Category Archives: gambling

“All the London casinos were crooked” – gangsters, gambling and bullfighting

Micky Fawcett (left) with Michael at the May Fair hotel in 2014

“So how did your son Michael become a bullfighter in Spain?” I asked former Krays associate Micky Fawcett in the bar of the May Fair Hotel in London last week.

“Well, in the late 1970s,” Micky told me, “I was having a bit of trouble with the gendarmes in London so, around Christmastime, I got in a car to Spain with Michael, his mother and his mother’s sister. We got a flat out there. I had been in Spain before – with Billy Hill.”

“Why were you with Billy Hill?” I asked.

“He wanted to see me because he had pulled that masterstroke which I mention in the book.”

Micky’s autobiographical memoir Krayzy Days goes way beyond his days with the Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie.

Young Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray & Reggie’s wife

“I was out with Reggie in Mayfair one night,” Micky told me, “and we went to go in the 21 Club in Chesterfield Gardens and they wouldn’t let us in, so Reggie chinned the doorman and we went off to the Astor Club in a bad mood. The Astor was in an alley behind where we’re sitting now.

“Reggie owed lots of money in income tax at the time. He had just given me Esmerelda’s Barn (a Knightsbridge club) and said: You take it over. I dunno if you can do anything with it. Sell it to someone or something.

“And, down at the Astor, we saw this guy called Murphy. He was a rick.”

“A rick?” I asked.

“He sits in at the game in a casino but he’s working for the house. Cheating. All the cards are marked. And Reggie said to this guy: You might be able to do something with Mick here. And the guy said: I don’t do anything without I contact The Old Professor.”

“The Old Professor?” I asked.

“Billy Hill,” said Micky. “Anyway, Reggie was furious. It was another knock back to him that night. So we went in the office at The Astor and Reggie phoned Billy Hill and said: Listen. We’ve got somebody here who says he can’t do any business with us unless he gets the OK from you.

“And Bill said: Bring him round straight away.

“So we threw the guy in the car and took him round and Bill told the guy: Get in the kitchen, you. I’ll deal with you in a minute. Then Bill said to Reggie: Can I just throw him out? For old times, sake, eh, Reg?

Billy Hill at home. (Photo: Krayzy Days)

“And Reggie said: No, he’s going in the River.

“And Bill said: No, Reg, think about it. This will be the last place he’s ever been seen. Just for old times sake, eh? I’ll just throw him out.

“So Reggie said: Go on, then.

“And Bill went in the kitchen. A bit of noise. – Oh! Agh! Ugh! Ah! – All over the top. And Hillsy came out and said: I just kicked him up the arse and threw him out. Here you are Reg. And he gave Reggie a brown envelope. Wot’s this? says Reggie.

There’s a monkey in there, said Hillsy.”

“£500?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Micky. “And Billy told Reggie: It’s a gift. It ain’t nothing. We’ll be friends.

“So Reggie said: OK. And he took it because he didn’t have any money at all. He was skint.

“Anyway, about 48 hours later, I’m round Vallance Road (where the Krays lived) and Hillsy phones up. He says: Reg, I’ve got a problem. Can you get me some help?

“So Reggie gets a few of the more fierce-looking characters around. He didn’t give me nothing. I’d had nothing out of the £500. He said to me: Mick, you stay here and man the phone in case anything goes wrong. And away they go.

“A couple of hours later, he comes back and he ain’t saying very much. Eventually, I ask him what happened and he says: It was a false alarm, really. He was up there playing cards with some of his mates – the waiters out of the local restaurant. Foreigners.”

“So what was the problem?” I asked.

Teddy Machin (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“Well, I’m going to tell you,” said Micky. “I tell Teddy Machin about it and he tells Hillsy who says: Oh yeah. I know Mick. He came round here with Reggie. Bring him out here. I’d like to meet him. He was in Spain by then. He used to be back and forward to Spain. He used to get about. He’d been to South Africa. So I got on the plane and went out to Spain.

“And it turned out they hadn’t been waiters. They had been alarmed at the Twins moving in to the 21 Club and chinning the doorman.

“The 21 Club was one of the top casinos in the country. They were a bit concerned cos they were running the gambling in London. Someone wrote a book about it. (The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and The Perfect Con and there was a 2009 TV documentary titled The Real Casino Royale and a Daily Telegraph article.) One of their customers was George Osborne’s uncle.”

