Tag Archives: Catford

Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

Malcolm Hardee iconic autobiography

Towards the start of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, this passage appears:

______________________________

There was a club in Catford called The Witchdoctor. It was a club we all went to although they didn’t sell drink. Downstairs there was ‘Mr Smiths’ – a gambling casino….

Eddie Richardson was involved in a big shooting at Mr Smith’s, underneath The Witchdoctor. It was a inter-gang thing. They all met down the gaming club and this bloke got shot and was bleeding all over the place from an artery. ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser (the Richardson’s infamous ‘enforcer’) hit a bloke who subsequently died and ‘Mad Frankie’ himself was shot in the thigh. He got outside and the police found him lying in a front garden round the corner in Fordel Road, Catford, where my Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Doug were then living. His mates had just left ‘Mad Frankie’ there. A bit inconsiderate to the neighbours. 

No-one outside South East London knew the Richardsons until they were arrested and there was a lot of publicity at their trial about torturing people in a home-made electric chair. 

But everyone knew The Krays. As comedian Lee Hurst says, the Blind Beggar must be the biggest pub in the world. Every time you meet a London taxi driver he says he was in the Blind Beggar the day Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

Some people say the Krays wouldn’t have been big if there hadn’t been the shooting in the Blind Beggar. But these days people are getting shot all the time. In the paper yesterday there was a bloke shot in a pub in Yorkshire at lunchtime. I suppose The Krays were setting a trend.

The Krays also had that showbiz thing about them. They actually owned a club;  the actress Barbara Windsor was a girlfriend of Charlie Kray and later married Ronnie Knight who worked for The Krays; and the Conservative politician Lord Bob Boothby, whose mistress had been Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife, was having it off with Ronnie, the gay Kray.

______________________________________________________

Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel, London, yesterday

Yesterday, I had tea at the May Fair Hotel in London with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett.

His new book Krayzy Days is that rare thing – a totally true insight into what it was like being with the Kray Twins – Ronnie & Reggie –  and their brother Charlie.

“Did the Kray Twins have a sense of humour?” I asked.

“Ronnie had a very good sense of humour,” Micky told me, “Reggie had no sense of humour, but Ronnie did.”

“What type?” I asked. “Black humour?”

“Yes,” said Micky. “Black humour.”

“Or maybe black and blue,” I suggested.

“He was an Oscar Wilde type,” mused Micky. “I’m not saying he was witty, but he would have loved Oscar Wilde. The way Oscar Wilde used to carry on.”

“Because he felt he was clever and superior?” I asked.

Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston, Micky Fawcett

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

“Well, Ronnie felt superior,” Micky agreed. “He was called The Colonel. He thought he was superior to everything and everybody. As I say in my book, I was round the Twins’ house one day and somebody dropped in a copy of Private EyeIt was about ‘Knacker of The Yard’ (Private Eye’s name for un-named policemen) and all that – I can’t remember exactly what it was about. But Ronnie read it and laughed for the rest of the day.

“He used to describe himself as ‘a well-known thug and poof’.”

“But,” I said, “he took exception when George Cornell called him a poof.”

“No, that’s…” said Micky.

“When Ronnie shot him in the Blind Beggar pub,” I added.

The Blind Beggar pub in London

The Blind Beggar pub in London

“Well,” said Micky, “in the book I tell the true reason for that. It has nothing to do with homosexuality at all. It’s in the book. I was visiting someone in Dartmoor Prison. But, the day before the Blind Beggar shooting, there was the big tear-up at Mr Smith’s in Catford.”

“That’s the one mentioned in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography,” I said.

“Yes,” said Micky. “Everybody was Whoa! Did you hear that? Whoa! My God! and all that. Frank Fraser finished up with a bullet in his leg in that front garden. It was a big tear-up between the Richardsons and another local ‘firm’.

“The following evening, I was going to Dartmoor, so I went over to the Regency club to meet the fellah I was going with – the Regency being a club in Hackney frequented by the Krays, who had a small share in it. People think they owned it, but the Barry family owned it.

