Tag Archives: 1960s

Sohemian Society: lateral thinking and how to steal a book in 1960s London

Last night, I went to one of the Sohemian Society’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly jam-packed meetings.

It was a talk by Barry Miles, there to plug his book In The Sixties. I remember him for his column in hippy newspaper International Times. Not a man who should be forgotten.

I blogged about him (also at the Sohemian Society) back in 2011.

The Sohemian Society billed last night’s event thus:


At the beginning of the sixties Barry Miles was at art school in Cheltenham; at the end he was running the Beatles’ Zapple label and living in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. This is the story of what happened in between.

In the Sixties is a memoir by one of the key figures of the British counterculture. A friend of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Miles helped to organise the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading. He co-founded and ran the Indica Bookshop, the command centre for the London underground scene, and he published Europe’s first underground newspaper, International Times (IT), from Indica’s basement.

Miles’s partners in Indica were John Dunbar, then married to Marianne Faithfull, and Peter Asher (brother of Jane Asher). Through Asher, Miles became closely involved with the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, and In the Sixties is full of intimate glimpses of the Beatles at work and play. Other musicians who appear  include the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. This is the real story of the 1960s, from the inside.


The old Foyles building at 111-119 Charing Cross Road, London (Photograph by Tarquin Binary)

One of Miles’ more inconsequential yet fascinating memories was of Foyles Bookshop in London and an enterprising person he knew.

The old Foyles building in Charing Cross Road was a labyrinthine collection of books, arranged not logically by subject but confusingly by publisher and there was a Byzantine system of buying a book (if you could find it) involving two, possibly three, separate members of staff in different locations, so punters were meandering all over the place, books in hand, with no check on what, where or why.

In addition to the bizarrely arranged publisher sections, there was a Second Hand Books section and a Rare Books section.

If you were enterprising, as Miles’ acquaintance was, you could pick up several books from the Second Hand section and take them to the Rare Books section and sell Foyles’ own books back to them, all without leaving the shop.

It is lateral thinking and enterprising amorality like this that built us an Empire and makes me proud to be British.

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Linked: the Krays, the Blind Beggar shooting and the Queen of England

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(L-R) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston and Micky Fawcett

So I was talking to Micky Fawcett. He used to work for 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins.

“The Krays went up to Scotland, didn’t they?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Micky. “The Scots came down here to London.”

Arthur Thompson?” I asked.

“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”

“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”

“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”

“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”

“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.

“You know all the best people,” I said.

“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”

“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”

“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”

“Oh good grief!” I said.

“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”

“Which year was this?”

“The early 1960s.”

“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”

“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”

“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.

“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.

Princess Margaret, 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo

Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)

“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.

“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”

“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”

“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.

“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”

“The blind pop singer in Peters & Lee?”

“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.

“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”

“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.

“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.

“We?” I asked.

“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”

“Nash?” I asked.

“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”

“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.

“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”

Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.

“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night… 

“He said: Alright, you got it.

“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.

“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir

“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.

“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”

“So he bought it?” I asked.

“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!

“We used to do it all the time. That was my job.”

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Filed under 1960s, Crime, London, Scotland

“No, I was not bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee,” says UK performer

Matt Roper with his dad George Roper

Matt Roper (left) with his dad George Roper

You have no idea how I and other people suffer for this blog.

At the moment, I have comedy performer Matt Roper staying in my spare bedroom for the next four weeks. Well, he may emerge occasionally. Matt performs as comedy singing character Wilfredo. His father was stand-up comedian George Roper, who rose to fame on Granada TV’s stand-up series The Comedians in the 1960s, along with Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and others.

“I don’t have a blog today,” I told Matt this afternoon. “You’ll have to give me one. I always tell people that, as a boy, you were bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee and you say you weren’t. There must be a blog in that.”

“I was bounced on Cilla Black’s knee,” said Matt.

“In blog terms,” I said, “Cilla Black is not as sexy as Bernard Manning.”

“We are not talking about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t you want to be associated with Manning?”

“It’s just that I didn’t know him that well. I might as well be associated with Hermann Goering.”

“Well, you are,” I said.

Matt introduced me to Hermann Goering’s great-niece for a blog last year.

Les Dawson: not to be confused with Bernard Manning

Les Dawson shared knee-bouncing with Cilla Black?

“Bernard Manning,” I persisted, “kept coming round for Sunday lunch, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Matt. “Les Dawson used to come round for Sunday lunch sometimes.”

“Did he bounce you on his knee?” I asked hopefully.

Matt did not answer.

“There’s a picture of me sitting on Cilla’s knee,” said Matt, “but she might not like me letting you put it online. She’s in a swimming costume. This is not interesting, John.”

“It is,” I insisted. “I WAS NOT BOUNCED ON BERNARD MANNING’S KNEE is the headline, then we talk about something completely different.”

“OK,” said Matt. “But I think Louis Armstrong kissing Molly Parkin is far more interesting.”