“The recent Chancellor of the Exchequer?”

“Yeah. At Aspinall’s, above the Clermont Club, just round the corner from here. They was all crooked. At some point, Billy Hill had said to John Aspinall: You can either blow the whistle and ruin your business or you can include us in it. And Aspinall said: Well, I’ve got no choice, have I? You’re in it.

More on the Unione Corse in the book

“The ‘waiters’ who were with Billy Hill when Reggie went round were the Unione Corse who were running the gambling in Mayfair.”

“They were running all the casinos?”

“Yeah. All the casinos were crooked, near enough. They had a system where they could mark the cards. I don’t know how. Nobody did. But they did. And Billy Hill did.

“So, when I went out to Spain, he told me all the story about how it was the Unione Corse. He wined me and dined me a bit. He took me to the Marbella Club and he said: Come over to Tangier. He had a club there as well and they were in Tangier as well. So I went there with him. Boulevard Hassan II was his address there.

“Anyway, that’s how I got the flavour for Spain. And, when I was in Spain, he took me to bullfights.”

“So,” I asked, “when you later went out to Spain with your son Michael and his mother, how old was Michael?”

Micky Fawcett chatted in Mayfair last week

“Nine. And I said to Michael: I’ll take you to a bullfight. And we did. Then, a few days later, we were on the beach and Michael was messing around with the muleta – the red flag – and he’s playing bullfighters.

“And the fellah who had the concession for that part of the beach was an ex-bullfighter who fought as El Solo. He introduced Michael to other bullfighters. All of a sudden, we were catapulted right into the middle of that sort of thing. The man who ran the bullring had been written about by Hemingway.

“So they have to test the little baby bulls and they see which ones are brave. And Michael was just playing at fighting with the little bulls.”

“There was,” I asked, “no sticking swords or anything else into them?”

“Oh no, no,” said Micky. “Baby bulls. But, while we were there, doing all that, an English woman who was a journalist started making enquiries about Michael and, next thing you know, there’s a picture of Michael in the bullfighting magazine El Ruedo with writing underneath in Spanish all about him. He was 10 years old by then.

“And I didn’t know at the time, but it was also in the Evening Standard in London. So there I am out in Spain trying to keep a low profile and Michael’s got a big picture and article in the big bullfighting magazine and in the Evening Standard back in London – and it was even in the local paper The Stratford Express.”

Young Michael Fawcett got publicity

“He must have been proud,” I said, “aged ten.”

“Nah,” said Micky. “He didn’t care. He said: Oh no! It’ll spoil my image! Cos he was into music.”

“How long did this go on for?” I asked.

“A few months, I suppose. What happened was I then ran out of money.”

“So you had to come back to Britain?”

“Well, no. Not quite.”

“Is this,” I asked, “when you ended up in jail in Belgium or somewhere?”

“Worse,” said Micky.

 

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What links MI5, the Mafia, the Playboy Club, Lord Lucan and Charles Saatchi?

Did this man move to Africa without his wife?

Did this man emigrate to Africa without his wife?

You meet people at parties.

They tell you things.

They may or may not be true.

I met a man at a party who works at a London gaming club – watching what goes on and making sure everything runs smoothly.

He told me he used to be a dealer at the Playboy Club in Park Lane in the 1960s. He also worked at Aspinall’s private gambling club and at a gaming club in Berkeley Square which was owned by Mafia-linked Hollywood actor George Raft until he sold it to Britain’s Barclay Brothers. The Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency’s building later stood on the site. He also worked a club opposite the old MI5 building in Curzon Street (the latter had no windows on the ground floor, a bomb canopy at first floor level and windows for machine guns at the corners). There was an MI5 bunker underneath one of these clubs; stairs went down for several storeys.

He told me he believed missing peer Lord Lucan (a friend of John Aspinall) – the day after he killed the family nanny – fled with help from tycoon James Goldsmith who owned large areas of various countries in southern Africa into which someone could disappear without trace. Lucan was born in 1934. He is probably now dead from old age after a happy ‘retirement’.

So it goes.

The man at the party also had a story about the killing of a Playboy bunny and the disappearance of an Arab who was probably responsible. Another Arab had accidentally became an arms dealer and ended up in a mental home in the UK.

