Tag Archives: gangster

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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Glasgow gangland enforcer William Lobban experienced The Glasgow Curse

Recent Daily Record revelations from the book

Recent revelations reported from William Lobban’s new book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur Thompson, ‘kind hearted' Glaswegian

Arthur Thompson, Glasgow’s godfather

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

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

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

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

William Lobban, now a published author

Lobban – once ‘Most Wanted’ man in the UK

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

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

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why write the book now?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

It’s time to set matters straight…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Lobban, aged 19

Young eyes: Billy Lobban, aged 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

Older eyes: William Lobban looks forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micky Fawcett experienced Krayzy Days

Micky Fawcett experienced some Krayzy Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur Thompson, ‘kind hearted' Glaswegian

Arthur Thompson had a ‘heart of gold’

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

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

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

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

I mentioned that, in the ‘Revised and Updated’ 3rd Edition of John Pearson’s highly-respected book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. it was implied that the Krays killed their driver Billy Frost in the 1960s.

Billy Frost - Dead men don’t drink tea

Billy Frost – Dead men don’t drink tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When?” I asked.

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

“Can I print that?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Micky.

“He might get uppity,” I said.

“Teddy Smith? No, he’s alright.”

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

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

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Being a comedian inside Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane…

Matt Price in London last week

Matt Price at Soho Theatre in London last week

Yesterday’s blog told the story of how comic Martha McBrier was attacked in Glasgow, left partially deaf… and how her family and partner, comedian Matt Price, tried to get justice by contacting violent Glasgow gangsters.

In 2008, Matt told the story to a comedy promoter and ended up going to Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane.

When I met him last week, I asked: “What did the promoter say?”

It will give you an insight into the criminal mind, is what she told me. And it did, but not in the way I anticipated. At the end of it – it was horrible but – at the end of it, I had another gig and, as I was waiting to go on stage, I was on the phone to her crying my eyes out and she asked Why are you crying? and I said I don’t know. I think I’ve been in the presence of evil.

“She said Are you sure it’s not just that they didn’t laugh at any of your funny jokes? and I thought Yeah, dry your eyes.”

I prompted Matt: “You said that it had an effect on you but not the type of effect you’d thought it would…”

Matt told me: “I had been quite proud of myself – and I think ‘proud’ is the right word – to be able to go and see Glaswegian criminals. That kinda made me proud in the sense I had faced a fear. It had been quite a big deal when I realised I didn’t have to take violent revenge on somebody.

The comedy show put on  inside Broadmoor Hospital

The comedy show put on inside Broadmoor

“So, when Broadmoor was mentioned to me, I almost didn’t hear the ‘criminally insane’ bit.

“The comedy promoter told me: You’ve got a great personality. You’re gonna be brilliant.  It’s the first and last day they’re going to do comedy in Broadmoor. You should go along and there’s murderers and rapists and paedophiles there. It will give you an insight into the criminal mind.

“I almost didn’t hear the murderers and rapists and paedophiles bit either. I just thought: Oh, I’ve got personality. I’m a people person. It’ll be great.

“But what I realised as a result of going into Broadmoor is that comedically you have to have something in common with the people you’re in front of – or you need to give them the ability to relate to you at some level. You can’t do that when the person in the audience has sawn off someone’s feet or beaten them to death with a hammer. Empathy goes out the window. It’s very difficult to do observational comedy in front of people who are criminally insane, because what do you observe?

“We were told in advance: You can’t talk about sex or violence. Try not to swear. Don’t say anything that will remind them of the outside world. 

“Because of the emotion behind it, because I was essentially there because of what happened to Martha, I was very emotional and believed that in some way I could get some closure from performing in Broadmoor.

“But the inmates were coming up to me and touching my fists. Some of them were very childlike. I was told Don’t let this freak you out. Well of course I’m going to be freaked out because it’s the worst thing to say to anybody Don’t let this freak you out! – You’re automatically frightened.

“One of the nurses had told me: When they walk in, you’ll be able to tell what crime they’ve committed. And, because she put that into my head, I was fine until they came in. Then suddenly I thought Yes. I can see. You’re a rapist. You’re a murderer. You’re a paedophile. Suddenly the room’s spinning around.

Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane

Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane

“I asked if I could just go outside for a little while and I was told No, because it will remind them they’re incarcerated. And secondly, I was told, you’ll probably notice the patients are physically very big. This is because they eat a lot of junk food. The junk food that they don’t eat, they feed to the squirrels. So the squirrels living outside Broadmoor are massive – several times the size of normal squirrels. You think you’re scared now? If you see squirrels four times their original size, they will frighten the life out of you.

“So I wanna go outside, but I can’t go outside because of the squirrels.

“And so then I started wondering Am I the one who is mad?

“The patients were coming up and touching my fist and shaking my hand and getting physically close to me. One of them actually said In prison we do it like this and made me touch fists with him. Part of me was thinking, as I was feeling quite sick and afraid, Are you telling me I have the same qualities as you? Am I the same as you? And it was going through my head: I’ve never raped anybody. I’ve never murdered anybody. Maybe I’m the one who’s criminally insane. 

“Couple this with the fact that, when I was on stage, a big guy was shouting out: Well, WHO’S institutionalised NOW? He shouted: Your SANITY means NOTHING to me! Do you UNDERSTAND me? It means NOTHING to me!

“What do you say to that?

The Sun newspaper reports the 2008 Broadmoor comedy event

The UK’s Sun newspaper reports the 2008 Broadmoor event

“The stage was high, but one guy stood in front of the stage and his head was sticking over the top and I remember thinking: I could kick your head off the top of your shoulders now and I’d end up in here for the rest of my life.

“Everything just made it frightening. The fear of being around these people, coupled with the squirrels. It made it the most surreal experience. And part of me thought: Did I make that up? Did she really tell me that? Maybe I made up the whole squirrel thing? Maybe I am temporarily psychotic? But, no, it’s true.

“Then I thought: Well maybe she just said the bit about the squirrels to stop me going outside. 

“After the show had finished, we had to wait in the foyer and all the patients were walking past and allowed to go to their bedrooms. We were told Once they’ve gone, you can leave. We wanted to leave anyway because we were both afraid. I was with Ray Peacock, a brilliant comic, and someone walked by and looked at me and said Oh I thought you were brilliant and let out a cackle – Heh! heh! heh! heh! heh! – and I jumped up out of my chair to square up to him.

“Normally, I don’t square up to anyone. It’s not my thing. But I did. And I remember saying to this inmate: Yeah! Go on! Facebook me! and Ray Peacock had his head in his hands laughing. I thought he was going to die laughing. Facebook me!

“And then the woman who was in charge came over and said to me: Well, that wasn’t very professional, was it? And I said I’m scared! You need to understand I’m genuinely scared! And then we left. Quickly.

“I thought I could make sense of it, but some things you just can’t understand or some things, at least, are beyond my comprehension.

“It did change how I felt about people. It took my naivety away a little bit, because I always thought I could get on well with anyone. In ordinary life, I always thought it was possible to find something of common interest with someone. But with the criminally insane? It’s just not possible.”

“So,” I suggested to Matt, “meeting gangsters in Glasgow didn’t change you because, in a sense, they were normal people. But people in Broadmoor are not ordinary people. They’re mad.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I think gangsters do things that are on the madness scale.”

“Like the guy who screwed people’s hands to the floor,” I conceded.

“Yes,” said Matt, “But it’s so weird, because he cried when his grandchild was born.”

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Asking a Glasgow gangster for revenge after an attack on a female comedian

Matt Price in London last week

Comedian Matt Price at Soho Theatre in London last week

When I met comic Matt Price for tea last week in London, I did not know his partner is Glasgow comedian Martha McBrier.

“Martha got attacked,” he told me, “and then, about a year later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, between those times, a member of her family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her.

“When was that?” I asked.

“This was in 2008,” Matt told me.

“Martha was attacked in Glasgow in 2007. The guy who lived above her attacked her. He was a small-time drug dealer.

“Martha and I were in a long-distance relationship. I was living in Cardiff, struggling as a comedian, but just about holding it together, getting to see her once a month or so. She was doing well in comedy, but she got attacked and it all ended. She has taught me more than anyone about comedy and I felt guilty for quite a long time that I could do it and she wasn’t physically able to.

“She lost not the ability to do it, but the… the… She went from being truly hailed to being in a room that was too big and everything went wrong.

“The guy kicked her in the side of the head. After the attack, she went downstairs. She phoned the police. Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. Four or five of them from upstairs came in. One of them hit her. He was wearing a ring and it bruised her face. The hearing in one ear had already gone. The other ear was about 75%. She said it was like being underwater.

