Tag Archives: Arthur Thompson

The most feared comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe and her links to crime

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

At this month’s Grouchy Club meeting in London, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick, one of the judges of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

“So,” I started, “you were trained as a lawyer in Scotland…”

“Yes, I did a law degree at Glasgow University because I watched Margaret Lockwood in the TV series Justice at a very impressionable age and I saw the original Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton when my whole brain was malleable. I got this idea that lawyers were there to help people… I pause for laughter.

“I really just wanted to be an actress, but then my mum died very suddenly and my dad went to pieces and I thought: We must do something to cheer up my dad. What I had always done to cheer up my dad, my gran, my mum – anybody – was do something clever – win a prize, be first in the class, something.

“So I thought: Great! I will make him magically forget the love of his life to whom he has been married for 17 years has just died overnight of a brain haemorrhage… by announcing that I am going to do a law degree.”

“Very sensible,” I said. “How long was the course?”

“Four years for an Honours degree. And then, in Scotland, you do an apprenticeship and then, if you want to go to the Bar, you do devilling.”

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

“It was great. I was drunk through most of the degree.”

“And you were bonking…”

“Endlessly. I fucked people for the same reason people climb mountains. Because they’re there.”

On his death in 2015, the Telegraph called Joe a man of “integrity and passion”

“And you wanted to be…?”

“A criminal lawyer and the really, really famous guy who all the criminals in Glasgow went to was Joe Beltrami. He was a phenomenal lawyer who judged nobody and absolutely gave everybody the best defence they could get. They had never had any women working for them other than as secretaries but I persuaded Joe Beltrami and did my apprenticeship with them and it was – fucking hell! – a bit of an eye-opener.”

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

“No. They only did the biggies – murder, armed robbery, rape. So I spent most of my time interviewing witnesses, talking to the police, collecting bits-and-bobs of evidence at prisons or in the High Court. It was a TOTAL eye-opener.”

“At what point,” I asked, “did you discover there was no justice?”

“Fairly early on. It completely turned the way I thought about… the way I thought about everything. I had just come out of university. What the fuck did I know? Nothing.”

“Why did you stop being involved in the legal system?”

“One reason was that I was just getting so angry. Because of the unfairness of the system. You see an actual policeman standing there just lying. Not being mistaken, but telling a direct lie and then two of his friends stepping up and saying: Yes, I can corroborate what DC So-and-so was saying. Seeing that and knowing there is nothing you can do about it because the jury are thinking: It’s the police. So it’s true…

The Scottish media called Walter Norval Glasgow’s Godfather & “first crime boss”

“I learned more and more that you can be found guilty because your accent is wrong, because you look wrong, because you don’t know the right words. You can be found innocent because you have a posh fucking Eton accent and you can see the jury thinking: He’s such a nice chap; how can he have possibly done that? And there is nothing legally you can do about it, because the law is just a big boys’ game. If you try and go up against that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I only know the English system,” I said, “not the Scottish system, but isn’t the whole basis of the court system that you are not judging whether someone is innocent or guilty, you are judging which of two legal eagles is putting forward a better case and which is the more credible liar?”

“It’s all shite, John,” said Copstick. “I was at the point where I was thinking: Well, if the police are going to lie, then I will lie. And, that way, absolute madness lies.”

“I once,” I said, “talked to (a former Conservative Prime Minister)’s personal solicitor. He was a top city solicitor. And he told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer into the witness box without corroboration because you could never guarantee they were telling the truth.”

“The scariest people I ever met in Glasgow,” said Copstick, “were members of the Serious Crimes Squad.”

“Joe Beltrami,” I said, “was Arthur Thompson’s lawyer, wasn’t he? So that is very serious stuff.”

“I never met Arthur Thompson,” Copstick replied. “But one of the clients I worked with was a guy called Walter Norval, who was known as The Glasgow Godfather. That would be at the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, I guess. His speciality was armed robbery. He was another nail in the coffin of my legal career.

“This was a man who had stood like a colossus over the criminal world of Glasgow… allegedly… for many years with many armed bank robberies. Nobody particularly got hurt. But there were a load of sawn-off shotguns going around and a load of banks robbed. Generally speaking he was never at the robberies. He was the mastermind. You don’t get Mr Marks and Mr Spencer on the shop floor offering 2-for-1 on knickers.

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

“Walter Norval was arrested. The big evidence the police had was that he had gone from the site of an armed bank robbery, driven home and parked his brown Ford Granada car outside his house with four sawn-off shotguns in the boot – like yer average criminal mastermind does. And that was what he got convicted on.

“I went in and saw him afterwards and asked him: Is this not driving you absolutely mental? It was all a lie! 

“He said: Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of things I’ve done that I’ve got away with and this I did not do but it sort of evens-out.

“And I thought: But that doesn’t excuse it! This is criminal policing at the highest level. And they’re fucking liars. I was just too angry. I was getting too angry. And angry gets you nowhere in law. Especially as a female. Emotion gets you nowhere.

“You have to know when you’re beaten. I would have ended up being found out to have fiddled something. It just made me so angry.”