The Sultan of Brunei’s personal identity card for all occasions

The Sultan of Brunei’s personal identity card for all occasions

And the Sultan of Brunei had once been asked for identification at the Playboy Club and took a Brunei banknote out of his wallet, pointing to the picture of himself.

In its heyday, he claimed, the Playboy Club in London made three times the total amount made by all the other clubs and the magazine profits combined so, when it closed, it brought down the then Playboy empire. At the Playboy Club in Park Lane in its heyday, a man (who is still alive) had closed-circuit TV monitors in his office showing various parts of the club, including a camera in Playboy Bunnies’ changing room.

The man at the party told me the only way he could stay sane among the unimaginable amounts of money moving around was to think of it all as plastic not money.

You meet people at parties.

They tell you things.

They may or may not be true.

There is footage of 1960s Playboy Bunnies on YouTube.

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Filed under 1960s, Crime, gambling, London

Three things I cut out of my blogs: Apple computers, racism and bankers

Cutting edge blogging?

Occasionally, there are little bits that I do not include in my blogs which I think are interesting but which just don’t fit that particular blog. Here are three of them:

APPLE COMPUTERS AND THE NUMBER 42

I mentioned to a friend that I had once interviewed Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, in which the answer to everything is 42.

“Oh,” she said, “I have a friend who is a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He works for Apple computers in California. He has to alter things and, whenever he comes to some situation where he is not certain of the amount to alter it by then, if it’s vaguely sensible, he puts in the number 42. Obviously, if it should be nearer to five billion, then he doesn’t. But, if it’s a change that might have a numerical value between 1 and 100 then, if he’s not sure, he just puts in 42.”

“Does it usually work?” I asked.

“It does,” my friend told me.

THE BBC AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD

When I was talking to violinist Bobby Valentino recently about his surreally low payments for the worldwide hit song Young at Heart, he told me:

“A few years ago, when I was with Los Pistoleros, I was at a festival up at Newcastle for the Tall Ships Race and the BBC were hosting the website for the festival and we said we were the best honky tonk band in the land and they censored the word ‘honky’. They put five asterisks instead of the word honky. They said it was racist.”

I asked Bobby: “Did the word ‘honky’ as in ‘honky tonk’ ever have a racist meaning?”

“No,” he said, “The poor white folks in the Southern states of America were called honkies because they went to honky tonks. Honky tonk is the origin of the word ‘honky’ but a honky tonk is basically a working men’s club down South. It wasn’t a formal club, just a bar.

“There are loads of songs with the words ‘honky tonk’ in them. The BBC play the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women without any problem, but they thought the phrase the best honky tonk band in the land was racist!”

COMEDY CLUB OWNER NOEL FAULKNER ON BANKERS

When I recently chatted to London Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner about the state of British comedy, we started by talking about Las Vegas.

“The one time I went to Vegas,” I told him, “I decided not to gamble at all, but I went into this massive room with rows and rows of one-armed bandits and a blind Chinese woman was led in to play on the machines. I would have thought the whole point of one-armed bandits is that they’re visual: you see the images on the wheels rotate and you see them either line up or not line up. This woman was blind. I suppose she heard the sound and that was the atmosphere she got from it. But it was bizarre. A blind woman pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit in Vegas.”

“Las Vegas to me,” said Noel, “is all these machines and they’re saying Yeah, just put yer money in here. It’s Amusement! Certainly it’s fucking amusing. To the casino owners. But the banks are a bigger racket than Vegas. At least when you go to Vegas, you know you’re being fucked. Vegas is for the damned.

“You go to Vegas; you get fucked.

“You open a bank account, you don’t expect to get fucked, but you really get it up the ass.

“At least in Vegas you get to pull a handle a few times. When you get involved with the banks, you get to pull your own dick, that’s all, because you feel like a wanker after they’ve fucked with you.

“All these Boris bicycles around London,” Noel said, “are sponsored by Barclays and they have the name painted on them but, instead of RCLAY, I want to go round painting STARD on them.”

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Computers, Finance, gambling, Music

North Korea – my undying admiration for their supreme leader Kim Jung-un

The admirable flag of the supreme leader’s admirable country

A former criminal once told me that it was possible to make money – a lot of money – from crime and not be caught. But only if you had an aim. And most criminals, he claimed, are aimless.

