Tag Archives: crime

Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

Two Jack The Ripper tours on opposite sides of the same street last night

Two competing Jack The Ripper tours huddle together on opposite sides of the street in London’s East End last night

Last night, I was in the area where Jack The Ripper killed at least five women 127 years ago.

Now he is a legend. He is more famous worldwide than any 19th century British Prime Minister. Last night, I may have counted some twice – though I do not think I did – but there were at least sixteen Jack The Ripper guided tours going round the area.

The gap between despised villain and fascinating legend becomes ever shorter. With 1950s and 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins, we are still close enough to see the legend being built.

The teaser trailer for the latest film about the Krays – Legendwas released last week. It got 2,067,569 hits in its first two days online.

Yesterday afternoon, I met Micky Fawcett, an associate of The Krays, who wrote the book Krayzy Days about his time with them (and much else)

Odd shot - After leaving their family home, the Krays lived in a council flat - and buildings were not this high in the 1960s.

Odd teaser – After leaving their family home, the Krays lived in a council flat – and buildings were not this high in 1960s.

Micky did not think much of the Legend teaser trailer. I too thought the selling line about the Twins “ruling” London was a wild exaggeration. Mickey saw more detailed quirks: apparently, in reality, Ronnie Kray never wore spectacles outside his home.

Then the subject came up of Frank’ The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell.

Some of what follows is taken from Wikipedia, so the facts are (a) in the public domain and (b) as they are from Wikipedia, not necessarily true.

That is one of the things about legends.

They are not necessarily true.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

‘Mad axeman’ Frank Mitchell

‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell in happy days

From the age of 17 Mitchell was regularly incarcerated in borstals and prisons, mostly for shop-breaking and larceny. In prison, Mitchell was “a thorn in the flesh of authority”. His sentences were characterised by violence against guards and fellow inmates and he was punished with the birch and the cat o’ nine tails.

He slashed a guard across the face and was charged with attempted murder after attacking an inmate he believed had informed on him; he was later acquitted. 

In 1955, he was diagnosed as ‘mentally defective’ and sent to the Rampton psychiatric hospital. Two years later Mitchell escaped with another inmate and they attacked a man with an iron bar before stealing his clothes and money.

When he was recaptured, Mitchell attacked police with two meat cleavers and was sent to Broadmoor. He escaped again, broke into a private home and held a married couple hostage with an axe, for which he was nicknamed ‘The Mad Axeman’ in the press.


Micky’s Krayzy Days remembered

Micky’s Krayzy Days were lived to full

Micky told me: “He was in Broadmoor first off and he escaped – I don’t know how. What happened was he broke into a cottage and there were a couple of old people in there and he picked up an axe and said: Now, behave yourself.”

“He never used the axe?” I asked.

‘No. I’m not saying he was a saint. He was an idiot. But he didn’t want to go back to Broadmoor. He wanted to go in a prison.

“There was a feller called Tom Bryant who used to come in the Double-R Club (which the Kray Twins owned). He wrote for The People newspaper. He was always in the Double-R.”

“To pick up stories?” I asked.

“Probably. After that incident with the axe, Tom Bryant nicknamed Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’.

“And, after that, it was Keep away from Tom Bryant. The day before, he was a friend. But after he called Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ it was a case of: Frank Mitchell is a friend of ours. Keep away from Tom Bryant.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

In October 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with violence.


Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Micky Fawcett photographed in the May Fair Hotel recently

Micky told me: “I went down to Dartmoor Prison to meet somebody else and they said: Frank Mitchell never gets any visitors.

“This is a long time – many years – before anything happened to him.

“So I met him. He was quite nice, an ordinary sort of feller… He was not very bright, but quite a pleasant sort of type. He said to the screw (prison warder): Look after Micky. It was like he was threatening the screw. He said: Micky’s a friend of ours now, right? Do you understand?

“And the screw, sounding slightly scared went: Yeah, alright Frank. OK Frank. Keep calm.”

We now enter ‘six degrees of separation’ territory here.

Johnny Edgecombe in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life

In a 2013 blog, Harry Rogers told me that his chum Johnny Edgecombe (who precipitated the Profumo sex scandal) had shared a cell with Frank Mitchell in Dartmoor and that “everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the screws. He was like an animal.”

Micky told me: “They used to have work parties at Dartmoor: like a chain gang thing. Quarrying. But Frank used to tell the screws I’ll be in the pub and he used to go off to the local pub and have a drink.”

I said to Micky: “I thought Dartmoor Prison was isolated, in the middle of nowhere.”