“If a crime is committed in England,” I said, “the police investigate the crime and find the person they believe committed the crime. Then they go to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide if, on a balance of probability, they will get a Guilty verdict in court. In court, it’s nothing to do with finding out the facts because the facts have already been investigated and the accused is presumed to be guilty unless ‘proven’ innocent. In court, it’s about two trained liars in a competition to see which performs better.”

“Up to a point,” said Copstick. “It’s a game. It’s like chess. I think what you’re struggling to say is that there is a massive dichotomy between law and justice.”

“I went to a grammar school,” I said, “which was a bit up itself. So it had a ‘debating society’ and the most admirable thing you could do there was argue on and win a proposition you did not believe in yourself. To me, that’s dishonesty. But that’s the basis of the legal system. You are very argumentative.”

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

“Once you decide to take one side,” I suggested, “you will argue that case come what may.”

“Now I can be Devil’s Advocate,” said Copstick. “Back then, I was completely incapable of doing that.”

The argumentative side of Copstick will be on show next month when she and I host the daily Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-27th August, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The Grouchy Club has been labelled by The Scotsman as “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” and by me as “a rolling Copstick diatribe”.

After the Fringe finishes, the Grouchy Club continues monthly in London.

For anyone on the receiving end of one of her comedy reviews in Edinburgh – Best of luck.

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Filed under Crime, Glasgow, Legal system, Scotland

How do you reform yourself if you have been a gangland enforcer in Glasgow?

William Lobban with his car and his book yesterday

William Lobban with car and book yesterday

William Lobban is selling his car tomorrow. A man is coming up to the Highlands from Glasgow to buy the car. That is quite a long way to travel to buy a car, but he thinks it is worth it. Then William will buy an even better one.

I blogged about William last November when his book The Glasgow Curse was published. It was a No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication.

That was last November. In June this year, The Glasgow Curse went back up to No 1 in Amazon’s ‘true crime’ sales chart. It is still hovering around the Top 20 in various lists of crime books. And it was his publisher’s second best-selling e-book (after Alexander McCall Smith).

None of this is normal.

So, as I am still in Edinburgh, I drove up to the Highlands yesterday to ask him why the book had gone back up to No 1 in the summer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed a shorter distance on the map.

He had no idea why the book had gone back up to No 1 in June, so I asked him: “Why did you move up here from Glasgow?”

It was a sunny day in the Highlands yesterday

It was a lovely sunny day to meet in the Highlands yesterday

“There’s a big pal of mine lives up here,” said William. “He’s about 79 now. One of the old school. Done a life sentence. Two of them got life back in the early 1960s for killing a butcher. Robbed him in his shop; killed him. They both got caught and got a lifer. It was just after they stopped hanging people, so he was quite lucky.

“He was a big man in his day. I came up to see him initially and quite liked the place. There was no really great connection. You know the cops are carrying guns up here now?”

“I read that in The Scotsman,” I said. “They’re carrying guns on regular call-outs. They were photographed just going into a McDonalds with guns for no reason.”

“You remember,” said William, “that Paul Ferris was (allegedly) threatening me online and on Twitter and stuff. Veiled threats like: Your time’s coming soon.”

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Daily Record reports on feud between Ferris (left) & Lobban

“He was allegedly posting your postcode online,” I said.

“That’s right,” said William. “Although that’s an open secret. People have known I’m here since I’ve been here. But I sought advice on what to do and I was advised I should report it to the cops, which I did – cos I want to be seen as a reformed character doing the right thing. Right after that, the local police started carrying guns up here. It does make you wonder if they decided to do that just in case they do get any trouble. It just makes you wonder. Who knows?”

William is usually referred-to in the press as “a notorious underworld enforcer”. He was once the ‘Most Wanted’ criminal in the UK.

“But I’m trying to create a different image for myself,” he told me yesterday. “I’m a different person. I want to be accepted for who I am and what I’m trying to do now, not for what I did 20-odd years ago. I’m on the e-fags now. I’ve not smoked a cigarette in about two months.”

“Much cheaper,” I said.

“A lot cheaper,” agreed William, “but it’s the health aspect. I was a smoker all my life. I’ve changed my ways, John. I take tablets to lower my cholesterol. I’m on 40 milligrams of simvastatin.”

“And I see you’re drinking orange juice,” I said.

William Lobban, aged 19

William when he was aged 19

“When I first came up here (he lives just outside a Highland town) back in 2006 or 2007, I had a bad problem with drink. It lasted for about a year. I went off the rails a bit. Now I have not touched a drink in over four years.

“I first got done in Stornoway for drink driving. I got a two-year ban there and then I got done just outside Perth. I was out of order. I really was. They gave me another four-year ban and that ran concurrent. So I ended up losing my licence for about five years in total. I got it back two years ago.

“It’s all behind me now, but it was at that time the police came and lifted me. I was in one of the local nightclubs here and I had a suit and a big coat and all that on. I was drunk and I must have been standing and swaying about and the bouncers have come up and they says: Can you take yer coat off, because people are starting to get a bit paranoid? Can you just take yer coat off and put it in the cloakroom? And I says: F off. I was out of order. So the next thing is they’ve all jumped on me and the police have come.

