John Moores was born into a working-class family in Eccles, near Salford, Lancashire on 25 January 1896. He was one of eight children and the eldest of four sons. He left primary school in 1910 and became a messenger boy at the Manchester Post Office but was soon accepted in a course at the Post Office School of Telegraphy. This enabled him, in 1912 to join the Commercial Cable Company as a junior operator. He was in the Navy in World War one as a wireless operator, being stationed at Aberdeen in 1916 before serving elsewhere.
When he came into cash, most of it was sent to his widowed mother, Louisa, a mill worker. His father, also called John, was a bricklayer, but he developed a drink problem and died in January 1919 at the age of 47. John Moores jnr was demobilised from the Navy two months later.
After the war telegraphy took him away again. He carried on working for the Commercial cable company. In 1920 he was posted to Waterville in County Kerry, Ireland and he noticed there was no public library around for miles so he set up a store that sold books and stationery. He bulk imported books and called it the Waterville supply company. He also sold golf balls as there was no sports shop and a golf course. However, by 1922 he was back in England as the cable company stationed him at Liverpool, where he would live for the rest of his life.
John, Colin Askham and Bill Hughes were friends who had worked together as Post Office messenger boys in Manchester. It was whilst looking for a new money-making idea that Moores came across John Jervis Barnard, a Birmingham man who had latched onto the public's growing passion for two things: football and betting. Moores had always been an avid football fan from when he was very young. Sports of all kinds had always interested him. He played amateur football himself until retiring at the age of 40.
Barnard had devised a 'football pool', where punters would bet on the outcome of football matches. The payouts to winners came from the 'pool' of money that was bet, less 10 per cent to cover "management costs". It had not been particularly successful. Clearly, Barnard was struggling to make a profit. Moores got hold of a Barnard pools coupon, and the three Manchester friends decided they could – and would – do it better.
They could not let their employers, the Commercial Cable Company, know what they were doing, or they would be fired. No outside employment was allowed. That ruled out calling it the John Moores Football Pool, or anything like it. Moores recalled years later: "Calling it the John Smith's football pool sounded a bit dodgy". The solution to that particular problem came from Colin Askham. He had been orphaned as a baby and been brought up by an aunt whose surname was Askham, but he had been born Colin Henry Littlewood. And so, in 1923, the Littlewood Football Pool – as it was called originally – was started.
Each of the three partners invested £50 of their own money into the venture, and with the help of a small, discreet and cheap printer they got to work. In 1923, £50 was a huge sum to invest in what – based on Barnard's experience – was a precarious venture, and as Moores himself remembered: "As I signed my own cheque at the bank, my hands were damp. It seemed such a lot of money to be risking". A small office in Church Street, Liverpool, was rented and the first 4,000 coupons were distributed outside Manchester United's Old Trafford ground before one Saturday match that winter. Moores handed the coupons out himself, helped by some young boys eager to earn a few pennies.
It was not an instant success. Only 35 coupons came back. Bets totalled £4 7s 6d, and the 10 per cent deducted did not even cover the three men’s expenses. They needed to take the idea to another level, and quickly. So they decided to print 10,000 coupons, and took them to Hull, where they were handed out before a big game. This time, only one coupon was returned. Their venture was about to collapse almost as soon as it had begun. In the canteen of the Commercial Cable Company, the three partners had a hushed conversation. It was a crisis meeting. They had kept pumping money into the fledgling business, but midway through the 1924-25 football season it was still losing money. The three young men were each £200 lighter in the pocket, with no prospect of things improving. Bill Hughes suggested they cut their losses and forget the whole thing. Colin Askham agreed. They could see why John Jervis Barnard's idea of a football pool had failed in Birmingham. They expected Moores to concur, but instead he said: "I'll pay each of you the £200 you've invested, if you'll sell me your shares". Moores admitted that he considered giving up on the business himself, but was encouraged by his wife, who told him "I would rather be married to a man who is haunted by failure rather than one haunted by regret". Moores kept faith and he paid Askham and Hughes £200 each. Moores later devised a security system to prevented cheating and eventually the pools took off, becoming one of the best-known names in Britain.
In January 1932 Moores, by now a millionaire, was able to disengage himself sufficiently from the pools to start up Littlewoods Mail Order Store. This was followed on 6 July 1937 by the opening of the first Littlewoods department store in Blackpool. By the time World War II started there were 25 Littlewoods stores across the UK and over 50 by 1952.
On 21 March 1960, Moores gave up his chairmanship of the Pools business, and handed over the reins to his brother, Cecil, so he could become a director of Everton Football Club. In June he became the chairman and in April 1961 he famously sacked Johnny Carey in the back of a London Taxi and appointed Harry Catterick as Everton manager in his place. He would remain as Everton chairman first of all up to July 1965, resigning due to the poor health of his wife, who died two months later. In 1968 Moores regained the chairmanship and stayed until August 1973 when he resigned a second time. He left the Everton board of directors altogether in April 1977. In 1970 Moores was made a Freeman of the city of Liverpool. In 1972 he was made a CBE and in June 1980 he was knighted.
Moores retired as chairman in October 1977 of Littlewoods and was succeeded by his son Peter. However, as profits fell (Moores remained on the board) he resumed the chairmanship in October 1980. He gave up this role again in May 1982 and was made life president of the organisation. His family carried on running Littlewoods but a non family member succeeded Moores as chairman. Moores himself remained on the board of directors until December 1986 when he fully retired, because of age and also because his health had declined. He had two operations straight after each other, on his achilles tendon and then for an enlarged prostate during the summer of 1986. At the 1987 League Cup final, sponsored by Littlewoods, Moores was the guest of honour. As late as the summer of 1988, by now mainly in a wheelchair, he was still visiting Littlewoods stores across the UK, but he began to lose his speech from then onwards and gave up all Littlewoods related duties. Moores still attended Everton football matches up to a few years before his death.
Two months after his death his estate was valued as being worth more than 10 million pounds. The Littlewoods businesses were sold to the Barclay Brothers in October 2002.
In 1992, Liverpool Polytechnic took the name Liverpool John Moores University in his honour upon being granted University status.
In the Sunday Times Rich List 2006 the Moores' family wealth was estimated at £1,160m.
The John Moores Painting Prize is co-ordinated by National Museums Liverpool. The first John Moores exhibition was held in 1957, six years after the Walker Art Gallery re-opened after World War II. It was intended as a one-off, but its success led to it becoming a biennial event. By the early sixties, the exhibition was regarded as the UK’s leading showcase for avant-garde painting. Winning works have included classic paintings by Jack Smith ('Creation and Crucifixion'), William Scott, Roger Hilton ('March 1963') and David Hockney ('Peter getting out of Nick's Pool').
Barbara Clegg, ‘Moores, Sir John (1896–1993)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 June 2006