“It is.” said Micky.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Dartmoor Prison

Dartmoor Prison – it’s a long way to the nearest public house

Mitchell was sent to Dartmoor prison in 1962 and, whilst there, his behaviour improved. He kept budgerigars and was transferred to the honour party, a small group of trustee inmates who were allowed to work outside the prison walls with minimal supervision. Mitchell was permitted to roam the moors and feed the wild ponies and even visited nearby pubs. On one occasion he caught a taxi to Okehampton to buy a budgerigar. The governor of the prison promised Mitchell that if he stayed out of trouble he would recommend to the Home Office that he be given a release date. Four years later, Mitchell was aggrieved that he had still not received one.

Mitchell had befriended Ronnie Kray when they served a sentence together at Wandsworth Prison in the 1950s. During Mitchell’s trial for attempted murder, Ron hired a lawyer for him and paid for him to have a new suit fitted. Ron was keen on breaking Mitchell out of prison, thinking it would help him to publicise his grievance and earn a release date, as well as enhance the Krays’ standing in the underworld. Reg Kray recalled that he was reluctant, but finally reasoned that “if nothing else, it would stick two fingers up to the law”.


Micky told me: “The big story is that The Twins ‘sprung’ Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor. But all they did was say to someone: Can you just go down and pick Frank up – and he just walked out, got in the car and came to London.”


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

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

Teddy Smith in the 1960s: a man in the car at Dartmoor

On 12 December 1966, while with a small work party on the moors, Mitchell asked the sole guard for permission to feed some nearby Dartmoor ponies. His request was granted, he walked over to a quiet road where a getaway car containing associates of the Krays – Albert Donoghue, ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith and Billy Exley – was waiting for him, and they drove to London, where the Krays put him up in a flat in Barking, East Ham. It was over five hours before Mitchell was reported missing.

Mitchell’s escape made national news, led to a political storm over the lax security around a man described in the press as ‘Britain’s most violent convict’, and was debated in the house of Commons. A large manhunt ensued, with 200 policemen, 100 Royal Marines and a Royal Air Force helicopter searching the moors.


Micky told me: “It was mad the way the whole thing went and he got shot in the end in the way that he did. Poor old Frank Mitchell.”

“This,” I said, “is Brown Bread Fred in the back of a van?”

“Yes,” said Micky. “The most horrible part about it was that I think it was Albert Donoghue who said that, as they came over Bow bridge, Frank said: Oh, I’d like to go down there. Me dad and all me family are in Bow. And they told him: No, you can’t go there; we’re taking you to Barking. Or it might have been East Ham. That was his last journey. That’s horrible. 

“Because really he was just a big bicycle thief. (At the age of 9 he stole a bicycle from another child, for which he was taken before a juvenile court and put on probation.)


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Freddie Foreman’s autobiography

Freddie Foreman’s 2007 autobiography

Mitchell soon became a problem for the Krays. Owing to his physical strength and short temper, he was difficult to control. He was unwilling to give himself up and return to prison, and was not allowed to leave the flat in case he was recognised. Effectively, he had traded one prison cell for another. The Krays feared releasing him or turning him in as he could implicate them in his escape. Mitchell felt insulted that Reg had only visited him in person once and was particularly upset that he could not visit his parents, despite them living nearby. He grew increasingly agitated and began making threats against the Krays. The Krays decided the only solution was to kill him.

On 24 December 1966, Mitchell was led into the back of a van by Albert Donoghue, thinking he was to be taken to a safe house in the countryside where he would meet up with Ron Kray. Waiting in the van were several men, among them Freddie Foreman and Alfie Gerrard, who were armed with revolvers. Once the van doors were closed and the engine started, they opened fire on Mitchell, killing him. Donoghue thought that 12 shots were fired before Mitchell died. His body was never recovered.


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

Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray, photographed by David Bailey

I said to Micky: “There was a story the Krays knew someone with a boat in a seaside town and bodies would be dumped over the side, weighed down and wrapped in chicken wire so, when they rotted and/or fish ate them, large bits of body would not float to the surface.”

“That’s not true,” said Micky.

“No?” I asked.

“You don’ t want to know,” he told me.

“I do.’

“You don’t.”

“I do want to know, provided it doesn’t involve names.”

“Exactly,” said Micky.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Albert Donoghue’s 1996 autobiography

Albert Donoghue’s 1996 autobiography

In 1968, the Krays and various accomplices were arrested and put on trial for an array of offences, including the murder of Frank Mitchell. Their attempt to cajole gang member Albert Donoghue into confessing to killing Mitchell led to him becoming a crown witness and testifying against them. Ron, Reg and Charlie Kray and Freddie Foreman were all acquitted of Mitchell’s murder, due to lack of evidence and the perceived unreliability of Donoghue’s testimony.

