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Gangsters

BASED ON THE BOOK BY . . .

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Hamish Hamilton220px-TermOfTrialIn 1968 Hamish Hamilton (by then part of the Thomson Organisation and subsequently to be bought by Penguin) published The Burden Of Proof, a novel by the Birmingham born author James Barlow. The firm had something of a hit seven years earlier with Barlow’s Term of Trial. That novel, about a teacher accused of indecency with a pupil, was made into a successful film starring Laurence Olivier, Simone Signoret, Sarah Miles and Terence Stamp. The Burden Of Proof was a different beast altogether, but first a little bit of history.

On 8th May 1968, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read, the Metropolitan Police arrested Reg and Ron Kray, along with sundry members of their gang. Neither of the Kray twins was ever to see freedom again, apart from when Reg spent his final hours dying from cancer in the honeymoon suite at the Beefeater Town House Hotel in Norwich. In 1968, the particular character of Ron Kray was not widely known to the general public, as the whole Kray ‘industry’ of ghosted memoirs and personal accounts of ‘The Twins I Knew’ by minor London villains had yet to take wing. Ron Kray was a homosexual psychopath, and it’s as simple as that. Whether brother Reg was any better for being heterosexual is neither here nor there, but Ron’s peccadillos were mirrored in dramatic fashion in The Burden Of Proof.

RBVic Dakin is a London gangster who has political connections, and has yet to have his collar properly felt, despite a string of serious crimes. He also enjoys a spot of sexual sadism, usually with his unofficial boyfriend, Wolfie, who accepts the beatings as a fact of life. Oh yes, and before I forget, Vic loves his dear old mum (who is blissfully unaware of Vic’s career choices) In the novel, Vic plans a daring wages raid on a suburban factory, in between doing all kinds of other unpleasant things to people he both likes and dislikes. Before we turn to the movie version of the book, check out my review of The Burden Of Proof.

The film was released in 1971, renamed Villain. The key issue, of course, was that of who would play Dakin? The choice – Richard Burton – was a surprise at the time, and the actor later wrote that he was drawn to the role because it represented a change from his usual heroic fare. Younger folk reading this will not know what a huge star Burton was at the time. For a modern comparison you need to think Hanks, Clooney, Cruise, Fiennes or Craig. Film and TV historians will be surprised to know that the screenplay for Villain was written by none other than Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The duo’s lightness of touch and feeling for the vernacular of British comedy created pure gold in later works such as Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Lovejoy. Maybe all that shows is that good writers are good writers, end of.

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 20.33.54With a link worthy of BBC Radio 4, I can reveal that the role of Vic Dakin’s much-abused boyfriend in Villain was played by none other than the excellent Ian McShane (right), whose many credits include the long running Sunday night TV show, Lovejoy. Back to the film, directed by Michael Tuchner (Fear Is The Key, Mister Quilp). The supporting cast was stellar. The two coppers pursuing Dakin were the much-missed. moustache-twirling Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland. The villains were equally stalwarts of the day; TP McKenna as Frank Fletcher and Joss Ackland as Edgar Lowis, not to mention Donald Sinden as the compromised politician, and regular ‘baddies’ such as Tony Selby and Del Henney (composite below)

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DSindenid the film work? For me, it was something of a Curate’s Egg. Despite his passable snarling London accent, Burton never totally convinced me, even though he was never less than mesmeric when on screen. Villain will never be known as ‘the great London gangster movie’ – nothing will ever surpass The Long Good Friday – but that doesn’t make it a bad film. Donald Sinden was wonderful as the oily and glib politician, and Davenport and Welland were convincing, if hardly original, as the coppers. A final word of praise for the late, great TP McKenna. Check his filmography. He was never just the stage Irishman, but brought dignity and conviction to every role he played.

Villain was on Talking Pictures TV just the other day and you can still get a DVD of the movie here.

As ever, there are clips to be found, such as this one, over on YouTube

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PRIZE DRAW . . . Win Hugh Fraser’s Stealth!

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THIS IS PRETTY MUCH THE STANDARD REACTION from those in the know when some foolish functionary in a 1960s London gang decides that Rina Walker is a fragile female who can be taken out of circulation. Rina is a born killer, with fists, firearms, blades – or anything that happens to be handy.

NOW SHE IS BACK in the fourth novel of Hugh Fraser’s popular series. If you would like to win a copy of Stealth (published by Urbane on 8th October) you have three ways to enter the prize draw.

Email

Simply email me at fullybooked2016@yahoo.com, and put ‘Stealth’ as the subject

Twitter

Retweet or like one of the posts about Stealth on the Fully Booked Twitter feed (image link below). These regular posts will link directly to the review of the novel.

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Facebook

Just click the ‘like’ option on the Fully Booked Facebook page, (image link below)

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Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 7th October. The winner will be notified via social media.

