absolutely” said Harry draining his cup “ I was that soldier—March 1963!”

Carmichael couldn’t help himself:

“ So you are saying that you took part in the great train robbery in 1963?”

Harry looked straight back at him and burst into a huge grin.

“ Oh Superintendent!  Don’t be so silly! Why would I admit to that? No that took place in August 1963 – I said March 1963 which is obviously several months before and this was on the Inverness to Aberdeen line.”

“ Go on” said the policeman sceptically.

Before proceeding Harry looked at me and said “ It is ok Dick Dick I know what I am doing so don’t be alarmed” and then he turned back to the Superintendent.

“ In 1963 I was 30 years old and had been drinking far too heavily for quite some time. I was working up north and had occasion to get the night mail train from Inverness to Aberdeen. I boarded the train drunk and once on it I proceeded to get even more drunk in the company of the man who was in charge of the mail van. When he got more than a little the worse for wear I helped him back to his van where he promptly fell asleep leaving me with two big sacks full of mail. I’m afraid drink and temptation got the better of me and I took the mad notion to jump off the train with the two mail bags which I did – with some difficulty.”

“ However, I did manage to jump off with the bags and simply lay on the ground as I watched the train speed away with no one any the wiser that I was off with the mail bags. And that was that I’m afraid”

“ Did you get caught?” asked the Carmichael.

“ No” said Harry “ I got sober! The following day I realised I was in trouble and did the only thing I could think of – I hid the mail bags in a field, managed to get a lift to Aberdeen, got myself rested and spruced up, got a work colleague to take me back towards Inverness in a car, recovered the mail bags which I said I had found when going for a pee in the field and promptly handed them back to the GPO who had not even noticed they were missing by that point. They were most grateful and never reported the incident. In turn I got the fright of my life and vowed never be to so stupid again and to cut down on the bevvy as they say! I managed the latter if not the former!”

You could see the relief on Superintendent Carmichael’s eyes when he realised that he did not have an escaped great train robber on his hands.

“ Well that is a great story Mr Maguire but technically still an unreported crime – until now!” said Carmichael sternly

“ Ha ha never kid a kidder Superman, sure I might just be pulling your leg?”

“True” said the Policeman laughing nervously.

5 minutes later the policeman and the tax inspector were gone and Annette was in the room next door hurriedly marking up the names of horses against the names of people.

I was left with Harry whom I had met only a few hours before.

“ Well that was an interesting morning” he said with a huge grin.

“ Sure was!”  I replied.

“ Are you really called Jimmy James?” he asked

“ Did you really rob a mail train?” I replied

“ Yes that really happened” he said philosophically “ The worst decision I made in my life!” he added.

“ Well you sorted it out in the end!”

“Yea sort of.”

I looked at him and despite myself I asked the question;

“ What do you mean sort of?”

By this time I was at the door heading back out into the common corridor of No 5 St Vincent Place.

Fabulous Harry looked at me in his fabulous suit and with his broken nose and took a deep breath.

“ Well after the incident in Inverness I went to London for a change of scene and a new start. I didn’t stop drinking immediately and one night in the pub when I had had a few I told a some guys  about what had happened on the mail train to Aberdeen – about jumping off the train with the mail bags. I said it was so easy that it was not true and I even suggested that if it was that easy on the train to Aberdeen then it must be that easy on every other mail train and of course pointed out that the biggest mail train was the one which ran from Glasgow to London. To me , it was just a good story about something that had happened to a daft laddie.”

“ A few months later and the Glasgow to London mail train was robbed and low and behold two of the guys who had been in that pub were involved. I stress, I knew nothing about it, wasn’t involved at all but I did give them the idea.”

I stood there with my jaw open while Harry continued.

“ Of course the rest is history, they botched the whole job, the guard was unfortunately killed, Biggs escaped and went on the run—as did others—but they all got caught in the end. But I was very annoyed. I felt used and angry as they were a shower of dirty dogs for taking my story and turning it into a crime that cost a man’s life and so in some small way I  determined to get my own back  somehow.”

“ And how did you do that?” I asked knowing that I was perhaps playing the straight man.