Reg Kray was found guilty of conspiring to effect Mitchell’s escape from Dartmoor, for which he received a five-year sentence to run concurrently with his other sentences. Donoghue and another Firm member, John Dickson, pleaded guilty to harbouring Mitchell and respectively received 18-month and 9-month sentences.

Freddie Foreman’s 1996 autobiography

Freddie Foreman’s 1996 autobiography

In his 1996 autobiography Respect, Foreman admitted to shooting Mitchell as a favour to the Krays.

Donoghue said Foreman was paid £1,000 for it.

Foreman was arrested and questioned by police after repeating his confession in a 2000 television documentary, but the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not be re-opening the case due to the then extant Double Jeopardy law.

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The Kray Twins book review, setting fire to a politician and saving dirty nappies

Micky Fawcett, with son Michael, talked to me at the May Fair hotel

Micky Fawcett (left), with son Michael, at the May Fair Hotel

“There’s been a bit of a coincidence,” former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett told me at London’s May Fair Hotel yesterday.

In this blog a couple of days ago, Micky was talking about Nipper Read – the policeman who arrested the Kray Twins.

Micky said Nipper “was straight. But he weren’t straight with me”. He also mentioned James Morton, whom he called the “mouthpiece of Nipper Read.” James Morton was a lawyer, who later wrote books with gangster Mad Frank Fraser and about gangland in general.

Back in September last year, a mutual acquaintance of Micky Fawcett and James Morton gave Morton a copy of Micky’s book Krayzy Days. Morton asked the acquaintance: “Do you know how I can contact him?” But he never did.

Three weeks ago, the acquaintance told Micky what had happened back in September and gave him James Morton’s phone number.

Micky’s Krayzy Days remembered

Micky’s own Krayzy Days remembered

“So,” Micky told me yesterday, “I phoned James Morton and it was on answerphone. That’s typical, I thought. You can’t get through to them so they’ve got the upper hand straight away. But I left a message: I’ve been told you’d like to have a meeting with me. If you wanna give me a ring back, it can be arranged… A few hours later, the phone rang and it was him. He said: I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, and he then asked: Are we alright? Are we OK?.

“I said: Yeah, we’re OK. So he asked me a couple of questions and I said: Shall we have a meeting? He said: Nothing I’d like better.

“So, a couple of Fridays ago, we met at the Churchill Hotel in London. Most of the people we talked about were dead. It was that sort of conversation. There were a couple of things I couldn’t tell him, because people were still alive.

“One of the things I asked him was: How’s Nipper Read? I heard he had a blood pressure problem.

Well, he said, he’s 90. He’s had blood pressure problems and this and that.

“I asked him: Have you read my book? because, when I had walked into the Churchill Hotel, he had been reading it.

I was reading it, he said, but I put it down because you slagged me off in it and I’m not going to read it if you’re slagging me off in it.

“I didn’t know if he was being serious. He is very deadpan. But, he said, if you give me your e-mail address, I’ll finish reading it and tell you what I think of it. I’ll do a review. And now he’s sent me a paragraph.”

Micky showed me the paragraph that Andrew Morton had written:

Teddy Machin (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

’Terrible’ Teddy Machin’s death explained (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

Micky Fawcett and I have not always seen eye to eye (page 210) so this is not a review of a mate’s efforts. His book, Krayzy Days, however, is one of the best books on the Krays around. It is not one of those ‘I spent a night on the same wing as one of the Twins’. Fawcett was a genuine player. A former Long Firm fraudsman he had the sense to step away from the Krays after they invited him to kill a member of the Richardson gang following the Mr Smith’s Club shooting in 1966. But it is not just about the Krays. Fawcett knew the rest of the East End underworld intimately and he tells of the feuds behind such deaths as that of the hardman Teddy Machin. And then there are his experiences in the worlds of boxing promotions, counterfeiting and his time in Belgian prisons. A cracking good read.

“That’s a great review,” I told Micky yesterday. “Basically, he’s saying: I have no reason to like this man, but he’s written a bloody good book.

I was typing all that out this morning when I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver. The e-mail was headed:

The granite mountain towering over Squamish

The Stawamus Chief at Squamish

A one thousand cubic meter slab of granite fell off this local mountain on Sunday, the afternoon I took this photo 

and, indeed, there was a photo of the Stawamus Chief mountain attached. The text of Anna’s e-mail said:

I didn’t go downtown on Monday, but 25,000 people celebrating marijuana did. There was a lot of smoke, traffic gridlock all afternoon and 75 people were taken to hospital, mostly for ‘dizzyness ‘. 