“When I got to the Regency, I saw Reggie outside and he said: What about the news! Reggie was a very uptight sort of fellah. He never hardly showed his emotions. But he grabbed hold of me and he was waltzing me round on the pavement saying: What about it, Mick? Wasn’t it great? The Richardsons had been arrested.

“But I didn’t feel very elated by it at all. They had never done anything to me and, as I came away, I thought to myself: I’ve a feeling now that the next thing is going to be them (The Krays). Once these things get underway, the police nick everybody. The Richardsons had been arrested, but it wasn’t something to celebrate.

“I met my pal. We went to Dartmoor Prison. Visited a fellah down there. Frank Mitchell was on the visit as well. When we used to go to Dartmoor, we’d get my mate out and say to the screw (the prison guard): Can you get Frank Mitchell too? and he’d get Frank Mitchell.”

Nine months later, ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell was sprung from Dartmoor Prison by the Kray Twins and subsequently murdered on their orders when they found out he really was uncontrollably mad.

“Frank Mitchell would come for a chat at Dartmoor,” explained Micky, “because he didn’t have any visitors of his own. He’d sit down and say to the screw: You look after him, cos he’s a friend of mine and I’m telling you, if you don’t... and the screw would say Alright, Frank, alright. OK, Frank, keep calm... That’s a fact. They were good experiences when I look back.

“Anyway, we come home to London and, early in the morning, I got a newspaper and it said: MAN SHOT DEAD IN THE BLIND BEGGAR PUB. So I get on the phone straight away to Charlie Kray. He says: Meet me outside Mile End station. So I go straight there and I can remember it as if it was yesterday.

George Cornell in a police photo

George Cornell in a police photo

“I said to him: Reggie? and he said No, Ronnie. I said Yeah? He said Yeah. What’s happened, Mick… you know that turn-out down there…”

(Micky and I agreed that, for the rest of the exact detail of this story, you will have to buy Micky’s book… He’s no fool and I am not going to argue with him. So there is a section of our conversation missing here… Micky then continued…)

“So he’s going to throw a petrol bomb into Freddie Foreman’s pub.

“And Charlie Kray told me I wish you’d been here, Mick, because you’d have been the obvious choice to send over because I would have liaised – I used to – but they sent Nobby and he’s come back and gone Oh, it’s all off again! Murders! We’ve gotta do something! They’re going to burn Fred’s pub down!

“And Ronnie’s gone What? And Ronnie’s got all excited, cos he’s mad and he’s gone Give me a shooter! Right! Right! Let’s have a drive round and see if we… and he’s gone into the Blind Beggar and Boom! and that’s it. Just cos Cornell was one of them, cos he was associated with the Richardsons.

“I got on well with Georgie Cornell. He came from Stepney but was very friendly with the Richardsons in South London. He wasn’t 100% with them all the time. And all kinds of strange stories have gone on about why he was shot.

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s new myth-busting book

“The strangest of them all is that Georgie Cornell gave Ronnie a terrible beating on some previous occasion. John Pearson says it in his book. But the fellah who told Pearson is a terrible liar.”

“Is he alive?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Well I’m not going to print that he’s a terrible liar, am I?” I said. “He might take it amiss.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Micky told me. “He’d have trouble getting out of his armchair.”

“There are so many stories,” I said to Micky: “The comedian Lee Hurst used to say that the Blind Beggar must be the biggest pub in the world because, every time you met any London taxi driver, he would claim he was in there the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.”

“Well,” Micky told me, “in the pub that night there really was this fellah called George The Fib.”

“Is he violent, is he still alive and does he live near me?” I asked.

“You’re OK,” said Micky, “he’s dead. But he was called George The Fib cos he was known for lying about everything so, when he told people he had been in the Blind Beggar the night of the shooting, no-one would believe him. He was going around afterwards saying What about that turn-out? I was in there that night… but no-one would believe him. The Old Bill didn’t even interview him.”

Krayzy Days indeed,” I said.

