Working Lives

Times gone by – the croupier (1960s)

Location: From Manchester to Nigeria

Shirley trained as a croupier and had an adventurous time while working in Nigeria in 1968. She travelled the world in her profession.

I was born in 1948. In 1953 I started primary school at the Holy Name RC, Dover St., Chorlton-On -Medlock. The area was known local as little Ireland, due to most of the surrounding area was occupied by many Irish immigrants. There also began a small influx of Caribbean West Indians. I remember from a very early age I would always insisted on having black baby dolls to play with.

I remember in later years the cricketer in Sir Gary Sobers used to visit his relatives who lived just across the street in Campbell Grove. This was where we had the Street party for the Queen’s Coronation. I remember how all the neighbours got together paying sixpence or a tanner as we would say for each child and also baked cakes and made sandwiches. I made sure my cousins and I sat near where my grandma’s cakes were placed.

In those days when you visited relatives after first going to mass, dressed in your Sunday best. They would each give you some money to spend. Any other spends you got from your parents for doing little jobs around the house. Cleaning the front doorsteps with a brown stone, this was done on weekly basis. Another was cleaning the outside loo. Which would always get frozen over in the winter months. Our family were lucky because we had a bathroom with a toilet. Most of my friends used to have a bath once a week in a tin bath in front of the kitchen fire.

When I was aged 12. I got my first paper round I used to do this seven days a week morning and evening before and after school. I was paid 12 shillings and sixpence. It would take me about an hour and 30 minutes each time, and longer on Saturdays because I used to collect the money for the deliveries. We would be out in all weathers and I was not fortunate to own a bike.

I remember the newsagent’s owner at Christmas would put a box in his shop for his customers to leave tips for the paper boys and girls. Then he would empty the box and keep the money for himself. That was the day I decided to resign I had worked for him a year.

My next newspaper round was excellent I would go round the wards in Manchester Royal Infirmary. Selling newspapers cigarettes to the patients, and also do little errands for them if they needed writing paper, stamps, birthday cards. I really enjoyed the work because I could talk to the patients and they would give me tips.

After 18 months I left the newsagents and got my first Saturday job clearing tables in a cafeteria in the centre of Manchester. The cafe was called the Blackbird and was just behind Woolworth’s store. Which sadly got burnt down many years later. The time was coming near to when I would live school Easter 1963 and I would have to choose a career.

From being a little girl I had wanted to be a dress designer. But what I wanted and what I got were two entirely different things. The school use to take you round factories trying to encourage you in that direction. Which I was adamant I did not want to go in that direction. When the employment officer visited the school asking what I wanted to be? I replied go to college to study to become a dress designer. Due to the fact I had failed my 11+ She told me I needed a GCE in English. When I replied what as that got to do with dress designing. She just stared at me. For younger people reading this, you have to realize just going back to the year 1963. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunities the youth of today have. A lot depended on the way you spoke, and for people to have an accent especially Mancunian one, were limited regards the chance of finding a good job. That is why the Beatles were such a phenomenal success .They were not only great performers but they broke the barriers down regards speaking Queen’s English…  Suddenly it was Ok to have a regional accent.

The employment Officer said the next best thing for me would to work in a printing firm which I agreed. The wage if I remember correctly was £3.50p that was for a 42 hour week after taxes and insurance I probably cleared about £3.00. Which I was expected and did give my parents half for my keep. Little did I realize it was my first job was going to be short lived. On my first day I had to be up at 7 am in order to start work at 8 am to 5 pm a 40 hour five day a week. My first day’s work consisted of sorting out labels for bottles or jars for printing errors. We would have a 15 minutes tea break morning and afternoon with an 30 minutes lunch break. The second day arrived and my mother woke me up to go to work. But to my mother’s despair I would not budge. It was getting closer in time if I did not get out off bed, I would be late. I turned to my mother and said “Well If I can’t get up the second day for work. Then there is no point going. This was not because I was being lazy. I found the work so boring and I needed something less boring.

I think my next job was for the British Oxygen Co in Whitworth St M/C Central. I was a filing clerk. I used to work 7 days a week Saturday being paid over time, and Sunday receiving time and a half. Also I used to work 3 or 4 nights a week at Belle Vue has a waitress on special company private parties. All in all for the times I was making reasonable money. The only problem I would often arrive late for work. Getting up in the mornings were never my strongest points. But I think because I was such a good worker a lot of companies over looked this bad trait. Due to my willingness to work hard.

However between the age of 15 and 18 I had 20 jobs. These included office work, petrol pump attendant, shop, office work. Trainee sales person in a upper class shop. I started in the morning and was told to go into the changing booth and stick straight pins into a pin cushion. I remember thinking I am not going to this for the rest of my life. When eleven thirty arrived and I was told to take a lunch break I walked out the shop and never went back except to collect my insurance cards.

Reading from this you may get the impression work wise I was going nowhere. Then the summer of 1966 a friend and I decided to do any work away for the summer season. So we packed our bags got into a black taxi cab. With my best friend’s mother throwing holy water over use and muttering 3 Hail Mary’s over us as the taxi was pulling away and we headed off to London for the first time in our life. From there we hitched hiked down to Weymouth and caught a Ferry across to Jersey. With very little money and no job, and my mother’s words you will be back within 3 weeks ringing in my ears. I was determined to prove her wrong. After a few days of being in Jersey we managed to get a job washing pots in a five star hotel. for £9 per week. God that was hard work specially when the dish washer used to break down practically every other day and we had to do it all by hand.

