Tag Archives: Barbara Windsor

UK gangster Reggie Kray on criminal slang and his suicide bid in prison

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie and Reggie’s wife Frances (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

My chum Micky Fawcett gave me a very interesting book on Saturday: Slang by Reggie Kray.

It does what it says on the tin.

It is a dictionary of (mostly criminal) British and American slang words and phrases.

The cover claims it is “A must for Television Viewers, Film Directors and Script Writers.”

It includes some (to me) rare phrases such as:

“He’s at the jack and danny so blank him…”

“Cop for his boat and blow…”

“Get a rhubarb…”

and

“To be slommory…”

But perhaps I have led too sheltered a life.

Written when Reggie had ‘only’ done 16 years

The Slang book was written (with help from Steve Tully) when Reggie was 50 years old and in Parkhurst Prison – around 1983 – when, the book’s foreword says, he had “been in prison now for sixteen gruelling years”.

Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2000, eight and a half weeks before he died from cancer. aged 66. He and his twin Ronnie Kray, were born in 1933. They were arrested in 1968 and imprisoned in 1969. Ronnie died in prison in 1995, aged 61.

In the book, Reggie gives his hobby as “Writing” and his ambitions as “To be recognised as an author and to live in the country”.

As well as slang and nostalgic photos of the ‘good old days’, Reggie goes in for a bit of philosophising. It starts:

Reggie Kray (centre) among friends, including actor Victor Spinetti, actress Barbara Windsor, actor George Sewell, singer Lita Roza, comedian Jimmy Logan and actor Ronald Fraser (Photo from the book Slang by Reggie Kray)

“I had hidden myself under the blankets, I was soaking in sweat and blood. Whilst I continued to saw away at my wrist, with a broken piece of glass, which I had broken from my TV spectacles.

“Eventually I fell into a fitful sleep, only to wake up the following morning to the clang of the bolt being drawn across my cell door.

“It seems that my prayers had been answered in a strange sort of way, because prior to this attempted suicide, I had calmly smoked what I thought to be my last cigarette, and said a prayer. My state of mind stemmed from a period of time I had spent at Long Lartin Prison, and my meeting up with a foreigner…”

It is an interesting read.

Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days is arguably the most realistic insider’s view of working with the Krays… as well as some other… erm… escapades.

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Guy Combes: surrealist with luxuriant moustache who drank some shampoo

Last week at Vout-O-Reenee’s  (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

Guy Combes last week at Vout-O-Reenee’s (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

In a blog last week, I mentioned going to Vout-O-Reenee’s – Sophie Parkin’s club “for the surrealistically distinguished” – to see Guy Combes fascinatingly surreal show Auntie Rene’s Memory Box Is The Smallest Museum in The World. Guy Combes is a man with a luxuriant moustache.

In yesterday’s blog, the untold (by me, but not by her) story of writer/editor/artist/bohemian Molly Parkin kissing jazz legend Louis Armstrong was mentioned by comedy performer Matt Roper.

Molly Parkin at Vout-O-Reenee’s gallery opening last night

Molly Parkin at Vout-O-Reenee’s gallery opening last night

Last night, Matt and I went to see the opening of the Stash Gallery at Vout-O-Reenee’s – The first exhibition is a retrospective of  Molly Parkin’s paintings 1954-2014.

While there, I had a chat with Guy Combes, who claimed to have read my blogs.

“I think research is much over-rated,” I said. “I don’t know anything about you at all, except that you have a luxuriant moustache and used to be in a comedy duo called Moonfish Rhumba.”

“Usual story,” said Guy. “Failed actor. Robin Williams said comedy was his therapy, not that I’d compare myself with Robin Williams, of course.”

“Well for one thing,” I said, “you’re not dead.”

“Or depressed,” said Guy, “though I have my moments. Anyway, Robin Williams said that, between his acting jobs, he got really ‘down’ so, as a way of therapy, he started doing stand-up. There was no mental illness, just boredom. Obviously, I have a level of mental illness: you’ve got to have.”

“So you HAVE read my blogs!” I said.

The new Stash Gallery at Vout-O-Reenee's

The new Stash Gallery at Vout-O-Reenee’s

“Yes,” he said. “The suicide one. I’ve got a story, though nothing quite as exotic as that. I was sent to boarding school and I hated it and, in the process, I drank a bottle of shampoo. The boys in the dormitory found it very entertaining. They were giving me shoe polish and all sorts to see if I could imbibe as much as possible until a snotty prefect decided to pack me off to hospital.”

“Thus,” I suggested, “you are here in this private club for surrealists.”

“Probably,” laughed Guy.

“Boot polish is an interesting one,” I said. “It’s solid.”

“Yeah,” agreed Guy. “It took a bit of chewing. It was probably the best performance I’ve done, because all these boys were giving me all these different things to imbibe and I would find different ways to look like I was but not. With the shampoo, I put my tongue in the bottle, so I wasn’t actually drinking much at all.”

“University?” I asked.

