Ronald Giles - “Carl” being only a nickname - was born above a tobacconist’s shop in Islington, London, on 29 September 1916. It was a very urban beginning, but, as he later explained, he had rural origins, for “my father comes from a family of Newmarket jockeys and my mother from a family of Norfolk farmers”. His paternal grandfather, Alfred “Farmer” Giles, was indeed a well-known Newmarket jockey of the 1880s, who rode for the Prince of Wales, whilst his father, Albert “Berty” Giles, had also been a jockey, before retiring to run the shop where Giles was born. They were both small, and Giles joked that the entire Giles family could “walk under the table without bending down and put their hats on a chair.”
Giles’ mother Emma came from Norfolk, and his maternal grandmother, “Nanny Clarke”, still lived on the outskirts of Norwich. Giles spent a lot of time there as a boy, and remembered Nanny Clarke with affection as “a really colourful woman”: “far more extrovert than Grandma Giles and she had such a happy little house.”. Some of his mother’s cousins also had a farm at Lingwood, near Norwich, and Giles recalled as a child spending “some of my happiest days” there. He always felt at home in East Anglia, and in later life was described as having a “curious broad Cockney-Suffolk accent.”
Giles spent a lot of his early life around Islington, where his father had a shop. “My father was a popular man who didn’t say much,” Giles recalled, “but when he did he could be very funny”: “He ran a couple of tobacconists’ shops in Islington and the Barbican, and all his friends would go in there and treat the place like a club.” Berty Giles had hoped that his son would follow the family profession by becoming a jockey, but, as Giles recalled, he proved a disappointment “by going overweight at an early age and sprouting to an impossible stature of five-ten.” However, he did inherit a love of horses, and liked to ride.