We saved a little money then resigned to be able to enjoy the beautiful summer weather. We used to sleep where every we could dosing down at friends we met flats or studios. One night we had money but no where to sleep so we called into the police station in St Helier. Explained the situation and they put us in a cell for the night. That was not a happy experience apart from the smell. They woke us up at 6 am.

When after a few weeks are money was running low we went back to the same hotel washing dishes. They were so pleased to see us. Then we decided to leave and go to Newquay in Cornwall. Again we flew back and hitched hiked to Newquay that night we actually slept on the beach. However the next day we got a job in a hotel just a few miles out of the town centre with accommodation included. Also there was TA army barracks just near by where the soldiers changed every two weeks and only one village pub. We had an absolute ball and many a bad hang over. Then when the end of the season came. Once again we returned to Jersey, this time our job was sorting tomatoes into different grades 1st 2nd etc. But shortly unbeknown to me my life was going to change, and I was going to find a job that gave me a lot of opportunity and was something I loved.

On returning to Manchester I got a job as cashier in a gentleman’s Tailors. This was very short lived and I was fired for  bad timekeeping. My friend who had come with me for the summer season had met someone and started courting. The winter night were drawing in and I was at a loss what to do. When I saw in the newspaper an advertisement where a new club was looking for bar staff. I went to the club to see if I could get the job, only to be told all the vacancies had been filled. I ask well have you anything else I could do, a vacancy for the cloakroom. The manager looked at me and said “How would you like to train to become a croupier. I agreed instantly the job had appealed to me many times due to the money they earned. He explained I would have to go to a club in the centre of Manchester and while training I would not be paid. The next night I went to this really seedy club near Victoria Station. After a few nights there before the customers started coming in I was trained and then I would spend hours the next day practicing and memorising everything I had learnt the night before. After the second night I was called into the office by the manager and I was expecting bad news.

I was told you know nothing but you are so eager to learn. Then she gave me a £5 note I was ecstatic. I had been working a 42 hour week in a office clearing £6.50p. And here I had just been given £5 for about 6 hours work. I went to work in the new club when it opened. In the 1966 there was no strict laws like now a days and most casino were in a cabaret club. Here I was working 24 hours a week with a wage off £15 clear plus a commission on the winning. Which some weeks could be £30. It does not seem a lot of money now a days but back then the average wage was about £15 per week and I was only 18 years of age. In 1968 I applied to a newspaper advertisement looking for croupiers to work abroad in Nigeria. I applied and got the job along with 4 guys another girl and myself.

For me it was a dream come true, I had always wanted to travel. The conditions were your return ticket was paid for by the company. The accommodation was free. Salary £200 per month and I had a 10% of the winnings of the Black Jack table. We just had to pay for are own food. We also had a house boy to do the washing cleaning and cooking. (Aged 20 that suited me down to the ground) Sounds, to good to be true… The snag the Biafran War was at its height and the casino was in a war zone.


When we finally arrived at our destination after travelling by plane from M/C to London/ London Lagos, the capital at that time, we then travel by car on dirt roads for about three hours to Bennine, where we all boarded another aircraft to another town. We disembarked to make another two  hour journey by car. It was a fascinating journey passing by small mud built villages in the middle of nowhere and the children standing by the road side smiling and waving as we drove past. Not to mention the road block with armed soldiers with rifles and machine guns slung across their shoulders. Looking more frightening than they actually were. They would give you no hassle if you gave them a packet of cigarettes or a few shillings.

When we arrived it was night time and dark. The strange thing in Africa is you don’t have that gradual slow diminution of light. 6 pm it just turns black. When my head touched the pillow that first night in Africa I contentedly fell asleep amazed at all the wonderful things I had seen that day. Within 15 minutes I was awoken by a mighty explosion. My first reaction was to think we were being attacked by the Biafrans. The windows of the bedroom had been blown out there was a water jetting out of burst pipes. I sleep on my stomach a door which had been blown off its hinges was laying across my back. Which help to save my life because the wall from the adjoining bathroom had disintegrated with the force from the blast and fell onto the door on my back. I turned over to get out of the bed and not realizing I cut the back of my leg just missing the tendon. I rushed out into the lounge and the guys had heard the explosion on descending from their apartment the stair well was damaged and they was expecting to find me dead. The Nigerian soldiers came running to the apartment thinking it was an attack. With there being a curfew was causing difficulties getting me to an hospital. Which was down a mud pot holed road. I had my leg stitch without anything to dull the pain and I spent my first week in hospital. The cause of the accident In Africa the Electricity and water can be cut off for days and the emersion heater was empty of water with a faulty safety valve. Well I lived to tell the tale, and through my profession of being a croupier and working my way up to management level I have travelled the world and also have been in other dangerous situations, two more warzones. abandoning a cruise ship through another explosion. Seen a public execution and still have many more tales to tell. A very interesting life, from humble beginnings.

Submitted by Shirley on 1st November 2006.

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