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KILLING GOLDFINGER … by Wesley Clarkson

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Even if it seems faintly indecent to make such comparisons, British gangsters and crime bosses have usually paled into insignificance when compared to their transatlantic cousins. Even The Krays, whose legend grows ever more lurid with the passing of the years, were regarded as nickel and dime operators by American crime syndicates. Reg and Ron, by the way, were not even the nastiest gangsters in Britain. That dubious crown rests securely on the heads of the deeply dreadful Richardson brothers from ‘Sarf London.’ British gangsters have generally been like lightweight boxers in the ring with heavyweights, and nothing epitomises that gulf like the painful demise of Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday, who perishes like a pygmy among giants.

Goldfinger035Perhaps the world has shrunk, or maybe it is that organised crime, like politics, has gone global, but more recent British mobsters have become bigger and, because we can hardly say “better”, perhaps “more formidable” might be a better choice of words. No-one typifies this new breed of gang boss than John “Goldfinger” Palmer. His name is hardly on the tip of everyone’s tongues, but as this new book from Wensley Clarkson shows, Palmer’s misdeeds were epic and definitely world class.

Born in Warwickshire in 1950, Palmer found that school and conventional education offered him nothing. After working with his brother for a spell, he started dealing in gold and jewellery from a Bristol address, and first came to the attention of the police in a significant way with his involvement in the Brinks Mat gold bullion heist in 1983. Palmer’s part in the affair sounds scarcely credible, but it was to melt down the gold bars into more saleable items – in his back garden. It was this action which earned him his nickname, but his claim that he didn’t know where the gold had come from convinced the jury at his trial in 1987.

Clarkson036Meanwhile, Palmer had not been idle, at least in the sense of criminality. He had set up in the timeshare business, perpetrating what was later proved to be a massive scam. When he was eventually brought to justice, it was alleged that he had swindled 20,000 people out of a staggering £30,000,000. In 2001 he was sentenced to eight years in jail, but his ill-gotten gains were never recovered.

Despite his prodigious earnings, it seemed to go against Palmer’s grain to go straight, and he continued to dabble in fraudulent timeshare selling and money laundering. He had semi-retired to a Ponderosa style property in Essex (where else?) but it seems clear that no-one spends their life stealing on a grand scale without making enemies, and he was shot dead in a professional hit on 24th June, 2015.

This brief account is all in the public domain, but Wensley Clarkson can tell the full story because of his intensive research ‘on the inside’. His knowledge has not been gathered without cost, as he and his family have been subject to death threats by criminals terrified of being exposed. Killing Goldfinger is the definitive account of an extraordinary life – and death. It is published by Quercus, and is due to be published on 1st June.

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THE RICHARDSONS

In the long and grisly history of organised crime, at least in the days before the internet, the control of geographic territory is a recurring factor. In big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and, in this case, London, criminal gangs have tended to carve out for themselves areas of influence which can be defined with an almost postcode accuracy. Such is human frailty, greed and weakness that there is almost always enough loot to be shared between different operators, and it has often been the case that gangs have been prepared to tolerate fellow crooks just as long as they stay on their own patch. Sometimes the gangs have been defined by ethnic origin as with the traditionally bitter competition in New York between the Irish, the Jews and the Italians.

In London, the geographically insignificant island of Malta produced a whole string of thuggish gangs in the middle years of the twentieth century, but history will always confer the accolade of “headline act” of the 1960s to the Kray twins. Their villainy has attracted myth, legend, and certain dubious glamour which still endures, but were the gangs of the time to have been quoted on The Stock Exchange, it is quite possible that investors would have been more attracted by the business acumen of Charlie and Eddie Richardson. (below)

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The Richardsons operated ‘sarf of the river’ which, to those not familiar with London, means the districts south of The Thames, including Camberwell, Brixton, Stockwell, Lewisham, Deptford and Lambeth. While the Krays always seemed to be gazing at the stars, with their love of night clubs, celebrity culture and fine living, the Richardsons were perfectly happy to be in the gutter, safe in the knowledge that scrap metal and fruit machines were a less glamorous, but more profitable route to riches.

Charles “Charlie” William Richardson (1934 – 2012) and Edward “Eddie” Richardson, (1936 – ) were the CEOs of the firm while on the board of directors were none other than Frank ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser and George Cornell. Fraser, who offered his employers informal dentistry using pliers, ended his days in sheltered accomodation suffering from Alzheimers, having recently been served with an ASBO for assaulting another resident. The 90 year-old had carved out something of a media career in his final years, guiding trips around his former stamping grounds for gullible tourists. (Below – Fraser with Eddie Richardson at Charlie’s funeral)

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George Cornell’s demise was more spectacular. Having allegedly angered Ronnie Kray by calling him “a fat poof”, he was shot dead (by the allegedly overweight homosexual) on 9th cornellMarch 1966. Cornell (right) was having a quiet drink in The Blind Beggar pub, well inside Kray territory on Whitechapel Road, when Ronnie walked in and put a bullet from a 9mm Luger into his head. Needless to say, none of the bar staff or other customers saw a single thing. Kray was eventually convicted of the murder when a barmaid, aware that Ronnie was already safely under lock and key for other misdeeds, testified that she had witnessed the killing.