Guy Combes at Vout-O-Reenee’s last night minus shampoo

Guy Combes at Vout-O-Reenee’s last night minus shampoo

“No,” said Guy. “I was taking lots of drugs at the time and was very interested in Alice in Wonderland and there was this place in Bournemouth… a theme park about Alice in Wonderland… There was a girl who is now a member of Vout-O-Reenee’s as well – Julia Pittam – and she got the job as Alice and I got the job as the White Rabbit because I needed to get my Equity card somehow. So I was running around the theme park trying not to get beaten up by children and then I got promoted to being the Mad Hatter.”

“Is that promotion?” I asked. “I don’t know the hierarchical structure of Alice in Wonderland theme parks.”

“Well,” explained Guy, “the owner was originally the Mat Hatter. Rich toff. Land-owner sort. It was a good learning process, a great way to develop a skill of working an audience because the airport was opposite the theme park. Or maybe that was the drugs.”

“So,” I said, “you wanted to be an actor, you became a rabbit and now you are making, I imagine, a good living appearing in TV commercials for Eat.”

“As Mr Mozzarella,” said Guy. “Yes. Well, that’s running until Christmas and then they’re stopping it.”

There is footage on YouTube of Mr Mozzarella at the Corby Parliamentary By-Election in 2012.

“You’re very memorable Mr Mozzarella,” I said. “Have you done other commercials?”

“There was one,” said Guy, “which kind of segued into the Mat Hatter – I got a job as Barbara Windsor’s sidekick in a bingo ad and they dressed me as the Mad Hatter.”

“What were you doing?” I asked. “Throwing gambling chips around?”

“Barbara Windsor was the Queen and I was Jackpot Joy… No, no… I was Jack. She was the Queen of Hearts and the girl who played Joy went on to get a part in Game of Thrones as the prostitute.”

“You’d be good in Game of Thrones,” I said. “You have a medieval face.”

Game of Guys – Is this a good medieval face?

“Yes,” said Guy. “One of my favourite comedy gig heckles was Look out! Here comes a medieval terrorist!

“But you’ve never done stand-up?” I asked. “You’re an actor.”

“I’ve attempted it,” said Guy, “but it never really works. I realised, with me, everything has to have a character attached to it. I struggle with myself.”

“Which one of you wins?” I asked.

“Don’t know.”

“You’re married,” I said.

“Yes.”

“So you are a sensible, level-headed married chap.”

“My dad was a bank manager,” said Guy, “and I think I’ve inherited some of that. Today I was at home doing the car insurance and organising all the bills and sorting out our mortgage.”

“So,” I said, “sort-of level headed with odd things thrown in.”

“I got a good job in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe this year. My agent phoned me up and said: They want a moustache in Germany.”

“Do you get a lot of moustache-related work?” I asked.

“Well,” said Guy. “It’s amazingly useful. You get all these actors out of work and, if only they just grew something…”

“I was,” I said, “watching the TV news the other day and there was this research scientist saying that, in 25 years time, people who have lost their legs will be able to re-grow their legs but, for some reason, not their feet. They would still need artificial feet.”

“So I was in Edinburgh,” continued Guy, “and they flew me to Berlin. Lovely. They shot me first thing in the morning with the Berlin skyline, just as the sun was coming up, and all I had to do was smoulder, look into the camera and say What are you looking at? in German.”

“You can speak fluent German?” I asked.

“No.”

“Surely,” I said, “they have people in Germany with moustaches?”

The Kaiser: a man, a myth, a moustache

The Kaiser: a man, a myth, a moustache

“Apparently not of this size,” replied Guy.

“Did the Kaiser live for nothing?” I asked. “What do you want to be ultimately? A respected actor not a comedy person?”

“It’s just a magical journey,” said Guy. “I don’t know where it’s gonna lead next. I suppose I’m just compelled to do certain things. At the moment, I’m working on various comedy characters that I’m going to be taking around comedy clubs.”

“Stand-up comedy?” I asked.

“Character stand-up,” said Guy. “When I did my show here last week, people seemed to enjoy the song and the puppets. So I think more songs, more puppets. I think I will pop down to Pear Shaped and try out some things. I wanted to work some more with the Aunt Rene thing, but I think I’ve sorted exhausted that. It all started going quite dark last week.”

“Dark is good,” I said. “It will get you reviews.”

Guy Combes eating his Aunt Rene’s brain in show last week (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

Guy Combes eating his Aunt Rene’s brain in show last week (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

“Ye-e-e-e-s,” said Guy. “But what happened the other night was un-planned. The eating of my aunt’s brain. That took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure how to end the show. I thought: I’m either going to have to throw her brain into the audience like some clown would do… or get someone up to eat it… or I’m going to have to eat it. I don’t know if it was fitting for the memory of my auntie to eat her brain in front of loads of strangers. But maybe that’s the way to go. Maybe that’s where my future lies.”

“Eating people’s brains?” I asked.

“Maybe,” said Guy.

Guy at the Stash Gallery with a woman who had been gored by a bull

Guy at the gallery with a woman who had been gored by a bull

And then we went off to look at the Molly Parkin exhibition.