Harry looked at me with a straight glare but with a glint in his eye and replied in a phoney Irish accent:

“ If you look up the Great Train Robbery anywhere you will see a story that says that the whole idea was the brainchild of an Irishman who thought up and planned the whole thing. He was never caught and got away with one sixteenth of the money – precisely £164,480 and a few pence! Well that was all cobblers – there was no Irishman. The two guys in the pub just made him up and told the others that was his share for thinking up the plan and that he had to be paid. Within days of the Robbery the actual money was laundered through pawn shops and bookmakers in the area that was local to me and I saw some of that happening. The truth was that the so called Irishman’s share was split between the wives of these two crooks – both of whom subsequently spent many years in Jail while that daft bastard Biggs ran about all over the world with Jack Slipper chasing him and ignoring what was right under his nose! Coppers and tax men are stupid you know?”

“ So” I asked “ what did that have to do with you? And how did you get your own back so to speak?”

As he was closing the door Harry looked at me and said “ Sure, with the two guys in the jail someone had to keep their women warm of a cold night and help them spend the money! Didn’t they?”

And with a wink, the door was closed and he was gone!

In due course I became great friends with fabulous Harry Maguire and we had many a laugh. I never did quite get to the point where I knew what he would do next or what was absolutely true and what was not.

He continued to amass ever greater sums of money and eventually bought property abroad including a house in Portugal which was once let out to the American Ambassador! He even at one time bought a share in a race horse or two.

Eventually, he and the gorgeous Annette sailed off into the sunset and lived in various houses around Europe.

About a year ago, Annette suddenly appeared without warning at my office and brought the news that Harry had passed away. I was very sad at the news as he was a great character and I was very fond of him.

She also told me that she had brought me a gift – something that Harry had instructed her to bring to me once he had passed away. When I asked what it was, she left my room briefly, went to reception and brought back a worn leather violin case which was locked shut by two hasps.

I felt tears as she simply placed the case on my desk and all I could do was look at it. Eventually, I explained that I didn’t play the violin – and didn’t know anyone who did so said that I was not sure what I would do with it.

Annette simply said “Arry wanted you to have it for old times sake” and so I kept it and gave it pride of place on top of a book case in my room.

Annette and I said our goodbyes and I have never seen her from that day to this.

In the intervening time, no one really mentioned the violin case or made any comment on it. It merely sat in plain view on top of the book case.

Further,I never even thought of opening the violin case – not until three weeks ago when the office had a bit of a party as I had decided to retire and this was my farewell bash.

There was a lot of good wishes and laughter in my rather large room and at one point someone suggested that I have my photograph taken with the violin that the gorgeous Annette had brought in for me and which had just sat on the book case ever since.

Reluctantly, I was persuaded to take the case down and open it, and there inside lay the violin and the bow. Despite my not being able to play it, I was cajoled into picking it up and posing with it for a photo.

So I picked up the bow and then took the violin out of the case. I clumsily placed the head under my chin with a great lack of expertise and put my hand down the neck of the instrument as I thought you should.

I had never even looked at the instrument, never thought to look at the make or if there was any inscription or anything. Up close, I saw a small sticker affixed to the stock which had read “ For Harry” but the Harry had been scored out and “ Dick Dick” written in pen in its place.

I was so focused on this sticker that I had not noticed that one of my fingers had accidently touched a tiny button which was disguised as part of the violin and was barely noticeable. The Minute I touched it, the instrument burst into life without me doing anything and for the next 90 seconds produced the most gorgeous violin sound – a sound that I had not heard in decades – and of course all who saw this were amazed that even without using the bow I had somehow made this instrument sound like Nicolo Paganini at his best.

They laughed, I cried.

Mr Wilson and Superintendent Carmichael – if you are still around I hope you are reading this!

Never Kid a Kidder!


9 Responses to “The tale of Fabulous Harry — Never kid a kidder — part deux!”

  1. BMCUWP April 19, 2014 at 1:29 am #


    You never fail…

  2. timabhouy April 19, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    You can kid the kid but you cant kid the Kids kid brother !


  3. John Kerr April 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Absolutely brilliant read. Thanks for that.

  4. Dave Breen April 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Fabulous as usual

  5. Martin Wilson April 25, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    I have waited for months on part 2 and i have to say it was well worth the wait.

    • Willie Aitkenhead May 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Superb as always

  6. David mcguire June 25, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    Fantastic, thank you for posting that.

  7. garrycowan December 12, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    Brilliant absolutely brilliant 👍

  8. Friesdorfer December 12, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

    Great read J, very much enjoyed it.

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