Spoofing in the Red Lion


AT THE end of my first day as a reporter on the Burnley Evening Star in 1974, I joined my colleagues in the back room of the adjacent boozer, the Red Lion. From 5pm this was open to journalists only, with the public admitted at six.

This private hour was more than enough to get a young lad stewed to the gills, particularly when playing spoof with experts.

For the uninitiated, spoof is a pub game of chance in which the loser has to buy the next round of drinks.

Each player draws a number of coins between none and three from his pocket (always his, I never saw a woman play spoof) and conceals them in his fist. The participants then take turns in clockwise order to estimate how many coins there are in total, so for example if there are four drinkers, the number could be anything between zero and 12. Each bid must be different.

When all the offers are in, the coins are revealed. If someone has got the total right, he then drops out and the process is repeated. When only one man is left, he has to get the beers in.

That first night I found myself frequently in the chair, to such an extent that I had to borrow a couple of bob for my bus fare home. And so it continued for months. I often suspected that the others were cheating, but now realise that they could hold their ale better. It’s a good job that in those days it was only about 15p a pint – nowadays a frequent loser would need a second mortgage.

There is a learned treatise about the rules of spoof on the website of Warwick University, where our son Jim spent four years ostensibly doing an electrical engineering degree.

The author, M S Turner, suggests on the question of who goes first that the most popular way to choose is the ‘odd one out’ method.

‘This requires all players to draw a single coin at random and place it on the bar, concealing it under the palm of their hand until all are ready, at which point the coins are revealed. Each coin is either a head or a tail. If anyone has the only head or the only tail then they are the odd one out and will call first in the first round of the game. Otherwise the ‘heads go again’, i.e. only those people with a heads repeat the process. They would first toss the coin or, more usually, bring one at random from their pocket. The same procedure is applied, repeatedly if required, until there is a unique odd one out or only two players remain. If only two players remain then they again draw a coin and the first of the two to place his hand on the bar may announce “match that”. If the second player successfully matches the face of the first then he will call first otherwise the first player will have the honour. The person to call first then rotates as each new round is played, as discussed above.

‘An alternative method, which is much faster, is to require the person who first suggested a game of spoof to call first.

‘There are a few points of etiquette associated with this game. If any player wishes to guess zero, believing that everyone’s hand is empty, it is conventional to shout “spoof”, this signifying a guess of zero. Many schools of spoof operate a “no bum shouts” rule. This means that each call made must be hypothetically possible given your knowledge of what you hold in your hand and the number of other players in that round of the game. Consider, as an example, two players competing in a round, one of whom holds two coins. Given that the other player could conceivably have as many as three coins, or as few as zero, this player can make any call between two and five inclusive. A shout of either six, one or spoof would be a “bum shout”. The penalty for making a bum shout can either be to endure being called an idiot, and to have to play the round again, (friendly rules) or an immediate forfeit of that game, with the player buying the round of drinks in question (old-fashioned rules). Some schools will permit bum shouts and it is important thing to establish if this is the case, and the penalty for making such a call, when playing in a school for the first time. My personal preference, in common with most experienced spoofers that I know, is not to permit bum shouts. However this remains a passionately debated topic in the spoof community and has led to a schism not unlike those that arose in the early church.’

That last sentence is priceless.

Footnote: Spoof can seriously damage your wealth and, if you’re good at it, your health.

Mr Cohen’s unfair non-dismissal

We are constantly reading about anti-Semitism these days and that reminds me of a story told by our great friend, the late Graham Mulley, a former executive on the Daily Mail and the Times.

In 1971 the Mail merged with the Daily Sketch, leaving the new paper with two sets of journalists and making redundancies inevitable. One of the Mail sub-editors, Irv Cohen, was convinced that he was for the chop and on the strength of his expected payoff, bought a then-fabulously-expensive colour telly and booked a lavish holiday in Israel.

Come the fateful ‘night of the long envelopes’, Irv found to his horror that he was not on the list. He made history by claiming to be a victim of anti-Semitism by not getting the sack. Needless to say, the matter didn’t go to court.

Old jokes’ home

A chap arrives late for work. His boss shouts: ‘You should’ve been here at 8.30!’ He replies: ‘Why? What happened at 8.30?’

A PS from PG

I suppose half the time Shakespeare just shoved down anything that came into his head.

PG Wodehouse: Joy in the Morning

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