At London gangster Reg Kray’s funeral

Continuing this week’s semi-theme of posting extracts from my old e-diaries, below is an edited extract from my diary entry on Wednesday 11th October 2000. The Kray Twins, Reg and Ronnie, were notorious 1960s London gangsters.


Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray as photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s

Reg (left) & Ron, photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s

The weather forecast said it would be a dark grey overcast morning with heavy rain.

Reg Kray’s hearse was due to leave undertakers English & Son in Bethnal Green Road at 11.15am with the funeral itself at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, at midday.

I arrived in Bethnal Green Road around 10.25am, when lots of large men with thick necks and short hair were leaving a burger shop to make their way to the church. They were ‘security’, wearing three-quarter length black overcoats, black trousers, white shirts, black ties. On the right arm, each wore a blood-red ribbon with the gold letters RKF – presumably Reg Kray’s Funeral. Each also wore, on their left lapel, a small red rectangular badge with the yellow letters RKF.

Up side streets, opposite the undertakers, were vans with satellite dishes on top to transmit back pictures of the funeral procession to broadcasting companies

Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.

Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.

As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe in Bethnal Green Road, where the Kray brothers used to meet for cups of tea, some local resident was being interviewed outside.

In the streets behind St Matthew’s Church, there were five or six or more communications vans parked for TV stations, some with dishes on top, some with tall extended masts.

On the flat roofs of the buildings opposite English and Son perched video cameras, stills photographers and people just standing waiting for the cortège to start off.

A large crowd stood around the undertakers’ entrance and along the pavement opposite; some stood on waste bins. The old-fashioned glass hearse had six black horses in front of it, the contours of their black harnesses picked-out with silver lines, their black blinkers decorated with silver lines and 18 inch tall black plumes rising from the top of their heads.

As the crowd watched, an enterprising TV cameraman passed by, dangling off the back platform of a red double-decker bus to get a tracking shot of the hearse and crowd.

Along the left side of the horse-drawn hearse, a wreath spelled out

FREE

AT

LAST

in white flowers with a thin red floral outline and, at around 11.10am, a long white floral wreath was put on the roof of the hearse facing right. It spelled out in white flowers:

RESPECT

English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

Funeral directors English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

At 11.13am, the coffin emerged and a sky-blue helicopter appeared and hovered overhead. Two teenage girls were standing next to me and, as the dark brown highly-veneered wood coffin containing Reg’s body was lifted into the hearse, they grabbed hands, excited at just being there.

In the crowd, cameras were lifted to take shots of the coffin: some were lifted up in the air and clicked blindly. Some were the standard old-style 35mm stills cameras; some were new digital stills cameras. Changing times.

I walked back along Bethnal Green Road towards Vallance Road, where the three Kray brothers had lived with their mother. As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe I looked inside and it was being renovated: gutted out for new walls and furnishings in front and back: everything changing.

There were only scattered groups of people waiting along Bethnal Green Road but, at the junction with Vallance Road, all four corners were more crowded. Opposite the Marquis of Cornwallis pub, I got chatting to a man in his late 50s who had come to see Reg’s twin brother Ronnie’s funeral procession a few years ago.

“Have you read the books?” he asked me. He told me he had read all the books.

He told me he had not been brought up in Bethnal Green and did not live there now: he lives in Peckham but he came, he said, to look.

Ronnie’s funeral in 1995 had been much more crowded, he said: “The pavements were packed solid shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Today, there were smaller, more scattered groups of people, not streets lined solid with people. Now the street market and shopping trips were continuing behind the people who were – rather than lining the streets en masse – in groups and individually standing at the edge of the pavement. When Ronnie was buried, the Krays were myths; now they were just interesting.

When the hearse drawn by six black horses and followed by a queue of low-sprung black limousines turned into Vallance Road, the police stopped all the oncoming traffic, including an ambulance.

Toby Von Judge

Toby Von Judge cut an interesting figure

Illegal prize-fighter Roy Shaw was there, looking less startled than normal. And Toby Von Judge from Wimbledon.

Among all the bulky black-coated men, Toby stood out by being quite small and dressed in a tan-coloured three-quarter-length camel-hair coat which had two military medals (with short ribbons) attached well below the waist at the left front. His face was lined, his hair black but heavily-tinged with grey and in a pony-tail at the back. He had another medal on a red ribbon round his neck.