“Where did he kiss her?” I asked.

“Do you mean…” Matt started to ask.

“I mean whatever you think I mean,” I said.

“You’ve always got Johnnie Hamp as a blog,” suggested Matt about the legendary Granada TV producer.

“He’s very interesting,” I said, “but he’s up in Cheshire.”

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

“Next year,” persisted Matt, “it’s the 50th anniversary of a TV show he produced called The Music of Lennon & McCartney. Brian Epstein (The Beatles’ manager) was very loyal. Not the best businessman, but a very loyal man to people who had given him a helping hand.

“By 1965, The Beatles didn’t really need to do a Granada TV show but Johnnie had been one of the first people to put The Beatles on TV in a regional Granada show Scene at 6.30. It’s on YouTube.

“In 1965, Johnnie had this idea The Music of Lennon & McCartney and there was this huge spectacular in Studio One at Granada TV and he flew people in – Henry Mancini played If I Fell on the piano; Ella Fitzgerald;  Cilla was on it; Peter Sellers reciting A Hard Day’s Night as Richard III. That’s on YouTube.”

“What were Cilla’s knees like?” I asked.

Matt ignored me.

“Johnnie Hamp,” he continued, “brought Woody Allen over to do a TV special – it’s the 50th anniversary of that next year, too. It’s the only television special Woody Allen ever did. Just for Johnnie Hamp at Granada. There’s a clip on YouTube.

“Johnnie told me recently: Back in those days, we didn’t care about ratings; creativity was more important. I mean, The Comedians was interesting because, today, no-one would take a chance on giving twelve unknown comics a primetime TV series.”

“That,” I said, “was why Sidney Bernstein (who owned Granada) was a great man.”

“Was it him or his brother who had a wooden leg?” asked Matt.

“That was Denis Forman,” I said. “It might have been metal.”

“I’ve got a Beatles-related story you could end your blog with,” said Matt.

“Just tell me what Cilla Black’s knees were like,” I told him.

“My dad,” said Matt, ignoring me, “told a story of when all the Beatles’ brothers and uncles in Liverpool – all the men of the family – heard that The Beatles were smoking drugs. What’s all this? they went. They took the train down from Lime Street to Euston to sort the fookin’ whatever’s going on owt. We’ll sort this fookin’ droogs thing owt.

“And the story goes that, three days later, they all got off the train back in Liverpool Lime Street saying: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

“I’d better take a photo of you,” I said, “for the blog.”

“Not if you’re going to go on and on about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

 

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Filed under 1960s, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Music

What connects gangster Ronnie Kray & a famed gentle folk singer of the 1960s?

The front page of the funeral service

The front cover of Laurie’s funeral service

Three days ago, I posted a blog about gangster Reg Kray’s funeral. It happened today in 2000.

When I was talking to my chum Lou for a blog last month, there was a collection of funeral ‘programmes’ on a shelf in his living room. One had a picture of a couple being married. It was the running order for the funeral at the City of London Crematorium of Laurie O’Leary, who died on 27th April 2005.

He was a music business manager, tour manager and lifelong friend of gangsters The Kray Twins, Reg and Ronnie.

Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men was a bestseller

Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men

In 1963, Laurie O’Leary managed part of the Krays’ Knightsbridge club Esmeralda’s Barn. In 1966, he managed Sibylla’s club, partly owned by Beatle George Harrison. In 1968, for ten years, he managed the legendary ‘A’ List music business club The Speakeasy.

He tour managed acts including Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Peggy Lee and Otis Reading.

In 2002, he published a book Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men.

“They said Laurie used to drink champagne for breakfast every day,” Lou told me.

The back page of Laurie's funeral service

The back page of Laurie’s funeral service

“Where did he get his money from?” I asked.

“Music!” said Lou. “The first time he brought Motown to England, we weren’t ready for it.

“The American acts came over, he paid them and he lost everything.

“But, when he brought them back a second time, he made a fortune. Stevie Wonder was on TV on Ready Steady Go.

“I went to Laurie’s funeral. Nice do. Lovely send-off.”

Lou told me about a letter from the imprisoned Ronnie Kray to Laurie O’Leary.

“It said something along the lines of: Hello Laurie. I’ve been sent a tape. I’ve had a listen to it. I think it’s quite impressive. I think we should sign him up. He calls himself Donovan.

“I dunno how Ronnie Kray ended up with all these musician types sending him tapes,” said Lou, “but he did.”

My copy of Donovan’s A Gift From a Flower To a Garden

My own copy: Donovan’s A Gift From a Flower To a Garden

In my erstwhile youth, I was a big fan of Donovan.

I have no idea if Laurie O’Leary took up Ronnie Kray’s talent-spotting tip.

But the thought of mad-as-a-March-Hare hard man Ronnie Kray listening appreciatively to gentle Hare Krishna-ish Donovan’s hippyish music is, at the very least, incongruous.

Donovan’s videos on YouTube include a live version of his song Mellow Yellow. Fourteen?