“When the policeman came, he was very very upset. He said he’d been in the business for thirty years. He was really distressed. He had to shout. The guy had, essentially, smashed her face in. So she went to hospital and a few weeks later was diagnosed with a brain tumour… It might have been a few months later… You know what time is like.”

“The brain tumour also affected her hearing?” I asked.

“It’s a thing called an acoustic neuroma,” said Matt. “It’s a non-malignant brain tumour. One of the side-effects is you lose your hearing.

“She went to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 and had a nightmare. The room was too big. She used to like to interact with the audience but, because she couldn’t hear and her balance was bad, she wasn’t able to do it any more. The venue told her she couldn’t get off the stage. I’m not saying she won’t come back. She did a kids’ show last year and got two 4-star reviews.”

“But,” I said, “before this, after she was attacked, people wanted revenge…”

“No-one did anything,” Matt explained. “So it made it very hard. And the guy lived above her for another 18 months. He boasted one day about how he’d been boxing with his neighbours. He also beat up a teenage boy in the close and nobody did anything.

“So someone in Martha’s family went to see somebody about buying a gun to get it dealt with. The guy was an old-fashioned debt collector who used to screw people’s hands into tables to get their undivided attention. Like all violent criminals, he was quite blasé about the whole process. He still sells cigarettes, but his wife doesn’t know – because she disapproves of cigarettes.”

“But,” I asked, “she doesn’t mind him screwing people’s hands into tables?”

“No,” said Matt. “They’re unusual people…

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier was attacked in Moodiesburn, near Glasgow

“This is how the justice system works in Moodiesburn, where Martha lives. I went there on New Year’s Eve and went to bed just after ‘the bells’ – at about a quarter past midnight. It was my birthday on New Year’s Day and I was awoken at about 2 o’clock in the morning by the sound of fireworks. I thought Oh great! The Scots! This is typical Hogmanay!

“Martha’s sister came in about 11.30 the following morning, when I was looking forward to my birthday breakfast, and said a local drug dealer had sold some heroin to a young boy who died and the fireworks had been the sound of petrol bombs being thrown at the drug dealer’s house. That’s how the justice system works there.

“It’s a very close-knit community. In the case of Martha being attacked, everybody knew. It became a question of Well, if everyone knows about it, who’s going to deal with it and how will it go? Bear in mind that the person who attacked her… everybody knows his family as well and they all know that he deals drugs – albeit at a very small level, because he wouldn’t be on that estate, surrounded by poverty, if he made a lot of money. He made enough money for a couple of sports cars.

“So this member of Martha’s family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her and the guy who could have provided her with a gun said No. I’m a criminal. I’m a professional. You’re not. Take your money. Buy Martha something nice.

“I met a few people and eventually someone phoned me and said: Look, I know what’s happened and I will take you in my car to meet someone who can genuinely help you. We ended up in a hotel. I’m a big man and the person with me was a very big man. We went down into the gym and there’s this old guy in his mid-70s, white hair, pounding on a treadmill like I’ve never seen before.

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

“The old guy had a history, a reputation. His sports car was outside with a designer number plate on it. He told me to go upstairs and sit at a table. The reason, I found out later, was that there were cameras everywhere – kinda for my protection and for his. If anything kicked-off, the cameras would pick it up.

“I was told to wait for half an hour. An hour and a half later, he turns up, comes over and says, Very nice to meet you. What do you want? And I said, Well, I don’t know.

He said: I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and give you ten minutes.

Eight hours later, we were still together. He drove me around, took me to his house, showed me all over Glasgow, He explained how he’d got into crime. He said he’d gone to school with ten other people who were later convicted of murder and told me: This is not an excuse for what I’ve done. But I needed a way out, so I stole a raincoat and then I started to steal other things in the raincoat and then I wanted some credibility so I stole another raincoat and got a friend and then we stole to order. Then, about five years later, I did my first warehouse. Then I realised the psychology of criminality is what really counts. If you tell someone you can do something and you tell them with enough conviction, then they will believe you.

“He asked me about Martha and then said: You see that young lad over there? He’s got a slash down the side of his face. Someone cut his face. His dad shot the guy who did it. That’s how you get revenge. He didn’t kill him; he shot him…. to teach him a lesson.

