Iacovou had run a Ladbrokes in Wimbledon, a Ladbrokes in Earlsfield and another Ladbrokes in Morden before moving to his current branch, a glass-fronted shop next to a supermarket, just across the A24 from Morden tube.
Iacovou opened a locked door that separated the shop floor from his service area and sat down at his till. The manager stood up and started to unlock the door beside his counter. It is a rare British high street that has not come to be kitted out, today, in the colours of the bookmakers.As it turned 8.30am, he pressed a button to unseal the shop’s magnetically locked front door, and was open for business. In every town, on every retail row, the routine sweep of bank and salon and shrunken supermarket will be studded at almost mathematical intervals by the red of a Ladbrokes storefront or the blue and yellow of a William Hill, likely as well by the blue of a Coral, the blue and red of a Betfred, the pale green of a Stan James or the clover-leaf shade of a Paddy Power.At the end of the day these machines had to be laboriously emptied of takings and the shop otherwise shut down.Though Iacovou’s branch closed to customers at 10, that night he did not get back to his home in Cheam until midnight.Difficult as it is to credit now, both companies once shared a snotty attitude about the idea of bookmakers having .
“I don’t think it would be very nice,” said Mr William Hill, founder of William Hill, in 1956, “to see at every street corner a betting shop.” There was never a Mr Ladbrokes; the company was named for a country house where its founders trained horses in the 1880s.For some hours in the afternoon he would be joined at the till by an assistant, a cashier who helped him process handwritten bets that came in over the counter.Otherwise, Iacovou manned the shop alone, relying on his regulars for company.There was a relative newcomer, Shafique Aarij, a man in his 20s with pocked skin who had drawn attention to himself by combing his hair, nervously, whenever he played on one of the shop’s electronic gambling machines.That Friday, Aarij complained to the manager about a problem with one of these machines.Iacovou was not expecting his cashier to arrive until after lunch.