The night comedian Malcolm Hardee met gangster Charlie Richardson

Charlie Richardson book to be published next month

A new book to be published next month

In London in the 1960s, the Richardsons – Charlie & Eddie – were rivals of the Kray Twins – Ronnie & Reggie.

The Richardsons always kept a lower profile than the Krays but were imprisoned after a high profile ‘torture trial’ in which (among other things) their enforcer ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s habit of pulling out people’s teeth with allegedly gold-plated pliers was a widely-reported part. I can do no better than quote this section of the Richardsons’ current Wikipedia entry:

The police unearthed the sadistic methods of torture that the gang specialised in. Victims were hauled in front of Charlie, Fraser and others in a mock trial. Then the punishments were meted out, anything from beatings to more severe forms of torture: whippings, cigarette burning, teeth being pulled out with pliers, nailing to the floor, having toes removed with bolt cutters and given electric shocks until unconsciousness.

Mad Frank interviewed at Repton Boys Club

Mad Frank (left) interviewed at Repton Boys’ Club in 2002

The electric shocks were inflicted by an old Army field telephone which included a hand-crank-powered generator. The victims had the terminals attached to their nipples and genitalia and were then placed in a bath of cold water to enhance the electrical charge. Afterwards, if victims were too badly injured, they would be sent to a doctor who had been struck off the Medical Register.

This process of trial and torture was known as ‘taking a shirt from Charlie’, because of Charlie Richardson’s habit of giving each victim a clean shirt in which to return home (since the victim’s original shirt was usually covered in blood).

On one occasion, a collector of ‘pensions’ (protection money from publicans and others), who was twice warned by the Richardsons after he pocketed the money and spent it at Catford dog track, was nailed to the floor of a warehouse near Tower Bridge for nearly two days, during which time gang members frequently urinated on him.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee was always, it seemed to me, enthralled by ‘real’ criminals.

Shortly after he bought the Wibbley Wobbley boat in Rotherhithe to establish a new comedy club, there was a social event which had been pre-arranged by the boat’s previous owner. This is an entry from my diary at the time:

Thursday 7th February 2002

Malcolm & girlfriend Andree at the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

Malcolm & girlfriend Andree at the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

In the afternoon, I went to see Malcolm at the Wibbley Wobbley. He had left his belt somewhere and he asked if I remembered when trousers used to come with cardboard belts. I did not.

I asked what happened if it rained and he told me they only came with cardboard belts at the point of sale; then you bought a proper belt before it rained.

At the Wibbley Wobbley in the evening there was allegedly a book signing (Who’s The Thief? by Dave Ford)

Dave Ford in a video uploaded onto YouTube in 2010

Author Dave Ford in a video uploaded onto YouTube in 2010

but really is was just a party. Dave Ford was a tall, broad villain in a white shirt, his throat hidden by a scarf – a former paratrooper. One of the people who turned up was Charlie Richardson who had that fresh, pink, newly-scrubbed look that many Faces have – with a look of relaxed yet steely self-confidence in their eyes. He was slightly too short for the width of his body and had a hooked pink Roman nose; he was bald with close-cropped white hair and close-cropped white beard.

Another man came in with the same look of relaxed yet steely self-confidence in his eyes and they met as equals. Everyone else deferred to Charlie.

Malcolm was very tense, very nervous, very twitchy – obviously quite excited to be in Charlie Richardson’s presence – but eventually plucked up courage to approach and introduce himself to the great man who seemed to relax when he realised who Malcolm was. There was a twinkle in Charlie’s eyes.

Later, Malcolm played Tom Jones’ Please Release Me on the jukebox, but no-one reacted.

Later still, with the interior of the boat jam-packed, the back of the Wibbley Wobbley was lowering in the water and Malcolm was looking slightly nervous about it possibly sinking.

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee was always enthralled by ‘real’ criminals (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

I left at about 8.45pm and, outside, there was a large collection of 4×4 vehicles with chromium bars at the front to ward off any sudden appearance of cattle, buffalo or wildebeest stampeding through the streets of South London.

Apparently at 11 o’clock – closing time – after I left, Malcolm said:

“Come on, come on – Closing Time – Haven’t you lot got cells to go to?”

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Filed under Comedy, Crime

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