Main Menu
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century
21th Century
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Games   | News   | Email

John Aspinall
b. 11 June 1926
d. 2000, London

He was born in Delhi as the second son of Mary Grace (1904–1987), daughter of Clement Samuel Horn, engineer, and wife of Colonel Robert Stivala Aspinall (1895–1954) and schooled at Rugby, in England, where he was eventually asked not to return. After a stint in the Marines he went up to Oxford, where he nourished a penchant for gambling. He missed his finals to attend the races at Ascot and he put his entire term’s grant on the nose of a winner at short odds. After college he set himself up in the casino business, then illegal in England. His wealthy Oxford friends would drop fortunes at his tables playing chemin de fer. Aspinall had no compunctions about taking their money. He said that he liked “the corrosive effect that it has on such outdated concepts as the sanctity of money and the dignity of labor,” adding that his luxurious trappings meant that “gentlemen could ruin themselves as elegantly and suicidally as did their ancestors 300 years ago.” He enjoyed being rich, and lived amid opulence.

During the early 1950s he worked in partnership with Ian Maxwell-Scott as a bookmaker. In 1955 he began organizing games of chemin de fer in Mayfair and Kensington, contrary to the 1845 Gaming Act. His mother, with whom he ran a bookmaking firm called Mittens, provided game pies for these gambling parties, where the guests were plied with drink. In 1957 she rented a flat in Hyde Park Street, which was raided by the police on 10 January 1958: she and Aspinall were then charged. These charges were dismissed on 19 March.

The acquittals in this test case, together with the Macmillan government's desire to attract foreign currency into Britain, resulted in the Gaming Act of 1960, which permitted the establishment of casinos.

His notoriety only increased when it was suspected that he was involved in the disappearance of Lord Lucan, a peer who had murdered his family’s nanny with a lead pipe blow to the head. (It was said that the real target was Lucan’s wife.) The London tabloids suggested that Lucan had shown up at Aspinall’s zoo and implored Aspinall to feed him to the tigers. Aspinall later let it be known that Lucan had committed suicide at sea, but no trace was ever found.

At some point Aspinall’s mother admitted to him that he was not the son of his surgeon “father” but of a British serviceman who had the pleasure of her company under a tamarisk tree at a regimental ball in India. Unperturbed, Aspinall tracked down the man in a retirement home and supported the old soldier for the rest of his life.

In 1957, with money won at the races, he purchased Howletts, a derelict 18th century country mansion near Canterbury, with 39 acres of gardens and parkland that was to become his first zoo. Funds from his own gambling and the casino business allowed him to build up a private collection that included rhinos, bongo antelopes, Przewalski’s horses, langurs and leopards. Here he developed his philosophy of treating animals with respect – he said that animals know and resent it when they are being treated as inferiors. He regaled his retinue with diverse, fabulous diets and individual attention. He gathered about himself a devoted team of like-minded keepers.

His methods, however, had their problems as well as their successes. Over the years five keepers were killed in encounters with tigers and elephants. A young boy had his arm ripped off by a chimpanzee, and there were other injuries as well. Aspinall frequently appeared in public with his face scratched and bruised from overzealous romps with the animals. He was unrepentant, noting that humans were much bigger killers than animals. “One tiger in 12 has this aberrant streak,” he noted of Zeya, who killed two keepers. “With humans it is one in three.”

Such a view was sadly typical of his mindset. He thought the human race had far too many members, and he rejoiced at the news of natural disasters and plagues that carried off thousands. He said, “I would be very happy to see 3.5 billion humans wiped out from the face of the earth within the next 150 or 200 years and I am quite prepared to go myself with this majority … Let us all look forward to the day when the catastrophe strikes us down!” He also wrote, “The sanctity of human life is the most dangerous sophistry ever propagated by philosophy and it is all too well rooted. Because if it means anything it means the in-sanctity of species which are not human.” He tended toward eugenic beliefs that oddly allied him with the English upper classes he fleeced through gambling: “Broadly speaking, the high income groups tend to have a better genetic inheritance.” “Reason is the worst possible guide to human affairs,” he said a few years ago. “It is merely the undertaker that you send in after the battle to explain the logic of the affair. Instinct and prejudice are much better guides.” He harbored a special loathing for wealthy women with left-wing bents.

Despite these addled views, Aspinall was clear-headed enough to be able to earn a fortune whenever he wanted. He used his gambling and impresario talents to support his zoos (there was soon a second) to the tune of millions per year. At least three times he abandoned the casino business, only to have reverses that forced him back into it. Each time he attained greater success than he had experienced previously. “I’m like an old warrior who can galvanize himself when he’s threatened, but I’m pretty idle when I’ve got no threats,” he said. He only opened up his zoos to the public in the early 70s, when his finances were at a dodgy point after a market crash, and then only after selling paintings and jewelry to feed his animals.

During 1962 Aspinall opened the exclusive Clermont gaming club at 44 Berkeley Square (with his friend Mark Birley's nightclub Annabel's in the basement). Chemin de fer and backgammon were its special games. Aspinall felt no compunction about charming, shaming, intoxicating, or hectoring young men into gambling beyond their means. As he scorned most people for their repugnant mediocrity, he had no scruples about ruining them. Huge sums were lost: at one chemin de fer table, on a memorable evening in 1967, Goldsmith lost £200,000, Colonel William Stirling £150,000, Emmett Blow of Chicago £100,000, and the earl of Lucan £15,000. The only winner was the earl of Derby. After further legislative changes, which prevented Aspinall from playing in his own games, he sold the Clermont Club for £500,000 in 1972 and devoted himself to Howletts.

The expenses of Aspinall's zoos drove him back to casino life in 1978. With Jimmy Goldsmith's financial support he opened a new club, Aspinall's, in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. In 1984 he moved to larger premises in Curzon Street, and opened the Aspinall Curzon club, for which he received a reported £90 million on its sale in 1987. However, he dropped large sums while playing the stock market, and consequently opened another Curzon Street casino, Aspinall's, in 1992. At the general election of 1997 he was parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe on behalf of Goldsmith's Referendum Party. He died of cancer of the jaw at his home, 1 Lyall Street, Westminster, on 29 June 2000. He was survived by his third wife, Sarah, the son and daughter of his first marriage, and the son of his third marriage.

Nearing death at age 74 he wanted to be dispatched by one of his own tigers, but this wish was not to be granted him. He was pleased, however, to leave his zoos in the hands of his eldest son Damian, who had built up excellent friendships with many of the animals. It was typical of Aspinall that he would think of animal friendship and his own bloodlines when considering the fate of his quirky and amazing projects.
Home | Index | Links | Information | Glossary | Film Review | This Week | News | Email
Lotteries | Casino | Games | Betting | Spread Bet | Spotlight | Book Review | Advice | Archive | Columns


This document maintained by GGGwebmaster.
Material Copyright © 2000 - 2016

. Trade with Spreadex