Bernard “Bernie” Levien, one of the UK racing industry’s longest working bookies and owner of the “Jolly Joe” betting pitch has died at the age of 88 after a short illness.
One of the racing industry’s real characters, Bernie Levien worked as an on-course bookie for over 60 years, with his “Jolly Joe” betting pitch, becoming a well known character at racecourses across the country. He was a bookie at 64 Derby races at Epsom downs although Cheltenham was his favourite racecourse and the Ascot Gold Cup his favourite race.
Born in Manchester in 1926 Bernie left school at 16 and at 17 volunteered for the army. At 18 he was sent overseas and was one of the first soldiers to cross the River Rhine with the Black Watch Regiment in 1945.
After being demobbed in 1948 Bernie went into the horse racing industry working as a bookmaker for “Jolly Joe” (which was his grandfather’s on-course betting pitch), working alongside his brother Monty Levien. “Jolly Joe” operated at Haydock Park, Sandown Park, Epsom and Newmarket amongst others.
In 1950 Bernie met London born Stella Morris Rotterman and they married in 1951, moving from Manchester to London to be near Stella’s work (a make-up artist in the film industry). In 1953 their daughter Hilary was born on 18th June 1953 on Ascot Gold Cup day and she was nearly named Souepi in honour of the horse that won the cup that year ridden by jockey Charlie Elliott. Luckily for Hilary Stella insisted that she be named after Edmund Hillary who had reached the summit of Mount Everest that year on the 29 May.
Bernie’s grandfather retired from the “Jolly Joe” business in the 1950s and Monty left the firm in the 1960s, leaving Bernie to head “Jolly Joe” which he did until he retired from racing aged 84 in 2012.
Known simply as “Jolly Joe” by the Racing Post, Bernie worked on 64 Epsom Derby Days; lost his most money in one day when Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners on British Champions Day at Ascot in 1996 and is reputed to be the man who introduced John McCririck to bookmaking. In the 1970s Bernie also ran an evening school on the art of bookmaking and the structure of a racecourse at the Polytechnic of North London (now the London Metropolitan University) for betting shop based staff and other people interested in racing.
Bernie found he got bombarded by requests each year for racing tips by glamorous women at Ladies Day at Ascot, some knowing the racing number of the horse or race itself but nothing about the horse, its jockey or owner. Cheltenham was his favourite racecourse and the Ascot Gold Cup his favourite race.
Such was his skill at ‘Tic-tac’ (the traditional method of signs used by bookmakers to communicate the odds of certain horses) that he was asked by stage actors to provide technical advice to actors on how to preform Tic-tac on the stage.
Racing was his business and life, however outside of this he enjoyed amateur theatre and after Stella died this is where he met at a theatre production in North London – Sally Head, his devoted partner of some 20 years.
Extremely proud of his daughter Hilary, his son-in-law Stephen Conway and his grandchildren, Bernard “Bernie” Levien died at the age of 88 and leaves behind his adoring daughter Hilary, Sally, Stephen and two grandchildren Paul and Leanne.