Older readers will have chuckled at the Monty Python parody gangster sketch featuring the The Piranha Brothers, Doug and Dinsdale. (click the image to see the video)

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This classic was an inspired homage to both The Krays and The Richardsons, but amid the laughter there is a horrible truth. Charlie and Eddie had a variety of punishments to inflict on those who crossed them. In addition to the dentistry skills of Frankie Fraser, they also used hammer and nails, and did a special line in victims’ genitals being attached to the terminals of an old fashioned crank-up WW2 field telephone generator. They were also fond of removing fingers and toes with bolt cutters.

 Charlie Richardson was arrested for torture on 30 July 1966, the World Cup Final day. Eddie Richardson was sent to prison for five years for affray. There were also stories of Charlie being connected to the South African Bureau of State Security and an attempt to tap then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s telephone.

The so-called “Torture Trial” began at the Old Bailey at the beginning of April 1967. The Richardsons were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm. Charlie Richardson was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Eddie had ten years added to his existing sentence. Charlie Richardson was not freed until July 1984, and died in September 2012.

 

 

 

THE KRAYS

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Vallance RoadREGGIE AND RONNIE KRAY have been the subject of almost as many books, documentaries and dramas as their 19th century near-neighbour Jack the Ripper. The East End that he – whoever he was – knew has changed almost beyond recognition. The Bethnal Green of the Krays is heading in the same direction, but a few landmarks remain unscathed. They were born out in Hoxton in October 1933, Reggie being the older by ten minutes. The family moved into Bethnal Green in 1938, and they lived at 178 Vallance Road. That house no longer stands, modern houses having been built on the site (left)

The schools they attended still stand, but with different names. Wood Close School (left) is now The William Davis School, while Daniel Street School (right) is now The Bethnal Green Academy.
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Their life of crime is well documented elsewhere, but this brief guide focuses on the two ‘hands-on’ murders the twins committed. How many other deaths they were indirectly responsible for is a matter for others to catalogue.

Glib histories sometimes say that the Krays “ruled London’. That is totally inaccurate. Yes, they were very powerful within their own domain, and were well connected with several high profile personalities. But south of the river, the Richardson brothers, of whom more later, held sway. Generally, the two gangs acknowledged each other’s territory, if only for the reason that open warfare would benefit no-one. London is a big place, and there were plenty of pickings to be shared. Occasionally, though, personalities clashed, and it was one such example of personal antipathy which led to the first murder.

George CornellGeorge Cornell (right) had known the twins from childhood. Their careers had developed more or less on similar lines, except that Cornell became the enforcer for the Richardsons. On 7th March 1966 there was a confused shoot-out at a club in Catford. Members of the Kray gang and the Richardsons gang were involved. At some point, George Cornell had been heard to refer to Ronnie Kray as a “fat poof.” That might seem unkind, but was not totally inaccurate. Ronnie was certainly plumper than his lean and hungry twin, and his liking for handsome boys was well known.

The LionOn the evening of 9th March, Cornell and an associate were unwise enough to call in for a drink at a The Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road, very much in Kray territory. Some thoughtful soul telephoned Ronnie Kray, who was drinking in a nearby pub, The Lion in Tapp Street (left). Ronnie, pausing only to collect a handgun made straight for the Blind Beggar, strode in, and shot George Cornell in the head at close range. His death was almost instantaneous. Needless to say, no-one else in the pub had seen anything. Pictured below are a post mortem photograph of Cornell, and the bloodstained floor of The Blind Beggar. Below that is the fatal pub, then and now.

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Cd-1 Jack McVitieFolklore has it that now that Ronnie had ‘done the big one’, there was pressure on Reggie to match his twin’s achievement. The chance was over a year in coming. Jack McVitie (right) was a drug addicted criminal enforcer who worked, on and off, for the Krays. His nickname ‘The Hat’ was because he was embarrassed about his thinning hair, and always wore a trademark trilby. McVitie had taken £500 from the Krays to kill someone, had botched the job, but kept the money. He had also, unwisely,been heard to bad-mouth the twins.

Everington RoadOn the night of 29th October 1967, McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington,(left) on the pretext of a party. There, he was met by Reggie Kray and other members of the firm. Kray’s attempt to shoot McVitie misfired – literally – and instead, he stabbed McVitie repeatedly with a carving knife. McVitie’s body was never found, and the stories about his eventual resting place range from his being fed to the fishes of the Sussex coast to being buried incognito in a Gravesend cemetery.

The murders were to be the undoing of the twins, but it wasn’t until May 1968 that Scotland Yard had enough evidence to arrest them. Once they were remanded behind bars, hundreds of witnesses who had hitherto imitated The Three Wise Monkeys, were suddenly available to give evidence. Reggie and Ronnie were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Ronnie died in a Berkshire hospital in March 1995, while Reggie was released on compassionate grounds in August 2000. He died of cancer in October of that year.

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