There was a gigantic banner hanging from the art gallery shaped like a packet of rolling papers.

Instead of going downtown, I stayed home. I carried a bucket of water across the road to the vacant lot where transport lorries park containers. Beside the drying remains of a vast mud puddle, I built a small campfire from the twigs of a nearby dead pine tree and I placed a piece of plumbing hose and its fitting onto the fire.

Vancouver stag painting

What Anna missed on Vancouver’s weedy day

It was a bright sunny afternoon. The fire was cheerfully popping and gradually burning the piece of hose. Up on the road, cars and trucks rumbled over the speed hump. A man walked along the road. I wondered if anyone would see me and wonder why I was sitting beside a mud puddle and a fire, but nobody stopped or called the fire department. 

The rusted hose clamp which had given me so much trouble fell away when the hose was done burning. When the clamp cooled down I threw it into the bushes. I put out the fire with the water and put the two bronze fittings into the bucket. Then I went home and fixed my shower.

Your mad inventor friend John Ward was on the radio talking about his bra.

John Ward demonstrating his bra-warming device

John Ward demonstrating his original bra-warming device

The photo of the granite mountain which Anna attached was one which, she says, “towers above the town of Squamish”. The mountain does; not the photo. She added: “Ten people were climbing the rock face meters away from the chunk that broke off.”

She previously mentioned Squamish in this blog last November, when a local politician said he would set himself on fire. This week, when Anna was in Squamish again, she tells me:

“I asked a local if their politician had set himself on fire yet. The local looked at me as if I was stupid and said: Oh he did that months ago“.

And, sure enough, there is a video on YouTube of him, this February, setting himself on fire to the delighted whoops of local voters. Perhaps some British politicians might consider doing this during the current General Election.

As I finished typing the above, yet another e-mail arrived. It was from my local council. It said:

It’s Real Nappy Week! Hertsmere residents can claim up to £50 if they choose to use real nappies instead of disposable ones. 

Babies and toddlers go through lots of nappies – eight million of them in the UK every day. On average, a baby will need a staggering 4,500 nappy changes before they are potty trained. That’s 4,500 disposable nappies sent to landfill, or just 20 real nappies washed and used again.   

Councils across the county, in partnership with Hertfordshire County Council, offer a real nappy reward scheme to discourage the use of disposable nappies. People using real nappies or a nappy laundering service need to complete an application form in order to claim any money back through the scheme. Alternatively, we have free starter kits available for anyone who is interested and would like to give real nappies a go. 

This week we’re running a competition to win real nappy goodies.  Simply watch the new ‘Real Nappies Rock’ video and tell us what colour nappy the boy doing the roly poly is wearing! 

Hertsmere Council do not specify what their ‘free starter kits’ include.

The moral to this blog is that Life is full of shit, but it is also an occasionally interesting rollercoaster of variables.

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Filed under Canada, Crime, Drugs, Eccentrics, London

Arrest of the Kray Twins; Frank Bruno; and the winner of Britain’s Got Talent

Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Micky Fawcett was in the May Fair Hotel, London, this month

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a chat I had with Mickey Fawcett, a close associate of iconic 1960s gangsters the Kray Twins.

“I dug out some statements the other day,” he told me.

‘The ones made when you were arrested with the Twins?” I asked.

“Yeah. There were loads of people arrested.”

“It was fraud you were acquitted of?”

“Yes. I wasn’t charged with anything else.”

“This is,” I checked, “when the Krays were arrested for the two murders?”

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s book about The Firm

“The murders and everything,” said Micky. “The whole thing. I was the last one arrested because I kept out-of-the-way for a while. I had always given my mother’s address, so the police kept missing me. I had stopped speaking to the Twins at this point and was enemies with them and we were trying to kill each other.”

“As,” I said, “in the first sentence in your book.”

“Yes,” said Micky. His book Krayzy Days starts with the words:

We were going to kill Reggie Kray. I had a .38 revolver and we were waiting for him late one night outside John Bigg Point, a block of flats in Stratford, East London. Reggie and I had once been close and for years I knew the Kray twins as well as anyone. But now their world was in disarray. They were lost in their own celebrity; a fame which brought with it a circle of yes-men and hangers-on. Wannabe gangsters who fuelled brother Ronnie’s madness. Only a few of us who had been around for longer could see the twins were heading for disaster. If we didn’t do anything they would take us down with them.

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

(From left) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston, Micky Fawcett (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“You got off,” I said. “How?”

“I had a plan,” said Mickey.

“What was that?” I asked.

“People will have to read the book,” he laughed, “but it involved the Financial Times.”

“What was the fraud you were charged with?” I asked.

