Gambling on an Immigrant


I recently worked on a TV programme called DNA Journey for Voltage TV , a production company that produces fine well rounded, unscripted programmes, broadcast by ITV. I researched both trees, Maureen’s Family up in Hull, and from Europe before that, working out the likely route of her Jewish forebear from Poland to the Baltic Coast, probably Bremen, and then on to Hull, almost like the UK’s Ellis Island for North European Jewry at the time. Rula’s tree from Poland, was challenging in as much as I don’t read, write, or speak Polish, but her family being aristocracy made the task of putting a basic tree together much easier, and provided a starting point for Polish researcher to take it further. Needless to say, it was a great show.

As with all these shows, so much interesting, and previously unknown research, gets filmed, but ends up “on the cutting room floor” or the digital equivalent, and even the stories that do make it to the screen have to get foreshortened to fit the format – squeezing even 150 years of a Family’s history onto the screen in under an hour is a skill in itself, ably performed by Director Iain “Thompy” Thompson and his team.

I appear from a darkened van wondering down to the wonderful Fretwells Pub as the blurb says:

“Fretwells is a Traditional Pub on the corner of Scale Lane and High Street in the Heart of Hulls Old Town, It takes its name from Fretwells Printers that traded in the same historic building for many years.”

Anyway, apart from the fact that they always let me have a pint sitting in front of me, but won’t let me drink more than half of it (which I think is just cruel, but apparently it’s just in case someone criticises the handwriting on the 1911 census and it all kicks off) it’s a great little venue, and is where I sprung the surprise on Maureen and Rula about a man called Victor Slimmer, his anglicised name from the original Polish, who as I told Maureen and Rula , was bang to rights caught in a Gambling Den run by his in-laws the Harris family.

Now they usually wheel me in as the bloke that gives out the seedier stories of robbery and other “misunderstandings with the law” to unwitting celebrities (dreadful stereotyping of a Working Class Surrey-side Cockney if you ask me) it is no surprise that it turns out that Victor is Maureen’s Great Grandfather, and so Abraham Harris, his Father-in-Law and the proprietor of the informal Gambling Den was her Great Great Grandfather. Obviously it was a shock, but Victor Slimmer had married into the family, and effectively married into the family business at the same time.

The Family got caught at a bad time, as there had been some mania whipped up by the press in previous years about “Jew Gambling Dens” as they called then in the lurid illustrated press, mainly in London, but there was another gambling bust in Hull the same year (that also involved some of the extended family) so Jewish Gamblers tended to get a bad press, and were overly represented in busts and Newspaper reports. As they often put up in their own defence, why were Cricket Clubs not raided when players gambled at cards after a match? The same “crime” but a different reaction from the Police.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Victor Slimmer, turning up on the Docks at Hull without two ‘apennies to rub together, probably having very little English, and not knowing anyone, but he was enterprising, was a talented Shoe Maker, and made a life for himself, despite his run-in with the Law via his in-laws. The rest of the story is in the programme and I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil your viewing. #DNAJourney on ITV a programme made by #VoltageTV.

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