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One man can change the world with a bullet (or six) in the right place….

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)

My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.

“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”

Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.

In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.

All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.

I only knew of him by reputation.

He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.

He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraphthe Guardian and the Independent.

In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.

Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardianthe Independent and The Times – indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.

Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:

“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”

When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.

Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.

Edgecombe had fired six shots at osteopath Stephen Ward’s mews flat, where Edgecombe’s ex-girlfriend Christine Keeler was hiding.

Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins.  I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.

Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at  the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).

When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.

Links within links within links.

To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.

Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.

Links within links within links.

Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.

A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….

“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”

Or six bullets.

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Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London

It was 22nd December 1998 and the comedian Malcolm Hardee (who drowned in 2005) was still living with his wife Jane. The record label Beggar’s Banquet were just about to release a CD single by his stepson’s rock group The Llama Farmers. It was two years before the turn of the century, with the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Dome) still a new structure. This is an extract from my diary…

***

I spent the afternoon with Malcolm, who has developed a habit of making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva.

At the end of Malcolm’s road, a house-owner has put a new tiled name on their house: Dome Vista.

“But all you can see from the back windows of his house,” Malcolm told me, “is the bloody great flyover from the Blackwall Tunnel standing at the end of his garden. You can’t see the Millennium Dome. Fucking Dome Vista!”

I had been going to take Malcolm out to lunch but, on the way, as is often the case, he had “a better idea” and we went to the warehouse office of the three brothers who co-own Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club to pick up Malcolm’s weekly cheque. Two of the brothers plus wives and five or six staff were having a Christmas buffet meal with lots of seafood and champagne. On the walls of the room in which we sat were drawings of various property developments, including a new Greenwich shopping centre: they already own two existing Greenwich markets.

“He used to live in a mansion next to Rod Stewart in Hollywood,” Malcolm had told me about one of the brothers. When Malcolm tells you a wildly unlikely story, it usually turns out to be true. The more unbelievable the facts, the more likely they are to be true.

“That’s a bit severe,” this brother said of Malcolm’s ultra-close-cropped hair.

“Just had it cut,” Malcolm explained.

“Malcolm,” another brother explained to me, “only has his cut his hair every six months. He lets it grow over six months, so he only pays for a haircut twice a year.”

“No I don’t,” said Malcolm aggrieved and blinking. “I set it on fire at Beggar’s Banquet, in the offices.”

“Why was that?”

Malcolm thought briefly, shrugged and ignored the question. The truth is that he occasionally sets his hair on fire just to have an effect. He set fire to two cinemas in his youth. There has been a lot of arson around in his life.

“It doesn’t catch fire easily but it doesn’t cause any pain,” he mumbled defensively, by way of an explanation about his hair.

“What did Beggar’s Banquet say?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged and blinked.

“You should make a record like Keith Allen,” I suggested. “You’d get lots of money. Form a group called The Old Lags.”

“I don’t hang round the Groucho Club enough,” he mumbled.

Malcolm recently came back from Australia, where he met his friend Wizo. “Typical,” Malcolm told the brothers, wives and staff over champagne and seafood, “Wizo lost his job the day I arrived and I had to pay for everything. He’d been selling advertising space in the Melbourne Age newspaper. They told him he had to wear a suit, but he got bored and came in one morning wearing a chef’s outfit. They weren’t happy. The good thing about Australia, though, Wizo told me, is that you can be poor quite comfortably.”

Malcolm’s brother, formerly a comedy promoter in Manchester, is now working in Wizo’s old London job – for music mogul Miles Copeland.

“My brother’s throwing a Christmas party for friends and relations,” Malcolm told us. “He tried to charge his guests £70-a-head to come but no-one’s agreed yet, so he’s probably going to invite them for free but have a whip-round for a new washing machine while they’re there.”

The brothers, their wives and staff looked impressed.