Long firm,” said Micky. “Poor old Stanley Crowther was running the long firm – a gay, alcoholic, ex-barrister.”

“I feel,” I said: “there is a sitcom in this.”

“What used to happen with Ronnie, though,” Micky continued, “was that he would spoil a long firm by jumping in halfway through. On one occasion, he said to me: Come on, Mick: a bird in the hand is worth four in the bush.

Larry Gains - British Empire (Commonwealth) heavyweight champion, Ronnie and Johnny Davies with the twins’ racehorse Solway Cross.

Twins’ racehorse Solway Cross with (L-R) British Empire heavyweight champion Larry Gains, Ronnie Kray and gunman Johnny Davies. (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“Another day, he went in and said: I need £1,000 to buy a racehorse. And he bought one. The Twins really bought it for their mother.  But it was a ‘three-legged’ one. It never won anything. They auctioned it.

“One of the statements I read the other day was when the Twins got arrested. Nipper Read – Chief Superintendent Read, he was at the time – goes into the council flat the Twins are using in Bunhill Row and his statement reads: I said to Reginald Kray ‘You are under arrest’ and he said ‘Aaahhh! Mr Read, we’ve been expecting you. You’ll find it a bit more difficult this time, because we’ve got lots of friends now, you know’… The Twins got 30 years!”

“Nipper Read,” I said, “was an unusually straight copper, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” Micky agreed. “Nipper Read was straight. But he weren’t straight with me.”

“When?” I asked.

“Just after the Twins had been arrested and I had been acquitted, I applied to the British Boxing Board of Control for a licence to train a boxer – which they gave me, after checking me out. Then, a couple of weeks later, they asked me to come back again and Nipper Read was there and James Morton, his mouthpiece.” (James Morton was then a lawyer, but later wrote books with Mad Frank Fraser and about gangland in general).

Micky Fawcett ‘gloving up’ Funs Banjo

Micky Fawcett ‘gloving up’ Funso Banjo for a boxing match

“They were part of the Board of Control,” Micky explained, “and they said: Your licence has been rescinded. You were granted one by the Southern Area Council but now the full Board has discussed it and you can’t have a licence. You knew the Kray Twins.

“I said: Well, a lot of people knew the Kray Twins. Everybody knew the Kray Twins.

Yeah, they said, but you knew them more than most. So they stopped me getting a licence, despite the fact I had been acquitted in court.”

“But,” I said, “You got a licence eventually.”

“Yeah, but it took years and not getting one ruined me, because I had a boxer and he didn’t want to be trained by someone who the Board of Control didn’t consider to be a fit person to have a licence – despite the fact I had been acquitted in court and I had stopped speaking to the Twins and we were trying to kill each other… Nipper Reid was a nasty little man. But it was deeper than that.”

“In what way?” I asked.

Micky Fawcett’s boxer Funs Banjo

Micky Fawcett’s boxer Funso Banjo (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“What happened was Terry Lawless and Mickey Duff and Mike Barrett and Co had Frank Bruno. And I had a black heavyweight boxer called Funso Banjo – his real name was Babafunso Banjo. And they were afraid I would topple Bruno. They didn’t want anyone to spoil the Bruno patch and that is why they took my licence away. To make it really difficult for me. Funso Banjo ended up boxing Joe Frazier’s son.

“And Funso’s son Ashley Modurotolu Banjo won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Dancing. He was a ballet dancer. He’s the leader of Diversity, the dance troupe. He’s performed at the London Palladium and been introduced to the Queen. Never been in any trouble. He’s done well.”

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The stabbing in Frith Street, Soho, and Ronnie Kray’s one and only robbery

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s first-hand memories

I was talking to Micky Fawcett, author of the book Krayzy Days about his times with iconic London gangsters the Krays Twins.

I mentioned 1950s London Jewish criminal Jack Spot. There was an infamous knife fight in Soho involving Jack Spot.

Micky Fawcett is probably the only person who personally knew Jack Spot, the Kray Twins and Billy Hill.

“When I was 16,” Micky told me, “I was working on fruit stalls in Upton Park. The stall that I worked on got shut down, because they decided it was an obstruction and a feller said to me: If you’re looking for a job, I can get you one in Aldgate. A pal of mine has opened an auction room there. Aldgate was completely Jewish at that time.

“So he took me up to No 2, The Minories in Aldgate. They used to have fortnightly auctions there – confectionary and food and textiles and haberdashery all alternating. It was a ‘long firm’ but I had never heard the phrase then.

“The long firm was run by these two fellers named Jack and Maurice Sohn and a feller called Leon Kaiser – crooks, gangsters  – I didn’t know. I was quite naive at 16. I had just left school.

