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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Headline maker Sharpe to leave William Hill after 45 years

Graham Sharpe: PR guru set to leave William Hill
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Graham Sharpe, who as one of the most accomplished public relations operators in his field made betting front page news, is leaving William Hill after 45 years with the bookmaker.

Sharpe, 66, who patented the area of novelty and political betting and co-founded the prestigious William Hill Sportsbook of the Year, is reluctantly giving up his role as media relations director with the company he joined as a betting shop boardman in March 1972.

He will leave next week having agreed redundancy terms with Hills, which is to operate with a smaller publicity team following last month's departure of Jon Ivan-Duke as public relations manager for horseracing.

"In the 45 years and one month I've worked for this company I've never asked to leave," he said.

"I'd have liked to have seen the William Hill Sportsbook of the Year through to the 30th edition in November next year, which would coincide with my 68th birthday and was in the back of my mind as an ideal time to quit.

"Then I was told I was at risk of redundancy and we went through a process. I've been offered the opportunity to remain associated with the William Hill Sportsbook of the Year, which I have accepted."

As a local newspaper journalist Sharpe turned down the chance to interview an unknown singer called Reg Dwight, who later became successful as Elton John. He showed better judgement once joining Hills' PR team after roles as boardman, settler and betting shop manager.

Although horseracing was Hills' main business, Sharpe was given licence to raise the profile of the company in other spheres.

He said: "I landed in bookmaking with a journalistic background. It was a business crying out to diversify and make itself more customer-friendly. I felt one way of doing that was to appeal to the media with positive interesting stories related to betting, which was not the norm.

"Not long after I joined in the summer of 1976, when there was a drought, we were able to open a book on when it would start raining. Two years later it was a terrible summer and we were able to bet when it would stop raining. In doing that on the same day in August 1978, we had the front-page lead story in The Sun and Daily Mirror. 'Sodden Awful' was one of the headlines'.

"It cost us nothing. It was interesting to people, non-controversial, nobody could be criticised for having a bet on the weather, we couldn't be accused of rigging the weather, and it developed from there."

In 1980 he famously opened a market on 'Who shot JR?', based on the popular US soap series Dallas, which became a betting phenomenon. He also made punting on a white Christmas and Christmas number one song staples of the industry.

As well as chairing the Sportsbook of the Year judging panel, Sharpe is a prolific author himself. His 30 books, mostly on gambling or football, include biographies of William Hill and Dorothy Paget, published recently.

Hills' communications director Ciaran O'Brien, who previously worked for rivals Ladbrokes, said: "Graham's name was synonymous with gambling. You couldn't pick up a tabloid newspaper without reading his name in association with a betting story.

"When I got involved with Ladbrokes, Graham's name was often mentioned because it was a frustration of Ladbrokes that they were not getting the coverage he was generating. The good news is he will continue to work with the book award."

Graham Sharpe on his most memorable flutters

Harry Wilson landed a £125,000 payout for a bet struck with me by his grandfather, Pete Edwards, of £50 at 2,500-1 that his then infant grandson would grow up to win a senior soccer cap for Wales, which the 16-year-old achieved, courtesy of manager Chris Coleman, in 2013.

Jon Matthews won £10,000 for staying alive until June 1 in the next two years after being diagnosed with lung cancer, but died in May 2011, just a fortnight before making it a third year – a 100-1 chance which would have won him a further ten grand. I arranged to donate the £10,000 he'd have won to the hospital where he was treated. It bought a much-needed item of equipment – with Jon’s name on it.

Geoff Sartin from the Isle of Wight wanted to bet he could predict the day on which his wife would die! Even I had – albeit reluctantly – to accept it was slightly in poor taste and turned him down.

John W Richardson, a Brit living in Las Vegas and now in his seventies, will collect £500,000 when he reaches 100 in 2040 – oh, and also fathers a child by the conventional method at that age. I gave him 10,000-1 to his £50 stake.

Donna Mumm from Sussex won £1,000 from her £50 wager at 20-1 in 2002 that her first child would be born on June 9. Her daughter duly became the fourth member of the family to share that birthday. The first successful birth-date bet I’d laid.

Finally, perhaps the flashiest, craziest and most striking bet I’ve taken was from Lawrence Tout – who, for reasons he never explained, took 1,000-1 that he would be struck by lightning.

I landed in bookmaking with a journalistic background. It was a business crying out to diversify and make itself more customer friendly
E.W. Terms
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