“So they’ve got me in the back of the police car and I can’t remember doing this – that shows you how drunk I was – but apparently I head-butted one of the cops while I was cuffed. I can only remember waking up in the morning and I was sore everywhere and black-and-blue because the cops had beat the shit out of me. But they dropped the charge of me assaulting the police because I had such a list of injuries myself. I guess they must have thought Well, if we take this any further, then he is going to bring all that out. It ended up as a breach of the peace.”

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

Even before publication, a No 1 bestseller

William is currently writing a sequel to The Glasgow Curse. “Spain is going to be a big part of the second book.” he told me. “But not just Spain: all over Europe. France, Holland; I’ve got lots of great stories to tell.”

The Glasgow Curse included the killing outside the family home of the son of Glasgow’s godfather Arthur Thompson and the revenge killings of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon, who were suspected of being involved.

Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting of Thompson’s son and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial. He accused William Lobban of luring Glover and Hanlon to their deaths, which William denies. A 2013 film – The Wee Man – was made about Ferris’ life. There is a trailer on YouTube.

“You know that Ferris film The Wee Man?” William said to me yesterday.

“I was trying not to mention that,” I said. “I was reading recently that the producer felt it had been pirated out of existence. He appeared not to have seen the irony of being ripped-off by criminals. I have to say I thought it was a very good film. Bits of it might not be true, but it was a good film.”

“You enjoyed it?” asked William.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Did you?” William asked again.

The Wee Man movie

The Wee Man movie: not always correct

“Yeah,” I replied again. “You know what the real people in the movie were really like and what really happened, but I don’t. Once I’ve accepted the main actor as Paul Ferris, I can go along with it. Because you knew him, you never can.”

“I suppose so,” said William. “But the explosion in the Jaguar, for instance – when Arthur Thompson’s mother-in-law gets killed. Ferris was only two or three years old when that happened, so to put that in the film wasn’t right because it wasn’t part of his story.”

“I think,” I said, “if you know the truth about something, then you can’t watch films about it. I mean, Arthur Thompson, for some bizarre reason, seemed to be played by an actor with an Irish accent. What was that all about? But maybe someone will make a film of The Glasgow Curse. You seem to be successfully changing yourself from a ‘hard man’ gangster into an author.”

“Well,” said William, “turning the corner and living legitimately can be very difficult. It does throw up challenges all the time.

“A couple of months ago, I was in Tesco’s car park. I was coming out of the shop with the trolley and someone says to me: Oh, he’s just spat on your car.

“I’d just had it all polished.

“I said: Who?

That man there.

Time to set matters straight

Not a man to mess with in Tesco’s

“So I left the trolley and, sure as hell, on the driver’s window was – och – he’d brought all this up and I… I thought: How disgusting. So I ran after him and got hold of him. I never put my hands on him, but I says: You’ve just spat on my car there. He tried to deny it and, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying: Now, look, you’d better get back and clean that or I don’t know what I’m gonna do here. 

“And he did. He must have known by my… you know… by the way I was… And my reaction was – to me – it was a good thing, because normally I’d have just head-butted him… because I felt like doing that… But I managed to hold myself back – and that is a good thing.”

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So what’s the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

William Lobban wants to sort things out

Scottish newspaper the Daily Record says William Lobban, “openly admits to a life of crime, including armed robbery, fraud, drug dealing and GBH.”

I blogged about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse when it was published two months ago.

“So is there another book coming?” I asked him yesterday.

“Yes,” he told me. “I’m currently writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse, which cut off after my 14 year prison sentence…”

“Which was for…?” I asked.

“For armed robbery and for taking the prison guards hostage at Perth Prison. I was sentenced to six years in jail in February 1988. I’d almost completed that sentence and only had about six months to serve and then I went on the run from a semi-open nick: I was on a day pass to get some tattoos removed from my fingers. That’s when I became the Most Wanted man in the country. When I was recaptured down in London, I was sentenced to a further six years for a robbery that occurred while I was on the run and then I got six months consecutive sentence for absconding and there was an 18 months consecutive sentence for the hostage situation in Perth.”

“So what is the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

Lobban says he “won’t back down”

“We’re all the same really,” he replied, “but people like myself – well, certainly when I led that life – you know where the line is and you know what will happen if you cross that line, but you don’t really care about what happens if you cross it. That’s the difference. We’re prepared to step over that line, if need be. Prison is the occupational hazard.

“Sometimes you step over that line and you end up in all sorts of trouble. But you’re aware that may happen. The younger you are – in the teenage years I suppose – you just don’t give a damn. But, certainly the older you get, when you start to get that bit more mature, I think everything starts to mellow. In your mind, you start to look at things differently. But you’re still prepared to step over that line if need be. I think that’s ultimately the difference.”