“They introduced me to this feller called Sonny The Yank – his real name was Bernard Schack. He was introduced to me as: This is Sonny – He’s Jack Spot’s right-hand man. But I didn’t even know who Jack Spot was.

Jack Spot! they said. He’s the boss! You’ve never heard of him? He’s the king of the underworld! Sonny is Jack Spot’s right-hand man. You know when you see a man with the wage bag chained to his hand? They don’t do it when Sonny’s around. He cuts their hand off. 

“I got very friendly with Sonny, so then he introduced me to Jack Spot. I was 16, so I was honoured to meet him. Then my National Service papers came through for the Army. And, right at that time was that fight you were talking about on the corner of Frith Street. I saw it on the newspaper placards.”

Billy Hill at home - from the book Krayzy Days

Billy Hill at home – pic from Krayzy Days

The fight took place in a Soho greengrocer’s shop between Jack Spot and Albert Dimes, one of Billy Hill’s bodyguards. According to reports, the fight was stopped when Mrs Sophie Hyams, the greengrocer’s 13-stone wife, picked up a large metal scoop and started beating the two men about the head with it.

At the subsequent trial – according to, of all newspapers, The Spokane Daily Chronicle in a 1955 article headlined British Thugs Shun Guns But They Can Be Tough – Jack Spot got off after evidence from “a venerable clerk in holy orders – the Reverend Basil Claude Hudson Andrews – 88, who came forth solemnly and swore the bookmaker had not wielded the knife. Spot was acquitted on this impressive testimony, but it then developed the star witness had a most curious background for a minister. He finally admitted he had committed perjury.”

The reverend, it seemed, had a taste for whisky and women, did not pay his gambling debts and had been found wandering about the Cumberland Hotel in London, living on nothing but continental breakfasts. He had been persuaded to perjure himself for £63 by Sonny the Yank and Moishe Bluebell (whose actual nickname ‘Blueball’ was not printed by embarrassed newspapers because it referred to the fact he had one discoloured testicle).

According to The Spokane Daily Chronicle, as a result of the trial: “Britons found to their chagrin that they had their own colorful collection of Damon Runyon characters – Sonny The Yank, Moishe Blue Boy, Benny The Kid, Flash Harry, Erny The Gent, Monkey Johnny, Joey Kings Cross.”

Micky Fawcett told me: “Aldgate and Soho in 1955 were the best places I had ever been.”

The knife fight in Frith Street marked the start of a slow decline for Jack Spot’s criminal reign and, later, the Kray Twins and The Richardsons became the ‘top dogs’ in London crime.

“The Krays,” I said to Micky, “were Bethnal Green, but that’s pretty much the same as…”

“Oh no,” he said, “they lived practically in Aldgate. And they were born in 1933, so they would have been in their early twenties when the knife fight happened.”

“Did they want to be criminals?” I asked.

“Well, people wouldn’t believe it now,” said Micky, “but they always disdained criminals even right to the end. They didn’t like criminals. They used to call them ‘jailbirds’. The image they had of themselves was that they were celebrities. That was how they saw the world.”

“So they thought they were above the law?” I asked.

Jailbirds? they’d say. We don’t want jailbirds. The Twins never stole anything. Well, once… I am the only man who has ever been on a robbery with Ronnie Kray.

‘We were in the Twins’ Regency Club and there was a big cellar in the basement, which they had let out to a firm of carpet suppliers – Gannon & Hamish – they supplied all these expensive Indian carpets.

“One of Ronnie’s friends – Dickie Morgan – said: Ron, what we’ll do… We’ll get locked in here tonight, then we’ll nick all them carpets: they’re worth a fortune.

“So Ronnie asked me: Can you get someone with a van? We’re gonna rob downstairs in our own place.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances Kray

“So we got a van, stayed behind, got locked in and, at about six o’clock the next morning – so as not to arouse suspicion moving things late at night – we loaded all the carpets into the van and took them over to a feller in Chingford to sell them to him.

“He looked at them and said: They’re a load of fucking rubbish! They’re just Belgian rubbish! They’re not worth anything!

“So then Ronnie turned and wanted to strangle Dickie Morgan. That’s the only robbery Ronnie ever did.”

“What did he do with the carpets?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” said Micky. “I don’t know. He threw them away, probably.”

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Memories of eccentric real life in 2001

Again, no time to write a blog so, again, some extracts from my e-diary, this time in 2001:


MONDAY 26th MARCH, 2001

An Italian archaeologist told me a true story from the Western Desert in World War Two.