Another man had what looked like a slightly melted plastic face and I did wonder if he had at one time had had plastic surgery to change his features but he had then aged, unnaturally changing the shape of the artificial skin.

Arriving late was a roly-poly black man with a black bowler hat.

Apparently missing were Mad Frank Frazer and actress Barbara Windsor.

The funeral inside the church was relayed to those outside by loudspeakers around the church’s exterior: around four at the sides and two at the front.

The ‘security’ seemed to have been influenced by militaristic films. The fact everyone had black coats, pasty white faces and red armbands gave it a rather Nazi colour tone.

On each side of the church door stood three heavy-set men, one behind the other, facing forwards, hands in pockets, legs apart. There was then a slight gap and, about three feet in front of each trio, stood another man facing forwards. Then, between these men and the entrance to the railing-lined semi-circle in front of the church, stood 5 men on each side facing each other, at right angles to the church door men, forming a corridor of men through which entrants had to pass. These men tended to stand legs apart, their hands clasped in front of their genitals. Within the railing-bordered semi-circle, two men stood at each corner of the building facing forwards. It was a display of power rather than actual required security: a security system copied from Hollywood war movies rather than normal showbiz funerals.

I realised later that there were fewer men on one side of this phalanx than the other. The side with fewer men was the side which had lots of press cameramen massed behind the railings. Fewer men made the view less obscured. I also noticed that all the ‘security’ men’s trouser legs were slightly too long: there was a concertina of wavy black material bunched at the bottom of each leg just above the shoe.

After two or three hymns and a couple of reminiscences of Reg, the final song was Frank Sinatra’s famous recording of My Way. By the time the funeral was over, the sun had come out and, as My Way started…

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again
Too few to mention…

Roberta Kray

Roberta Kray, the widow of Reg Kray

gliding out of the church doors were two priests in flowing purple and white robes, one of whom had the grace to look slightly embarrassed at the showbiz element as they led the black suited men and Reg’s grieving wife Roberta (with female friend) out of the church.

As the ‘congregation’ following them emerged, there were conversations, handshakes and shoulder-slappings: a big funeral like this is a chance to socialise and re-cement or create new business contacts.

“I ain’t seen ya for abaht four yeers,” one crew-cut man said to another: “Ow are ya?”

Among those coming out of the church, I noticed the actor Billy Murray. And playwright/actor Steven Berkoff was around somewhere. And there was Toby Von Judge again in his camel-hair coat walking with a slightly taller woman wearing fake suntan, a short black dress and very bleached very fake blonde hair.

As the coffin came out, one woman in the crowd clapped on her own for about five seconds, then it was taken up by others, then others.

Police close the surrounding roads for Reg's funeral hearse

Police closed the surrounding roads for Reg’s funeral hearse

As the crowd slowly dispersed and the helicopter hovered overhead, I wandered along to the large junction of Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Heath Road. The helicopter, which had been hovering over the church now came and hovered over the road junction which was crowded with people on all corners and on all the traffic islands. Reg’s body was now in a car.

Yellow and white police motorcycles blocked the junction while two other police motorcycles led the cortège across slowly, but it was the walking black-coated men with red armbands preceding the cortège who cleared a way for the long line of vehicles.

As the hearse passed by, on the right side of the coffin were the words in white flowers:

REG

BELOVED

As another limo passed, a woman on the traffic island where I was standing said excitedly to her friend: “It’s Frankie! – Frankie’s in that car!” And, indeed, he was – Mad Frank Frazer, looking impassive.

We had heard the coffin car approaching because, as it came along the road, the sound of clapping came with it. Along from the other end of Bethnal Green Road, across the road junction and away, on to Chingford Mount Cemetery in Essex.

The Krays’ gravestone

The gravestone of twins Reg (left) & Ron Kray

At the cemetery, there was a flypast by a lone Spitfire chartered from Duxford air museum. The Spitfire – a symbol of Britain when Great.

Afterwards, someone I know who was also at the funeral told me: “I didn’t speak to Frank, but I called his number and Marilyn’s (Frank’s wife) voice is on the Answerphone saying: Frank’s out shooting… for TV I mean…”

There is a compilation of BBC TV and ITV News reports of Reg Kray’s funeral on YouTube.

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