One ironic thing I have noticed is that the ‘naughty chaps’ I have met tend to feel injustice to themselves really strongly. They are prepared to commit crimes against other people and, if they do a crime, they accept they may do the time. They see that as justice. But, when they are unjustly accused of something they did not do – or if someone steps over the acceptable line and it affects them or their friends… then that injustice eats away at them.

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday, the Daily Record reported:

PAUL FERRIS ACCUSED OF MAKING ONLINE THREATS TO FORMER GANGSTER ALLY WILLIAM LOBBAN AFTER NEW BOOK REIGNITES OLD FEUD

Their problem dates back to 1991 and the killing of Fat Boy – the son of Glasgow’s then-undisputed gangland godfather Arthur Thompson. Fat Boy was shot three times – reportedly once in the face, once in the body and once up the anus – outside the Thompson family home The Ponderosa (named after the hero family’s home in TV Western series Bonanza).

The funeral car for Arthur Thompson Junior

Funeral car for Fat Boy in 1991 outside The Ponderosa (left)

On the day of Fat Boy’s funeral, two men were found shot dead in a car parked on the route of his funeral procession They were Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon and Bobby Glover. They had reportedly been shot in the head and up the anus. The presumption was that this was a revenge killing and that they had been involved in the murder of Fat Boy. They were friends of Paul Ferris, a former ‘enforcer’ for the Thompson family, who was also suspected of being involved in the killing of Fat Boy. He was in prison at the time of the Hanlon/Glover killings and therefore beyond the taking-out of revenge. And he was later, after a £4 million trial, found innocent of any involvement in the Fat Boy murder.

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon a few weeks before his murder

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon shortly before his killing

In an STV interview last weekJoe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon’s mother and brother said he earned his nickname not from violence but by dressing up as a banana for charity: “Joe was never a gangster in his life,” his brother said.

William Lobban was reportedly the last person to see Hanlon and Glover alive (other than their killer or killers) and Paul Ferris has accused him of ‘setting them up’.

A couple of weeks ago, STV reported that Paul Ferris was “considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in The Glasgow Curse.

At the time, William Lobban told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… But it’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further.”

In 1991, STV reported the Hanlon/Glover killing

1991: STV reported the search for Hanlon & Glover’s killer(s)

The previous day, Ferris had Tweeted to Lobban: “I will see you in person IV4”.

That refers to the postcode where Lobban now lives.

Yesterday, Ferris told the Daily Record:

“My reference to IV4 was to suggest that if I have anything to say to him I would choose to do it face to face.”

He also admitted to the Daily Record yesterday that he had sent Lobban a message saying “Judas your time is coming soon” but that it was a line from a poem and not a threat… “The poem,” he told the Daily Record, “was something that had been given to me and I adapted it. If anybody read it they would have a wry smile. It seemed relevant. This is a war of words.”

STV said in a report on 3rd January“William Lobban’s autobiography is an attempt by a convicted criminal to defend his reputation” and that is the way he sees it too: “There’s two stories out there just now. There’s one story from me and there’s another story from Paul Ferris.

William Lobban’s bestselling autobiography

William Lobban’s autobiography is a reaction to accusations

“Ferris has been dragging my name through the dirt for many years,” he told me yesterday. “Since 1992, to be exact. There’s too much activity online about me. Old newspaper articles. Being mentioned negatively in books. Paul Ferris has blamed me under oath in the High Court in Glasgow for the shooting and killing of Arthur Thompson Junior – accused me of of being the gunman, the actual person who pulled the trigger.”

(At the time, Ferris was in court accused of the killing.)

“In The Glasgow Curse,” William Lobban continued, “I say he tried, when he was behind bars in Barlinnie Prison, to get me to shoot and kill Arthur Thompson Senior. (Paul Ferris denies this.) The truth about what really happened has got to come out so that I can be vindicated properly, right across the board. My name was also put in the frame for setting-up Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon. That’s another very serious accusation. And all that needs addressing.

“And that’s what I’m in the process of doing now. It’s really important I get a proper clearing of my name. It’s so important to me. The image has been created in some people’s eyes that William Lobban is a murderer because Paul Ferris said in court that I may have or must have shot Arthur Thompson Junior. I’m trying to set the record straight with my book. For 20 years, all these things have been said about me and I’ve not really done anything about it except for a News of the World interview in 2005.

William Lobban in the News of The World, 2005

William Lobban in the News of The World, 1998

“My book’s a great start, but the hard work really starts now because the media are starting to get involved and the cops must now look at everything that’s going on. I would like to know how they view all this. It’s always been like a bit of a circus anyway. Ferris has accused me of this, that and the next thing and I want to clear my name. People have got an engrained image of me that is wrong, so I’m now defending myself to the hilt and I won’t back down in any way now. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

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Comedy, Christ, Ronnie Biggs’ lively funeral and Glasgow gangland aggro

Yesterday, I went to church to see (again) Juliette Burton’s wonderfully enjoyable and emotional show When I Grow Up. Yet again life-enhancing. Yet again funny, fast-moving, uplifting and joyous and – yet again – the body punch of the coup de théâtre sting-in-its tail had me with tears in my eyes. I was watching the audience reaction and their emotions turned on a sixpence from laughter to stunned shock when the narrative carpet was pulled from under them and (far more difficult for a performer to pull off) back to laughter again.