In some battle between the Eighth Army and the Afrika Corps, a British tank got hit by a shell which wrecked the tank and embedded itself in it but did not explode. There was no way out for the crew. The British won the battle and, afterwards, the British (presumably the Royal Engineers) tried to get into the tank to see if any of the crew were still alive. It took time but, when they opened up a hole, the first thing they saw was the tank commander sitting back, relaxed, smoking a pipe and surrounded by high explosive shells and the bodies of his dead crew. He had tried everything to get out but found he couldn’t. So, as he knew there was nothing he could do, he lit up his pipe.

TUESDAY 27th MARCH

I was in a tube train coming home. A mad man started talking in a very sane and reasonable tone of voice to the whole carriage:

“My house,” he said. “It’s so big. It’s worth four and a half million pounds… Do you want some spuds?”

As he continued, in the same very reasonable tone of voice, a blind man came into the carriage and his brow furrowed, confused at the sane-sounding man saying strange things which had – without sight – no context in which he could put them.

WEDNESDAY 28th MARCH

A Bournemouth film student told me:

I used to walk past two women every day who stood on their doorsteps in all weathers and gossiped about the people on the street. Once they told my dad that they liked his new coffee table – despite never having been in our house! 

THURSDAY 29th MARCH

In the evening, BBC1 had paid £280,000 for a one hour interview with gangster Reggie Kray, recorded a few days before his death. Reggie said that he killed Jack The Hat McVitie because the man “was a vexation to the spirit”. Of the killing, he said: “I wanted to do it neater than I did, but I didn’t get round to it.”

FRIDAY 30th MARCH

At lunchtime, I went to see a fan of imprisoned criminal Charles Bronson. Her entire bedroom walls and the walls of her upstairs rooms were covered with immensely detailed pastel-covered drawings and poems by Charlie himself. Downstairs, two massive light brown dogs with squashed black faces slept in the kitchen and the living room walls were covered with pictures of dogs, dog breeding certificates and a framed cartoon drawing of Laurel & Hardy.

A female friend of hers was also there. The friend mentioned that her mother (the friend’s mother) was obsessed by motor racing driver Damon Hill. In her living room, she has a tyre from a Formula One racing car, signed by Damon Hill, which she has made into a coffee table by simply putting a sheet of glass on top of it. She occasionally talks to the wheel and, when the family go out in their car, she has a life-size cut-out of Damon Hill who sits in the front passenger seat (with a seat belt round it) while she drives and her husband and daughter sit in the rear seat.

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Comic Matt Price: hypnotherapy, sperm, Australia and marijuana

Matt Price in Camden Town last night

Matt Price, natural born storyteller, in Camden last night

Last Sunday’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to be recorded with Kate Copstick et moi talking to comic Matt Price before the second Best of Natural Born Storytellers shows at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, London. Alas, Copstick was ill, so it was done from her flat.

Matt Price runs monthly Natural Born Storytellers shows with Michael Kossew in Camden Town and, last night, I went along to see this month’s show. As always, true stories told straight: extraordinary, revealing, cathartic, sometimes funny, sad, empathic. Matt had just returned from performing at the Perth and Adelaide comedy festivals.

“Was it was your first trip to Australia?” I asked.

“Yes,” Matt told me, “My friends were running a book on whether I would get deep vein thrombosis. But I wore the deep vein thrombosis socks and took an aspirin. The other problem was I used to have a phobia about flying. But Martha (his partner, comic Martha McBrier) is a qualified hypnotherapist. She tried to hypnotise me and it kind-of worked.”

“She’s a qualified hypnotherapist?” I asked, surprised.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier encountered a major problem as a sperm

“Yes,” said Matt. “As part of her training, she had to be hypnotised herself and she did past-life regression. They regressed her and asked: Who are you? And she said: I’m a sperm.”

“That’s not strictly a past life,” I suggested. “That’s more the beginning of her current life.”

Ignoring this – I thought valid – point, Matt continued: “They asked her: Are you OK?”

“Was it,” I suggested, “a bit crowded in among all the other sperm?”

“No,” said Matt. She told them: Everybody wants to go swimming and I’m not really into swimming and they’re all so competitive – That’s a true story.

“She did encourage me to do hypnotherapy, though, so I got some tapes and listened to them. The first thing I did afterwards was fly over to Hungary and normally I would have been really frightened but I wasn’t. And then I flew to Australia and back again without any bother. I even really enjoyed it.”

“Australia,” I observed, “is just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

“But,” said Matt brightly, “I found that banter and taking-the-piss is a universal thing. And some of the heckles were very helpful. You would ask What’s a bogan? (the equivalent of a chav in England or Ned in Scotland) and they would explain it in depth because they really want you to know about their culture.”

