I was only 15, but I had a portfolio of drawings and paintings that I'd built up over the years. Nothing remotely computer-y, and certainly no horses or footballers - but pictures of Star Wars scenes, and - of course - the guitarist from Marillion.
I had applied for two other jobs - sweeping floors at C&A and working on the bakery counter in Waitrose. I'd been offered both, but when when the Ladbrokes job slid into my lap, it didn't take a lot of consideration to turn the others down. Not least because the floor-sweeping job was for two hours on a Saturday, for the mighty sum of £3 an hour.
I remember the interviewer asking me "Why do you think you can do this job?" - the words sort of disintegrating as she realised the absurdity of the question. I just shrugged and said "Because it's sweeping floors". She nodded, and made a note of this on her clipboard. God alone knows how the unsuccessful interviewees had answered. Maybe they'd just laughed, or shivered and died.
Initially, I worked at Ladbrokes on a part-time basis, but when I decided to drop out of college - I was enjoying working far more than education - I demanded that unless they gave me a full-time job I'd have to stop working for them altogether. Looking back, I'm still shocked by my bravado. These days, I'd never have the guts to do something quite so ballsy. It worked though: they gave me a job, but couldn't justify giving me a full-time graphics position.
Instead, they trained me up to work part-time on the company's "Oracle" section - this being pre-Teletext days. That's how I learned to edit teletext pages; I was taught by one Julian Edwards, the man who later ended up creating Bamber Boozler.
I worked for Ladbrokes for almost five years, leaving in 1991. So as you might imagine, it's a bit weird to have received a request from Ladbrokes asking if I can give them a plug on Digitiser2000.
Yes indeed: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-whaaa-whaAAa-aAaaAAaa-AAAAAAA?!?
My former employer is celebrating the fourth anniversary of the death of Ceefax, for some reason, by showing football results just like they used to be done. Almost. It's not, strictly speaking, being done using proper teletext - plus Ceefax was a non-commercial service, and Ladbrokes never actually advertised on there - but... well... y'know. They're trying.
Here's their blurb:
"Want to check the football scores? Just jump on Ceefax. At least, that's how football fans used to get their news in the '70s, '80s and '90s. 38 years of Ceefax broadcasting finally ceased on 23rd October, 2012, ending the world's first teletext information service - a system that gave you news and football scores through your TV.
"To celebrate the original teletext service, we're taking football headlines back to basics. For just a few weeks we'll serve you your news in a delightfully nostalgic fashion, just like it used to look on your TV.
"And after you’ve digested the week’s headlines, check here for the latest Premier League betting odds."
There you go. I'd love to comment more, but it's football, and even cutting-and-pasting the above is making my synapses calcify.
Ladbrokes was a strange environment for someone like me, who didn't particularly like sport. Pretty much everyone else was obsessed to one degree or another.
Many of them were also big into their gambling. You'd hear people placing major bets over the phone throughout the day, or booking trips to go and watch the US Open for the weekend.
Years later, I learned that one of my bosses had won several million on the lottery, and spent a chunk of it on his own betting shop and racehorse.
I learned a lot about those things that I didn't like - indeed, I still know how to read racing form. I got sufficiently good, that they even trusted me to write race previews, and I still have a flutter on the Grand National once a year.
Many of my old Ladbrokes colleagues continue to work in the industry. Angus Loughran is probably the most notable example - a few years after I left Ladbrokes, he somehow became Statto on Fantasy Football.
Angus was a proper eccentric - every inch Statto in real-life. He had a tendency to fall theatrically off of chairs, and whenever he was speaking into a microphone - the in-shop radio station was broadcast from our office - he would wobble his head around like he was avoiding a cloud of wasps. Plus, depending on who he was speaking to, he told a completely different version of his life story. One time he told me his father was an orchestra conductor. On another occasion I was told that he had been a monk.
I bumped into Angus on the way home from Teletext one day, and - despite having worked with him closely for five years, until about three years previously - he didn't have a clue who I was. Or, at least, pretended not to. I wouldn't put the latter past him.
Despite all the sport, I loved working at Ladbrokes. The hours could be long, but the people - for the most part - were a decent bunch. Plus, I got to draw pictures and create animations. I felt valued, I guess, which is crucial to the enjoyment of any job; when we moved into a new HQ, they gave me my own graphics studio, with a bank of TV monitors so that I could test out animations before they went live.
As time wore on, my responsibilities at Ladbrokes shifted.
Shortly before I left, the Oracle department expanded significantly, and I was promoted to a deputy manager position. I hated the responsibility - I had loved the social side of working at Ladbrokes, and having a more senior role made it that much more me-and-them.
I still remember being taken into my boss's office to be given the promotion, and getting asked to cut my hair, and buy "A proper suit and shoes".
I basically had one dark blue tartan suit I wore, either with trainers or bright red patent shoes. I didn't take his advice, of course. Again - there was that ballsy kid, who no longer exists, alas. Instead, I left a few months later, when my sister found a job vacancy in the local paper for a graphic designer at Wembley Stadium.
Ladbrokes proved instrumental in me ending up at Teletext, though. One of my old managers lived with someone who was working for the new ITV and Channel 4 teletext license holder, and asked if he knew any good graphic designers. He lobbed my name into the ring - and that was that. I don't think anyone else even interviewed for the job.
Several other Ladbrokes employees ended up at Teletext - including Julian Edwards, and Steve "Horsenburger" Horsley, who had taken over from me as Ladbrokes' graphics guru. Others dropped in from time to time, because Ladbrokes' pages continued to be broadcast on the new service after Oracle closed.
Suffice to say, there's a certain serendipity in Ladbrokes asking me to plug their retro-teletext tribute on a website that's a belated spin-off of a teletext page that only exists because they gave me a job in the first place. Gamble responsibly, kids.