Juliette Burton & Frankie Lowe rehearse yesterday for her February-May tour of Australia

Juliette Burton and Frankie Lowe yesterday rehearse for February-May tour of Australia

When I Grow Up is also a technically very complicated show with constant audio and video cues to hit, fast-moving PowerPoint presentation changes and, at one point, Juliette interacting with a Skype screen. Yesterday, the techie on the show was Frankie Lowe, who composed Juliette’s pop song Dreamers (When I Grow Up)The show was flawless and was, in effect, a rehearsal for next month’s two-night run at the Leicester Square Theatre which is, itself, a dry run for Juliette’s Australian shows in February-May, which Frankie will also be teching.

Almost as interesting as the show, though, was the location – a church.

The vicar – Dave – arrived close to showtime because he had been conducting the funeral service for Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs at Golders Green Crematorium, where the eco-friendly wicker coffin had, the Guardian reports today, been draped in the flags of the UK & Brazil and an Arsenal football scarf. The coffin was escorted by Hell’s Angels with the London Dixieland Jazz Band playing Just a Closer Walk and it left to the strains of The Stripper. The Daily Mirror today reported that “as the hearse carrying his coffin passed through the streets of north London, a white floral wreath in the shape of a two-fingered salute was visible.”

Dave the vicar had also conducted the funeral service last year for Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds.

Dave’s book

Dave the vicar’s 2012 book of advice…

He is clearly an interesting vicar. He has published several books including How To Be a Bad Christian.

That book’s blurb explains Dave lays down “some key practices for how to be a ‘bad’ Christian, including how to talk to God without worrying about prayer, how to read the Bible without turning off your brain, and how to think with your soul rather than trying to follow rules.”

This August, he will be publishing How To Reinvent God (and Other Modest Proposals).

Everyone seems to be publishing books at the moment, except me.

William Lobban, now a published author

William Lobban, now a  bestselling author

Last November, I had a chat with Glasgow gangland ‘enforcer’ William Lobban about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse. This morning, he told me it had gone straight to No 4 in Amazon Kindle’s True Crime bestsellers and No 3 in Waterstone’s crime bestsellers.

Yesterday, STV reported that “former Glasgow gangster” Paul Ferris , who has written his own true crime autobiography, “is considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in the book. STV did not say what the problem was, but it somehow involves the highly-publicised shooting of Glasgow Godfather Arthur Thompson’s son ‘Fat Boy’ outside their family home ‘The Ponderosa’ in 1991.

The Wee Man – a fascinating film based on Paul Ferris’ version of his exploits – was released last year.

This morning, I asked William Lobban for his reaction to the report that Paul Ferris is “considering taking legal action”. He told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… It’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further. There isn’t a judge in the land who would agree that anyone could blacken or defame his character – Impossible!”

The move from villain to media anti-hero or even sometimes hero is interesting.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, like Buster Edwards before him, had mostly achieved the move from criminal to perceived cheeky chappie.

The Great Train Robbery happened in 1963.

Buster - from villain to hero

Buster – He moved from villain to hero in less than 25 years

The movie Buster was released in 1988 – just 25 years later – with loveable Phil Collins as Great Train Robber Buster Edwards. Fellow robber Ronnie Biggs’ death coincidentally occurred just hours before the first broadcast of a two-part BBC TV drama series The Great Train Robbery.

In their time (if they ever existed) Robin Hood and Dick Turpin were criminal robbers. Now Robin is a hero and Dick a hero, anti-hero or whatever you want to make of him.

They, like others after them, have moved from being reviled criminals to legends.

Billy The Kid was shot dead in 1881. Jesse James was shot dead in 1882. The move from criminal to legend had started by the time the first Billy The Kid movie was made in 1911 and the first Jesse James movie was made in 1921 – just 30 to 40 years after the events they portrayed.

The Kray Twins’ exploits were in the 1960s. By the time The Krays movie was released in 1990, they were already well-established as legendary cultural anti-heroes (or, to some, heroes).

In movies, dark heroes are always more interesting to act and to watch than whiter-than-white heroes.

The interlinking of showbiz, the media and crime. The making of legends.

’Twas ever thus.

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Glasgow gangland enforcer William Lobban experienced The Glasgow Curse

Recent Daily Record revelations from the book

Recent revelations reported from William Lobban’s new book

Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper recently reported that William Lobban used to be “a notorious underworld enforcer”.

“I’ve got a pork pie leather hat on,” William Lobban told me yesterday, “and I’ve got a round pair of John Lennon glasses on and a fake moustache and I’m wearing a poncho. But you blend in with that in London, don’t you? That was part of my disguise: the sort of Mexican look.

“There was a man in the telephone box next to me and there wasn’t even a telephone card in the phone, so I knew immediately there was something not quite right. I got as far as the end of the street, not far from New Scotland Yard, and then all I heard was Stop! Armed police! and there must have been about 15 cops and at least half a dozen were carrying handguns. So there was this big scene in London.”