“Their culture?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt. “One guy got up and left after I’d been doing my act for about 30 seconds and he came back in about two minutes later saying: Oh sorry, mate, I was thirsty. I got me and me missus a beer and I got one for you as well. Australia must be the only place in the world where you can be heckled with generosity.”

I asked Matt: “What was your show called?”

A British Bloke’s Guide to Being a Man.

“And,” I asked, “your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

“I don’t want to tell you the title,” replied Matt. “Not until it is in the Programme. What I do have is story I’m finally able to tell, because the person involved in it is no longer involved in illegal activity. Basically, in December 2005, I received a package through the post and that package was illegal…”

“Not something wrapped in another stab vest?” I asked.

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Last year, Matt Price demonstrated in a Camden street that his stab vest did not fit

“No. It was 10 oz of marijuana sent to me by someone very close to me as a present and, because that person had not given me many presents before and because I’m not really involved in that world, I did not really want to… I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t want to give it away. Giving away weed when you’re not involved in that world is very hard. And I didn’t want to throw it away. And I didn’t want to sell it, because that would make me a drug dealer. So it’s all about what I did in order to get rid of this weed and find it a good home. I am going to promote the show as Cornish Breaking Bad meets Only Fools and Horses. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.”

“You have met some dodgy people,” I observed. “I know you know dodgy people in three countries – Scotland, England and Turkey.”

“Yes. Someone I know bought a car at an auction and pretended it was a police car.”

Pretended it was a police car?” I asked.

“Yeah. He wrote POLITE on the side of the car and he and his friend were driving around with a radio, listening to what the police were saying and then following cars. They ended up stopping a police car just for a bet.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They got arrested,” said Matt.

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Why the owner of the Comedy Cafe says his Tourette’s is better than cocaine

Noel Faulkner with Kate Copstick outside the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Noel Faulkner meets Kate Copstick outside the Comedy Cafe

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our fourth weekly Grouchy Club Podcast yesterday afternoon at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London.

I asked venue owner Noel Faulkner:

“Weren’t you one of the ten most wanted men in America at one point?”

“I,” said Noel, “was, I was… err… I was on the Te… Eh, yeah… yeah…”

“Why was that, Noel?” asked Copstick. “Tell us.”

“Erm…,” said Noel. “I was, eh… I was… I, err… I… well…”

“I think he’s floundering,” I said to Copstick.

“Right,” said Noel, “erm…”

“Spit it out,” said Copstick.

“I am a very good sailor,” said Noel.

“Right…,” said Copstick.

“And good sailors are hard to come by if you need people to smuggle. So I was approached to smuggle marijuana. They asked me to run coke from Colombia but I wouldn’t do it because, for every line of cocaine you snort, somebody’s been murdered and I didn’t fancy getting murdered off the coast of Colombia or coming into San Francisco just because somebody said: That boat’s got a load of coke in it...

“I had a mate who had a boat who never came back. We knew he was on his way up from the Coast and we never saw him again and he didn’t hit the storm; he was way behind the storm. It passed and he never came in. So we figured somebody met him on the way in and… him, the boat, everything went to the bottom.”

“I think,” said Copstick, “that there should be Fair Trade cocaine.”

“Actually,” said Noel, “cocaine is the shittiest drug going.”

“Really?” asked Copstick.

“You’re a babbling idiot at four o’clock in the morning, you need more coke and you phone up somebody you met in a public toilet about two years ago – who was your best friend because you were bored off your tits on coke and he’s going: Wah… Hello? Who? Who?

“The thing about other drugs is you get high, you go up and you come down and it’s nice. But coke – you get high and, at the beginning, it’s great but then it’s like there’s nowhere else to go. And, if you’re having sex with cocaine…”

“Oh,” lamented Copstick. “Coke dick – dreadful.”

Noel continued: “… it’s great at the beginning – and particularly for a man – but you can’t orgasm. And, if you’ve done a lot of coke, well, you’re just a spare prick in a whorehouse. But, having Tourette’s (Syndrome, as Noel does), I don’t need cocaine because it’s like being on coke all the time.”

“Really??” asked Copstick.

Kate Copstick talked to Noel Faulkner yesterday

Kate Copstick recording podcast with Noel Faulkner yesterday

“Oh yeah,” said Noel.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“You’re permanently speedy and quick-thinking.”

“If you breathe heavily on me,” Copstick asked, “could I catch it?”

“You have to be lying down,” said Noel.

“OK,” said Copstick.

You can hear more about Noel and the 4 tons of marijuana he smuggled into the U.S. in the full 36-minute podcast HERE.

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