Guy got talking to an interesting artist who told him she had been gored by a bull.

Foolishly, I did not record her story and did not get her name or contact details.

Life is full of missed blogs.

On Vimeo, there are excerpts from some of Guy’s TV ads.

GuyCombesShowreel

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At London gangster Reg Kray’s funeral

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREE

AT

LAST

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

RESPECT

English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

Funeral directors English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toby Von Judge

Toby Von Judge cut an interesting figure

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

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

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

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

Apparently missing were Mad Frank Frazer and actress Barbara Windsor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Kray

Roberta Kray, the widow of Reg Kray

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

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

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

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

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

Police close the surrounding roads for Reg's funeral hearse

Police closed the surrounding roads for Reg’s funeral hearse

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

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

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

REG

BELOVED

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

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

The Krays’ gravestone

The gravestone of twins Reg (left) & Ron Kray

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

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

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

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The link between gangland Edinburgh and “The Sex Life of a Comedian”

Comedy performer Dave Thompson has been telling me more about his new novel The Sex Life of a Comedian, which I blogged about yesterday. Dave famously got fired as Tinky Winky in the TV series Teletubbies because, after a lengthy period playing the iconic purple creature, it was suddenly said his “interpretation of the role had not been accepted”.

The plot of his novel involves a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Dave tells me: “Although the novel is fictitious, I’ve drawn from the landscape I’ve worked in and mixed real events with made-up ones. That’s why one of the main characters is a promoter from Edinburgh with gangland connections.”

So I was particularly interested to hear more about the section of the book in which the central character, at a celebrity sex party, accidentally spurts on a member of the mafia…

“Well, yes,” Dave tells me. “I have done gigs overseas for promoters who were organised criminals. In one country which shall remain nameless, I found myself working for comedy promoters connected to the IRA.

“The local mafia had tried to extort protection money from them, but found themselves up against IRA tactics. The mafiosi came round to ‘teach the promoters a lesson’ for not paying them protection money, but the IRA guys beat up the mafia guys with baseball bats and threatened far worse if they ever came back. The beating was so severe the mafia left them alone after that.

“I had a great gig that night and, after the show, there was a party in the nightclub where the gig was held. I had some business to sort out with one of the promoters and we went back to my hotel room to do this. He and I hit it off and had a convivial chat and a drink from my mini-bar. When we returned to the party, people who knew the promoter looked very anxious.

“As soon as I was separated from the promoter, I was asked if I was okay. I said I was fine and didn’t understand why they were so concerned. It turned out that the man I’d invited to my room was notorious for his temper and they thought we were gone so long because I’d offended him and he was beating me up.

“There’s a lot more about their criminal activity that I can’t talk about because they could recognise themselves and I might end up like the mafiosi who annoyed them.

“I think there’s a mutual attraction between organised crime and show business – each lends glamour to the other.

“At the height of their power, the Kray Twins used to hang out with celebrities in the West End of London and Barbara Windsor was married to East End villain Ronnie Knight, who was jailed for his part in the £6 million Security Express robbery in 1983.

“He escaped and whilst he was on the run in the Costa Del Sol, taking advantage of the lack of an extradition treaty between Britain and Spain, he owned a nightclub called ‘Club R Knights’.

“I was invited to the opening night party and met Ronnie. He was very pleasant and pulled me a pint of lager. Barbara Windsor had already left him because she couldn’t stand the Spanish heat and he had another blonde partner, who looked very similar to Barbara Windsor. I had a long conversation with her and was impressed by how well-read she was.

“I had been invited to the party because of my girlfriend at the time – a pretty blonde actress and singer who appeared in West End musicals. Her mother and stepfather owned a villa near Fuengirola on the Costa Del Sol. The stepfather was from Essex, had a huge black Rottweiler and was a friend of Ronnie Knight’s. He took us to lots of parties thrown by ‘geezers from Essex’.

“We were warned never to ask anyone what they did for a living as this was contrary to etiquette. The stepfather told me that, whenever I took my girlfriend to a restaurant, I should tell them he had sent us. That way, we got the best table, free drinks and the meal was be less than the menu price.

“One evening we were relaxing by her mother and stepfather’s pool and the English language radio station was running a phone-in competition for couples in love. The stepfather told me to phone in and mention his name and, immediately, my request was played on the radio and we won a bottle of champagne.

“I never saw the bottle of champagne because, soon after we got back, the girl dumped me in favour of a criminal, who subsequently beat her up.

“That relationship is long over but she and I are still good friends. Years later we posed naked together for the News of the World.  One of the characters in the novel is partly based on her.

“As for Ronnie, the News of The World later paid him £45,000 to stage-manage his return to Britain, so he could see his mum before she died.  He was arrested and sentenced to another seven years in prison.”

Dave also tells me:

“I’ve checked the sales figures on the book again and it’s looking very encouraging!”

I am not surprised.

You can buy The Sex Life of a Comedian here.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Crime, Television