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Sexual abuse: when women & children were seen as ‘fair game’? – in the past?

A British Rail poster ad from the past

A British Rail poster from the past, with paedophile pop star Gary Glitter

The last words of my blog yesterday were:

“The past does not exist, even though everything is interconnected by happenstance.”

Someone took exception when they read this yesterday and told me:

“You’re an idiot. Of course the past exists.”

Well, it doesn’t and it does…

Two days ago, I posted a blog headlined Rolf Harris, Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter, Roman Polanski – and what it is like to be sexually assaulted as a child.

Yesterday, I got a response from ‘Sandy Mac’. This turned out to be someone I met at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. This is what she wrote yesterday:


I was born in 1946.

I was about seven years old or a bit younger and sometimes looked after by a neighbour with a small daughter. I rarely saw her husband but, on this occasion, he was at home.

He and I were in the front room sitting in front of the fire. Amidst the chat, I looked up to see this ‘thing’ in his hand which he urged me to touch.

I remember feeling uncertain, confused if not a bit frightened at what he was asking, although I didn’t know why.

I remember him saying: “Go on. It won’t bite.”

Then his wife called us to the kitchen to eat. I can’t remember how I felt after that as we all sat around the table.

I do know that I didn’t tell my mother, but I didn’t go to that house again.

A happy coincidence maybe, but no explanation was given.

In my early twenties, I remember working for one particular employer who was an absolute menace around women. He also wielded quite a lot of power. Not a happy combination. As well as witnessing my employer’s behaviour towards women at first hand, I heard accounts from other people too. This would have been in the mid-1960s.

That sadly was the climate of the times.

Police at that time, I remember, were loathe to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Oh how I applauded Erin Pizzey when she opened her first refuge in Chiswick in the early 1970s.

I was an ‘unmarried mother’ at sixteen and was sent to a mother and baby home, run by nuns in Stamford Hill.

The stigma was huge in 1962, only matched by my mother’s disappointment in me.

My daughter will be 52 this year with three boys of her own. She was reunited in Canada with her father and his lovely wife. She and her dad had about ten years to get to know one another. She was with him when he died a few years ago now.

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What “a little reception party” meant in the 1960s if you knew The Kray Twins

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s Krayzy Days memories

In a blog last June, I mentioned that, in the ‘Revised and Updated’ 3rd Edition of John Pearson’s highly-respected book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. it was implied that legendary London gangsters the Kray Twins had killed their driver Billy Frost in the 1960s but, in fact, I had tea with Billy Frost in 2009 and we had exchanged Christmas cards ever since.

Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days clears up many myths and misconceptions about the Kray Twins. I was chatting to him this week at his regular haunt The May Fair Hotel in London.

“I know how that strange story about Frostie got round,” he told me.

“Is it in your book?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he told me. “There are so many things. I could have written two books.”

“I hope you will,” I said.

“A fellow I know named Willie…” Micky told me. “He’s from Aldgate – his real name is Wolf – and he was brought up round Petticoat Lane. He was a very shrewd guy – a sharp Yiddisher guy – and he used to make a few quid, which attracted The Twins and he was terrified of them.

Micky Fawcett experienced Krayzy Days

Micky Fawcett at the May Fair Hotel in London

“One day, there was a knock on his door and a couple of fellers asked for him. He wasn’t there, but his wife got him on the phone and they said to him: The Twins want to see you. 

Well, I can’t drop everything and go and see them now, he told ‘em. He said: I’ll meet you outside The Beehive – a pub nearby. They’ve got a car park there and, if you pull in, I’ll come with you then.

“We was having trouble with The Twins at the time and Willie was a good friend of mine. A good friend. He told me and two other guys what had happened.

“We told Willie: We’ll give ‘em a little reception party when they arrive at The Beehive.

“So we go there and wait and, when they come along, we make our presence known and we’ve got guns, which we show ‘em and they run – jump in their car – and, as they pulled away, I took a shot at one of ‘em through the back window just to let ‘em know we were serious. Nothing more than that.

“I turned round and said to Willie: Well, THEY won’t come back, will they?

“And he said to me: You’ve hit him, you know – That hit him!

“I said: No it didn’t – It missed!

“And he said: Mick. I’m telling you that hit him. I saw him slump.

“I told him: I’m sure it didn’t.

“It took a little bit of time – no-one heard nothing. Willie lived over in Essex, but his brother Davey still lived in Aldgate. So he told him: Have a listen round. See what you can hear about it.

Billy Frost - Dead men don’t drink tea

Billy Frost – still sending Christmas cards

“So, a bit later, Willie got in touch and told me: I’ve found out who that was. David said there’s a geezer called Frostie. He’s disappeared. No-one knows where he is. 

“And it went on from there and Willie would still probably think The Twins had disposed of him out of embarrassment.”

“Even to this day?” I asked.

“I think he would,” Micky told me.

“Are you on Billy Frost’s Christmas card list?” I asked.

“I’ve never met him,” 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