After the meal, we drove off to a bank where Malcolm deposited his cheque from the brothers and various other cheques including one for £29 from BBC TV to cover sales to Croatia of a Blackadder episode he appeared in. He was much impressed by the sale to Croatia. He banked about £900 then withdrew £700 and went to a betting shop, allegedly to check if ‘his’ greyhound was running at Catford. Instead, after realising a dog called ‘Oi Oi’ (Malcolm’s catchphrase) had won the previous race and he’d missed it, he bet £50 on a dog at random in the next race… and it won!

“I always win bets on dogs at Christmas,” he told me. “The rest of the year, I lose everything, but I always win just coming up to Christmas.” Then he added unexpectedly: “I part-own a greyhound.”

“You do?” I asked dubiously.

“It’s handled by a bloke who got ‘done’ in the 1970s for greyhound ‘ringing’. He got arrested after he had a very good black dog and disguised it by dying it brown. But, as luck would have it, when the dogs paraded round before the Off, it started to rain and the dye came out.”

This sounded like an urban myth to me.

“Ricky Grover,” I said, “told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Malcolm, never to be out-anecdoted, “I was once in prison with a bloke nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. His job was to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the country and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track;. The dogs stopped racing, went crazy and tore it apart. His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he’d thrown the teddy bear.”

After picking up answerphone messages at Up The Creek, collecting mail from a new tenant in his old house in Glenluce Road, attempting to buy his own £7.99 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in a Greenwich remainder shop for £1 (they had sold out), visiting the kitsch Emporium shop which sells lava lamps and 1960s memorabilia and buying a Christmas tree from a dodgy-looking man in a car park, we went back to Malcolm’s current home in Fingal Street via Jools Holland’s railway station (to see the top of the mini castle tower he has built) and up a suburban back street to drive past Shangri-La – a corner house the outside of which the owner has decorated.

On the side wall of the house, there are embossed metal horses heads and three large garage doors.

“The anvil’s gone,” Malcolm told me, slightly peeved.

“Has he got three cars?” I asked.

“No, he’s got green astroturf behind them,” Malcolm replied as if that explained it all.

“It’s a strange world,” I said.

“Nah,” said Malcolm, making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva. “This is South East London.”

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The origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine

One ‘Digger Dave’ tells me on my Facebook page that the legendary banger-up-the-bum routine made infamous by comic Chris Lynam and The Greatest Show on Legs originated when some aggrieved criminal in jail with Malcolm Hardee threatened to shove a stick of dynamite up Malcolm’s arse for selling him a jamjar full of wheat seeds in exchange for three packets of tobacco and telling him that the wheat seeds would turn into whisky.

As a result, Malcolm was transferred to Exeter prison farm for his own protection and later, on his release, turned the explosive threat into a spectacular entertainment.

Digger Dave also reckons a dodgy bloke in a Catford pub once threatened to shoot all the members of The Greatest Show on Legs after seeing their “Scotsman striptease” (I’m not quite sure which routine that is, but I’m open to enlightenment.)

For what it’s worth, Malcolm told me that the banger-up-the-bum routine originated when The Greatest Show on Legs were trying to come up with some even more spectacular act to follow their naked balloon dance routine and someone said: “Well, you’re wasting your time. You can’t follow the naked balloon dance. You might as well stick a firework up your arse!”

Malcolm either took this as a sensible suggestion or as a challenge and he was the first person to try out the banger-up-the-bum routine which involves holding a large firework – preferably a three-stage Roman Candle – between your clenched buttocks and lighting it to the musical accompaniment of Ethel Merman singing There’s No Business Like Show Business (other tunes are far less effective though the copyright holders of the Ethel Merman version won’t legally let it be used with the routine). Tragically, Malcolm told me, he lacked the necessary buttock control and, as a result, the lit firework drooped and set fire to his pubic (or should that be derriere) hair. According to Malcolm, fellow Greatest Show on Legs member Chris Lynam had tighter buttock control, successfully did the act as part of their show and has become the living legend he is today.

Which of these two stories – if either – is the true origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine I know not. Personally, I prefer the prison threat story… When in doubt, particularly where Malcolm is concerned, print the legend.

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