“And why,” I asked, “were you Britain’s Most Wanted man at that point?”

“It was because of the double shooting in Glasgow,” William replied.

In England, I guess the two most vividly-remembered crimes of the late 20th century were the Great Train Robbery in 1963 and the shooting of George Cornell by Ronnie Kray in the Blind Beggar pub in 1966.

In Scotland, arguably, the key crime was the killing of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon in 1991 in revenge for the killing of Arthur Thompson’s son.

Arthur Thompson, ‘kind hearted' Glaswegian

Arthur Thompson, Glasgow’s godfather

Arthur Thompson was the longtime ‘godfather’ of crime in Glasgow and the central belt of Scotland. On 18th August 1991, his son ‘Fat Boy’ was shot three times – reportedly once in the face, once in the body and once up the anus. He was killed right outside the family home which was called ‘The Ponderosa’ (named after the home in TV Western series Bonanza).

Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial.

On the day of Fat Boy’s funeral, the bodies of Paul Ferris’ associates – Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon – were found dead. They had been dumped in a car on the route of Fat Boy’s funeral procession, so that his hearse passed by their dead bodies. They had reportedly been shot in the head and up the anus. Welcome to Glasgow.

“They were both suspected of being involved in the murder of Arthur Thompson’s son.” explained William. “Their bodies were found in Hanlon’s car, parked just yards from their ‘gang hut’ – the Cottage Bar. It was a real insult.

William Lobban, now a published author

Lobban – once ‘Most Wanted’ man in the UK

“And that was why I became the Most Wanted man in Great Britain – because I was on record, I believe, as the last person to have seen those two alive (except for their killer or killers). People have suggested I set them up. I did meet them and I was in the car with them for five minutes at the very most but then I left them. Where they went after that, I don’t know.

“I had phoned Bobby Glover’s house the night he was killed, John, but there was nothing unusual in that. Me and Bobby would talk on the phone regularly. There was nothing untoward in me phoning that night. Certainly not.”

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication

William Lobban’s autobiography The Glasgow Curse is published today and he goes into more detail there. Three chapters are free-to-read on the publisher’s website.

“You wrote the book yourself…” I prompted him yesterday.

“Yes, I got a book deal for 110,000 words,” he told me, “but I gave them 180,000 words, so I had to cut out about 30-40%. There was no ghost writing at all. I wrote the book myself.”

“I once discussed writing a criminal’s autobiography,” I said, “and we gave up because there were crimes which had not been solved, crimes which were not even known-about and you would have to disguise so many facts you would be throwing away the whole points of the stories.”

“Well,” said William, “with me, I think honesty is the best policy. To be totally up-front. To me, a book is a sort of sacred thing. You have to be true and genuine and that means not exaggerating things to make something sound better. Telling it how it is. The truth. I think that will shine through.

“I think that’s a big issue with a lot of these true crime books where you have ghost writers creating books for these ex-criminals or so-called ex-criminals.”

“Why write the book now?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

It’s time to set matters straight…

“Because I’ve been mentioned in so many other true crime publications…

“In Scotland, Jimmy Boyle started this sort of true crime autobiography back in 1977 with A Sense of Freedom. Then there was mostly a silence in the 1980s. And then, in 1997, there was a book by Hugh Collins: Autobiography of a Murderer. So Jimmy Boyle and Hugh Collins were the only source of true crime books in Scotland – in Glasgow – until about 2001.

“Then Paul Ferris brought out The Ferris Conspiracy and, since then, there’s been 12 or 13 books about the Glasgow underworld. It was Ferris who opened the floodgates – well, it was actually Reg McKay (a now dead Glasgow crime reporter) who wrote his book for him.

“And there have also been books by retired police officers like Gerard Gallacher who wrote Gangsters, Killers and Me and Joe Jackson who wrote Chasing Killers. They were both involved in investigating the triple murders.”

The Paul Ferris version of the Fat Boy and Glover/Hanlon killings appears in recent feature film The Wee Man which, though not exactly 100% factually accurate, I think gives a fair impression of the level of violence in Glasgow.

As William Lobban points out in the introduction to his Glasgow Curse book, Glasgow is Britain’s most violent city with 2.7 murders per 100,000 of population as opposed to 1.0 per 100,000 in the rest of the country.

“You were self-educated,” I said to him yesterday.

William Lobban, aged 19

Young eyes: Billy Lobban, aged 19

“Yes, I never went to school as such – well, I went now and again, but I was always a naughty wee boy. I was never really there apart from when I was placed into care by the authorities when you’re obligated to go to school.”

“And you were born in Exeter Prison,” I said, “to what the Daily Record calls a violent, schizophrenic mother.

“Yes,” said William. “My mother Sylvia was registered as a schizophrenic. She got sentenced to two years borstal in 1967 and I was born in February 1968. Exeter Prison back then was a women’s borstal.

“She came from a big family – the Manson family,” William told me. “She had four brothers and two sisters and she was with a couple of her brothers trying to steal some antiques down in England – the contents of a safe in some country mansion. My mother was very violent, especially with her teeth – I can vouch for that, as I was on the receiving end a couple of times. When she was arrested, a police sergeant got her in a neck hold, trying to restrain her, but she managed to nearly bite his thumb off and that’s what she received her two years borstal for.

