Barri Hitchin - former croupier turned gambling addiction coach
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:00 20 May 2020
BARRY BATCHELOR PHOTOGRAPHY
A former croupier, who claims to be one of the last people to see Lord Lucan, is offering vital therapy for gambling addicts in Somerset, says TIM SAUNDERS.
At a time when the NHS has demanded action to cut rising gambling addiction while the industry continues to generate soaring profits, Barri Hitchin, who lives at Stocklinch near Ilminster, offers a simple but effective solution.
“I deal casino games and provide free gaming chips,” says Barri, who looked after the tables at The Ladbroke Club in Mayfair, London. “We then add up all the losses but there is no pain because no money has been lost. They then become bored with gambling and they are cured.”
Perhaps the world’s first and most famous gambling addict was Lord Lucan, who was a regular at The Ladbroke Club where Barri worked in the early 1970s. With his film star good looks he had even been considered for the film role of James Bond. Lucan had given up his job as a merchant banker to pursue a career as a professional gambler and became known as ‘Lucky Lucan’. But soon losses outweighed his winnings. Prior to him going missing, suspected of murdering his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, Lord Lucan was gambling and racking up huge debts at the club. “The Earl was on my table playing a game of blackjack,” recalls Barri, who had qualified as a croupier months earlier, earning enough to pursue his interest in method acting at drama school.
On that fateful night of 8 November, 1974, Barri first saw Lucan wearing full evening dress at 7.40pm. “I had just begun my 7.30pm break. I was 10 minutes into it when I was asked to come down and set up a private blackjack table. Lucan came to the table with four £1,000 blue plaques, which I would exchange for £25 chips as and when he required.
“The cards I dealt proved to be most unkind to Lord Lucan and I took several thousand pounds from him, his temper rising to this no-win situation.
“He then demanded a re-shuffle and organised more funds with the manager. On receipt of more money he ordered the minimum stake to be raised. The strategy did not pay off and he lost the new funds very quickly. He was down to his last chip and demanded that I deal a single hand.
“However, as he was the only player on the table under The Gaming Act 1968 and in the interests of fair play he had to play two hands. When I pointed this out to him his face became white with rage and standing up he growled ‘When I tell you to deal, you deal’! The outburst caused a deathly hush on a nearby roulette game with Robert Maxwell, owner of the Daily Mirror. To pacify Lord Lucan the casino supervisor on my table told me to deal the single hand…” The upshot was that Lucan had lost the game, haemorrhaging more than £8,000 – the equivalent of £50,000 today.
“This was the last straw and he tried to turn over the blackjack table but Barri and the inspector fell on top of it preventing him from doing this. Seething with rage and pushing people from his path, sending tables and glasses crashing to the floor on the nearby Maxwell game, Lucan left the building.”
Even with Barri’s experience of gambling he has racked up debts of more than £1,200 but he says ‘it was only a computer game – no real money involved - so no harm done’.
Today, Britain’s gambling industry has 24 million customers. Aside from gambling therapy Barri makes short films, like the one about anger management, shot in Ilminster using local actors. He has also established himself as an artist. He is keen to exhibit his paintings in local businesses.