“It’s like gambling,” he told me. “People get addicted to gambling and they may make a load of money, but they throw it all away because they don’t know when to stop. If you have an aim to make £100,000 or even £1 million, you could probably make that. But then you’ve got to stop. If you don’t have a specific number as your target, if you don’t stop, if you just keep going, then eventually, if you’re a criminal, you get caught and, if you’re a gambler, you lose what you’ve won. Because the odds are increasingly against you.”

I do not think I ever had a career aim. I found it more interesting to take things as they came along. As a result, at parties, I have never been able to coherently answer that inevitable question: “So what is it you actually do, John?”

Someone also told me, “You should achieve everything you want to achieve by the time you reach the age of 40,” though, sadly, they suggested this to me after I had passed the appropriate age.

I was once told: “John, your CV has no focus.”

I took this as no bad thing.

Better to die in the gutter with multiple memories than to live in bored comfort and regret unexplored avenues.

I have always thought the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” was a rather attractive prospect.

I am writing this blog in longhand on a British Airways 747 flight from Beijing to London. I will re-type it all out onto a computer when I return to the UK and will post it on my blog later tonight. I took no computer, no iPad and no mobile phone on my trip to North Korea. I am not that mad.

North Korea does not allow foreigners to bring into their fine, tightly-controlled country any mobile phones or any electronic device containing GPS. China is not that paranoid but, of course, blocks access to not only Facebook, Twitter and other Western social networking sites but also to all the main Western blogging sites. This blog of mine (hosted by WordPress) alas cannot be read in China. Their loss.

As I write this in longhand on the 747, I am 2 hours 45 minutes into a 10 hour 45 minutes flight back to the UK.

According to the electronic in-flight map on the seat-back in front of me, we are just approaching a set of white cartoon mountains.

Aha!, I just wrote in longhand, this must mean  we are just about to fly over Tibet. But now a wider map shows me we are flying westwards somewhere between Irkutsk in Siberia in the north and Ulan Bator in Mongolia the south.

Just south of both those cities on the very small map is the Chinese city of Chongqing.

At Beijing Airport this morning, I unexpectedly bumped into Ben, who had been in the group I went to North Korea with last week.

He told me that, last night, when another member of the group Googled “Chongqing”, it came up with nothing. The name seemed to have been blocked by the Chinese authorities. An entire city temporarily wiped from existence, presumably because they did not want people in China researching beyond the Party line on the on-going Bo Xilai scandal which, to me, seems less of a scandal and more of a future thriller movie plot.

Ben told me that, even before he went to North Korea, he had started keeping a diary.

“You should write a blog,” I told him.

“I don’t think my life is that interesting,” he said.

“What are you doing when you get back to Britain?” I asked him.

“I’m thinking,” he said, “of starting up an internet radio station… My uncle used to be a weather man and wants to do the night shift.”

It is good to have an aim.

China seems to know where it wants to go and is getting there.

North Korea is perhaps like a floundering gambler with no target. It has changed little since I first went there in 1986. Except for the small matter of mobile phones, presumed ICBM tests and the possession of nuclear bombs.

“Do not treat us as children” was the North Korean reaction when the US complained about their recent rocket launch. That is always a good rule-of-thumb, I think, when dealing with people who have nuclear bombs and a volatile diplomatic tendency towards brinksmanship.

On landing at Heathrow Airport in London late this afternoon, I picked up a copy of the i newspaper. It contained a small piece claiming that the official North Korean website was built using a template which cost just $15 – less than £10.

Typical propaganda in the Western media, trying to belittle the great land of the supreme leader Kim Jung-un.

The business page of North Korea’s website says the country “will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia” and promises that workers there “will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained”. It also says the country has “a government with solid security and a very stable political system, without corruption”.

In the circumstances, I would just like to state my undying admiration for North Korea’s 28 or 29 year old (opinions vary) supreme leader Kim Jung-un.

I think it is better to be safe and cover all angles.

We live in interesting times.

On its website, the North Korean government is currently offering “an exclusive business trip” to the country from 11th August to 18th August 2012. They say they will “facilitate visit to factories and meetings with commerce officials in charge of your professional area. All passports are invited to apply except for: U.S.A., Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Japan due to special protocol in bilateral relations. The number of visitors is limited to 10.”

Now THAT is a trip I would like to go on.

The website adds: “Participants will be accompanied during the entire visit.”

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Filed under China, Crime, gambling, North Korea, Politics