“I suppose it was inevitable I was going to lead a criminal life, being born into one of the most notorious criminal families in Glasgow.

“I was born in prison and stayed in prison with my mother for six months and then my grandparents – William and Esther Manson – took me away back to Carntyne in Glasgow.

“When I grew up, there was a sort of solidarity in the neighbourhood; everyone detested the cops.”

“But you’re 45 now,” I said. “What are you going to do for a living? Your only experience is… Well, it’s not office work.”

“I’m writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse,” he replied. “I’m partly using the chunks I had to cut out of the first manuscript. But I think that question about What am I going to do now? is a good one.

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

Older eyes: William Lobban looks forward

“In life, you’ve really got to know who you are and how others perceive you as a person. When a long-term prisoner comes out of prison… OK, I’ve been out of prison for a long, long time, but… Look, it’s all down to identity… It took me a long, long time to figure out what I was going to do and, in the last couple of years – since I started writing the book – it has created a whole new identity for me. Now I’ve got to use the identity to the best of my advantage, so people do perceive me as being an author.

Author is a title I actually like. I prefer that to Gangster. Believe me, it’s much better being called an author than a gangster. Folks like myself who’ve led a life of crime and have only ever known crime and have done a lot of bad things are all on a trial run.

“Now I’ve got a new lease of life, a new road to travel. I see loads of light at the end of the tunnel and I’m really going for it. But I am still on a trial run where people are going to be watching and maybe hoping that I will stumble, that I will fall over and they’ll be able to say He was never any good.

“It’s tough. You’ve really got to be on the ball. It takes a lot of hard graft and dedication and, for this to work, you’ve got to get support from other people – influential people, people that matter, people with respect.  Because, if they don’t get on your side, no-one else is going to believe you.

“Society have their part to play as well. They’ve got to give you a chance. They can’t keep on punishing you for things you’ve done in the past.

“I’m just hoping that, now I’ve got a book out, there will be a new life too.”

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Two men ‘killed’ by the Kray Twins who were never killed and are still alive

Micky Fawcett experienced Krayzy Days

Micky Fawcett experienced some Krayzy Days

Regular readers may find this hard to believe, but I do cut a lot out of my blogs to shorten them.

Yesterday’s blog was about a chat I had with Mickey Fawcett, an associate of those ever-iconic gangsters the Kray Twins.

I cut several pieces out of our conversation about his book Krayzy Days.

But the joy of writing a daily blog is that you can correct omissions.

Today’s blog takes up roughly where yesterday’s conversation finished…

“Reading all the rubbish that had been written, motivated me to write my book,” I quoted Micky as saying yesterday. “I wanted to write a book saying what idiots the Twins really were,” he added. “And how amusing.”

“Has it been cathartic, writing the book?” I then asked him.

“It’s enabled me to re-live it,” Micky told me. “You’d have to read the book to understand how amused I was by the Twins.”

“You said they were idiots,” I prompted him.

Monty Python and Michael Palin,” said Mickey, “did a brilliant… That nail-the-head-to-the-floor thing came from headlines in the Daily Mirror. But it was a foot that was nailed to the floor and it was the Richardsons. They did it with a knife to a feller. But the Krays were getting the blame for it.”

Arthur Thompson, ‘kind hearted' Glaswegian

Arthur Thompson had a ‘heart of gold’

I cut the rest of the conversation, but it went on:

“In Glasgow,” I said, “Arthur Thompson had a habit of crucifying people but he was said to have a heart of gold, because he once had a man nailed to the floor in front of the man’s wife, but left behind a claw hammer so she could take out the nails.”

“Oh,” said Micky, “Arthur Thompson. They came down to London once. I got on very well with the Scotsmen I met. And, in the Army, you find the Cockneys and the Scousers and the Jocks from Glasgow all seem to get on OK with each other.”

Micky then went back to talking about the legend of the Krays.

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 the Krays killed their driver Billy Frost in the 1960s.

Billy Frost - Dead men don’t drink tea

Billy Frost – Dead men don’t drink tea

In fact, I had tea with Billy Frost in 2009, during the filming of Killer Bitch and we have exchanged Christmas cards ever since. I think he was happily living at home in the East End of London when The Profession of Violence was first published in 1972.

There is a 2008 interview with Billy on YouTube and he was interviewed in a February 2010 issue of Spitalfields Life

In a blog in June 2011, I wrote: “It’s amazing how people allegedly killed by the Krays over forty years ago can be so lively.”

This came to mind when I chatted with Mickey Fawcett this week and I mentioned the fact that it was in print in various places that the Krays had killed Billy Frost in the 1960s, yet I had met him in the 2000s.

“That rumour didn’t half go around a lot,” said Micky, “and there’s Teddy Smith. Have you come across that one?”

