Stories of glamorous casino era given another spin of the wheel
MEMORIES of a glamorous and popular Port Talbot casino have been brought back to life.
It was in 1961 when George Alfred James converted the first floor of his shop at Bethany Square into The Casino Club. He had returned to Port Talbot in 1946 with his family, after living in London and losing everything to gambling.
It is believed that he was the first to open a licensed legal casino in Great Britain under the provisions of the 1960 Gaming Act.
Over the years he went on to shape the gambling industry by supplying Britain with the 'Jost' roulette wheel from France and brought over a croupier from Las Vegas.
Mr James — born and bred in Port Talbot — went on to run casinos in Cardiff, London and The Kingsway Casino in Southport.
His grandson, Anthony Miles, has now uncovered the story of his life for the first time — bringing memories of the Port Talbot club back to life.
Mr Miles, who said his grandfather was a "pioneer in casino come cabaret come fine dining", painstakingly began to research his life around a year ago.
"I started this time last year," said Mr Miles, who lives in London and owns a website which gives casino advice - www.livecasino.co.uk.
"I drove up to Southport to do the research. I did nine hours a day and I was there for four days. I wanted to find all the stories."
Complete with photo albums and the full history of his grandfather, he has also been able to collect some memorabilia from the Port Talbot casino.
He has been able to find some colourful casino chips that would have been used at the club, which Mr James sold in 1967 when he moved to Southport.
"I found them on eBay and bought them from a woman from Swansea," he said. "She said her grandfather used to go to the casino. She had a £50 casino chip from 1961. I had to buy them from her.
"My sister was also at a casino charity event once, and they gave her Kingsway casino chips, which had been donated to the event. That was incredible."
Mr Miles' mother Marian said there may be people who still remember the casino when it was in its full glory in the sixties.
"My dad was a member of the golf club and people do still talk about it," said the 81-year-old, who performed at Swansea's Grand Theatre in Red Riding Hood in 1950, and also appeared in the West End.
But Marian, didn't witness much of the gaming side, and kept to the other rooms.
"I used to see the cabaret," she recalled. "I didn't go into the games room. It was always full."
The Port Talbot casino may have looked like a normal building outside — but inside it was a different story. There was a furnished restaurant with seating for 400 and there was a glass illuminated floor space which provided room for dancing and entertaining cabaret acts. There was also room for a resident band on a small stage. Set apart from the restaurant was a gaming room.
"He wanted to give the people in Port Talbot something they had never seen," said Mr Miles. "It was the place to be in Port Talbot. The members were a mixture of working to middle to high class to film stars and they travelled as far as Swansea and Cardiff for a good night out."
Mr Miles said Hollywood star Richard Burton may have even visited, as his brother — Graham — was a friend of his grandfathers.
Welsh actors Stanley Baker and Donald Houston both visited the club.
As well as introducing for the first time to Wales bunny girls as waitresses, Mr James also brought many memorable acts to the industrial town.
One of them was a dance group called The Ethel Barton four, said Mr Miles.
"They were four middle aged women," he said. "The act came from London and they said that it was so bad, that everybody would want to go and see them.
"My grandfather said 'what have I done'. They were dreadful. But everybody in Port Talbot for the next six weeks were queuing up to see them. That was memorable."
Other entertainers who performed there included Danny Williams, who had a number one hit with Moon River in 1961, and Welsh singer and actress Tessie O'Shea.
Mr Miles said his grandfather would run a tight operation, with people who caused a disruption removed. But he would often forget who they were weeks later.
"If there was anyone using bad language he used to say to John, his son, to remove them," he said. "So once a guy was taken out, but three weeks later the same guy managed to get back in. My grandfather said to him 'oh hello, how are you.' He would never recognise them."
After Port Talbot Mr James received further success in his other ventures until he retired aged 64 and moved to Jersey. He sadly died in 1976.
Mr Miles said he would love to see his grandfather's story come alive on screen for a documentary or film.
"It is such a glitzy story," he said. "And it all started in Port Talbot."
"He was a remarkable man," added Marian.
Share your memories with us of The Casino Club in Port Talbot. Email Gill Roberts on gill.roberts@swwmedia. co.uk or call her on 01792 545547.