Tuesday, August 8, 2000 by

The rarified atmosphere of the poker table.

Three pinky-white old duffers look on at the Devilfish. Behind a pair of red shades his eyes (of the “piss-holes in the snow” variety) blink dully. Here comes the patter: “The difference between this twat,” he says, gesturing to one of the old fellas, “and Ronnie Corbett is that Ronnie Corbett is taller. When it rains he’s the last to know. He used to work for Hornby train sets,” – and then hustling – “Let’s go.” As more cards flop onto the table, Dave (The Devilfish) Ulliott is struck with one more witticism “When he dies they’ll flush him down the fucking toilet.”

A year after winning the lot on Channel 4′s Late Night Poker, Dave Ulliott is back. Described, ironically, as “the Noel Coward of Scunthorpe” the first episode of BBC2′s agreeable Jackpotseries let us into the Devilfish’s life. Zig-zagging from card game to card game we followed him as he built himself up for a big money pot in Vegas. A year ago we had cause to speculate on the man behind the shades (always “shades”, never “sun glasses”). Make no mistake, even then it was obvious that the guy in the Nehru suit held no allure other than as a shallow personification of a hackneyed concept of “cool”. Behind the green baize bravado was quite evidently a character who talked big when the chips were up, but folded when it came to real life. Or at least that was our judgment call having seen the man operate at the table.

Yet, as Jackpot revealed, away from the game Dave Ulliott remained resolutely the Devilfish, styling himself and his home on a sort of Humberside meets the Cosa Nostra template (“you kno’?”) We saw the Devilfish as the head of the family, besuited, bejewelled and beloved. Fittingly he referred to his “beautiful sons”, talked up his pawn shop as some sort of charitable gesture towards the ordinary (read: “little”) people of Humberside and spoke long and thoughtfully on how a man should not have to perform any domestic “shit”.

The defining scene of the programme saw Devilfish and sons at the kitchen table. Father handed them £50 each and then dealt the cards. “Sucker!” sneered the Devilfish as one by one each son went bust. Even going “heads-up” (mano a mano to you and me) with his youngest, the Devilfish still felt compelled to strut. Later on we were told, ludicrously enough: “None of my lads are going to play poker or gamble or I’m gonna kill ‘em.” Perhaps the kitchen table game had simply been some sort of effort at aversion therapy?

Alas, the programme fell short of actually following Devilfish to Vegas, and thus we are yet to find out how the Don of Humberside squared up against the self-styled big boys (one of whom is apparently monickered “Ming the Master”). We did however see him lose in Paris. Aside from his pot, the facade went too, as the Devilfish’s celebrated patter turned into nasty, yet palpably desperate barbs: “Is that right, if you’ve got a small cock you smoke a big cigar?” (“Go fuck yourself.” comes the equally eloquent retort). One wonders how quickly it took for the big boys in Vegas to prise open those fairly comprehensive cracks in the Devilfish persona.

But perhaps we’re being unfair. Perhaps the Devilfish did take them to the cleaners. Whatever. Whether the chips are up or down, ultimately Dave Ulliott walks out a winner – in his mind anyway. Trouble is, he’s playing aces high, whereas the rest of the world, I fancy, is playing ‘em low.


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