I certainly had. It has been widely reported over the last 40 years that Teddy Smith was killed by the Krays. A very good article in the Daily Mail in August 2010 headlined SEX, LIES, DOWNING STREET AND THE COVER-UP THAT LEFT THE KRAYS FREE TO KILL repeats the story that Teddy Smith “died at their hands”.

“I knew Teddy Smith quite well,” Micky Fawcett told me this week, “and I saw him in King’s Road.”

Teddy Smith in the 1960s, shortly before he did not die

Teddy Smith in the 1960s, shortly before he did not die

“When?” I asked.

“Since his death,” said Micky. “I think he’d just had enough. I would think he’s in Australia or somewhere like that.”

“Can I print that?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Micky.

“He might get uppity,” I said.

“Teddy Smith? No, he’s alright.”

“I suppose,” I said, “once you’ve been dead for over 40 years, it doesn’t matter much.”

And I suppose, unlike much written about the Kray Twins before Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days, that is true.

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Day One of Malcolm Hardee Week – and only one bit of genital exposure

The first ever Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe has started and yesterday was a strange old day.

For most of the day, things went well.

I saw the funniest show so far at the Fringe – Johnny Sorrow’s The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society, which made me laugh-out-loud – a rare thing (television production experience, luv).

Having lost two helpers who were no longer coming to Edinburgh as planned, I had offers of help from several sources.

Ever-enthusiastic science-comedy star Helen Keen of Radio 4‘s It Is Rocket Science!) may be able to help me Wednesday to Friday, as can my chum Dr Sophia Khan, formerly of NASA and Harvard and assistant professor of Astrophysics at Shanghai University (Helen’s co-star in last year’s Fringe science comedy show Starstruck!)

From Thursday, I will also have Sophia’s chum Dr Andrew Bunker, former Head of Astronomy at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Oz and now Reader in Astrophysics at Oxford University.

With help like this, surely there will be no problem keeping pasta in the air during Wednesday and Thursday’s spaghetti-juggle contests. Indeed, we should surely be able to get the cooked and aerodynamic strands into low Earth orbit.

On Friday, at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – really a two-hour anarchic variety show – I have also been offered help by comic Gill Smith who inspired the original Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award with a cracking Fringe publicity stunt in 2008 – she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award and saying that, by doing so, she would be justified in putting Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee on her posters.

OCD is a wonderful thing.

Last night’s first Malcolm Hardee Week event went well: it was allegedly a debate on the proposition that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish”. I think it went well, anyway. It was due to run from 6.15 to 7.00pm but over-ran by an hour to 8.00pm with no walk-outs when panelist Bob Slayer (whose show followed ours) decided that everyone was enjoying themselves so much, we should just carry on and the continuation of our show would become his hour-long show for the night.

That is what large amounts of drinking can lead to.

As I said, I do not think there were any walk-outs; in fact, of course, the audience swelled.

There was, surprisingly, only one incident of genital exposure during the show – when Paul Provenza did a Malcolm Hardee impression – and there were some interesting, if unprintable stories told in the over-run.

Scotsman critic and ITV Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick told a story I can’t possibly repeat about the origin of the Mrs Merton character – and a story about one promoter’s reaction to Kunt and the Gang’s current ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe, which was more Godfather anecdote than comedy story.

And comedienne Janey Godley told a true tale about Jerry Sadowitz performing in her pub in the East End of Glasgow to an audience which included real-life (now dead) Glasgow godfather Arthur Thompson. The largely-English audience I think missed a detail about Arthur Thompson which Janey mentioned in passing and which I do not think is generally known. Though true, I am most certainly not going to repeat it.

Thompson died in 1993, but I think waking up to a severed horse’s head might still be a possibility.

So yesterday – apart from the distant possibilities of horses’ heads and crucifixion on a wooden tenement floor – was good.

With Miss Behave now very sadly unable to compere Friday night’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at The Counting House because of her meningitis, Scott Capurro and New Comedy Act of the Year 2011 winner David Mills have stepped in to the breach by agreeing to be co-comperes. Scott even cancelled a party on Friday night so he could do the gig.

He told me that, after the first gig he played for Malcolm Hardee, as an American new to the London circuit, he was given his money in a brown envelope. When he got home, he found there was £20 less in the envelope than Malcolm had promised.

“Well, of course there was,” his comedian friends told him. “It’s Malcolm.”

It is extraordinary but true that Malcolm was always – and remains – held in such high esteem by his fellow comedians.

How often was the sentence uttered, “Well, it’s just Malcolm being Malcolm, isn’t it…” ?

But the one bad bit of news yesterday late afternoon was that Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison cannot be on the panel of tonight’s 6.15pm Malcolm Hardee comedy debate at The Hive – allegedly on the proposition “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – because Ian has injured his back in Glasgow and cannot get to Edinburgh.

So, at the moment, the panel are Viz magazine creator Simon Donald, BBC TV One Show presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli and Laughing Cows‘ international compere Maureen Younger plus A.N.Other.

It was a bit of a downer when I heard that Ian cannot join us.

But yesterday ended well when I was told that the wonderful Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds has had a son called Oscar… the first Malcolm Hardee Award winner to have an Oscar…

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