“I sit here all day and watch people after my work-out. I’m no longer in business. I speak to people who are. I watch people. I’m an expert. I’m a psychologist. I can tell by the look in your eye that the sort of hurt you want to inflict on this man is the type of hurt that will change you both forever. You need to ask yourself do you want to make the change? It may sound like something from the movies, but do you love Martha more than you hate the guy who attacked her?

“I said, Of course I do.

“He told me that the life of a drug dealer… The cruel irony is that drug dealers usually end up with children who’re addicted to drugs and/or die of them.

They make millions of pounds, he said. They have no friends, they’re looking over their shoulder all the time, they’ve got nowhere to spend it and someone’s always trying to knock them off the top of the perch because they want that ‘respect’. But it’s not respect. 

“Then he said: Nobody would blame you if you beat the guy’s door down in the middle of the night. That’s down to you. I know what I would do. But I’m not you, so you have to make your own decision. 

I walked away from that quite comfortable with it. I was upset. I was emotional. But it was a real release. There’s no way in the world I’m going to get a golf club and beat someone to death with it. I’m just not that guy. I’m not from that world. I needed to know that it was OK for me as ‘a man’ not to have to take violent revenge. And also, if I’d done that, Martha would have killed me anyway.

“About a year later, I went to the old man’s funeral. A beautiful church. It’s snowing outside. There’s about 500 people there and I’m sat on the back row with these dodgy-looking guys, some of whom are wearing sunglasses.

“I got the Megabus up to his funeral and the criminals thought that was hilarious. They all have money and can drive around in flash cars. The fact that not only was I prepared, as a non-criminal, to go and meet him but to go to his funeral and pay my respects to him and to come up on the Megabus for twelve hours from Cardiff – they thought it was the funniest thing ever. I was told I got huge kudos, but a lot of laughter.

“I told a comedy promoter that story and ended up going to Broadmoor, meeting these really bad guys…”

CONTINUED HERE

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“Get Carter” – the best British gangster film ever made despite alcoholism

Michael Caine playing his own ghost in Get Carter

The first time I ever paid attention to film directing as a child was watching the British ABC TV arts series Tempo.

One episode I saw was so visually stylish and so vividly edited that I actually went to the TV Times listings magazine and checked who the director was.

It was Mike Hodges and I looked out for his name ever after. He is 80 years old in nine days time.

He directed the wonderful and little-seen 1969 Thames TV thriller Rumour (if ever any film were ripe for a re-make, this one is) and his first cinema movie was Get Carter (1971), arguably the best British gangster film ever made (although The Long Good Friday gives it a run for its money).

Michael Caine has said: “One of the reasons I wanted to make Get Carter was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny.” He said central character Jack Carter was the sort of person he might himself have become: “Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine.”

Mike Hodges had originally written the script (based on Ted Lewis‘ novel Jack’s Return Homewith Ian Hendry in mind for the title role (in the finished film, he plays a subsidiary role as the henchman Eric Paice). But producer Michael Klinger wanted Michael Caine, by then already a bankable star.

Ian Hendry’s career had declined, he was alcoholic and in poor physical shape. The climactic chase scene between Caine and Hendry was shot in reverse order, with Hodges filming Hendry’s death first because he was worried Hendry would be too out of breath to play the death scene after running. Hendry’s jealousy of Caine’s success was apparently obvious on set and was made worse by his drinking. Hodges tried to rehearse the film’s racecourse scene between Caine and Hendry in their hotel the night before, but Hendry’s “drunken and resentful state” forced him to abandon the attempt.

Despite all this, Ian Hendry got a 1972 BAFTA Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor and Michael Caine, in one of his best film roles, got nothing.

Mike Hodges introduced a screening of Get Carter at the National Film Theatre in London last night, part of their celebrations of the hundredth birthday of cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (who was in the audience and, according to Mike Hodges, still “leaps up stairs like a gazelle”).

The reason Hodges chose Suschitzky to shoot Get Carter was because he remembered seeing a 1963 movie The Small World of Sammy Lee starring the great Anthony Newley, on which Wolf also cinematographer.

“I loved that film,” Mike said last night. “It was shot in Soho and I was going to be shooting Get Carter in the North East of England, but it was in the same sort of milieu as Get Carter – a seedy underworld.

The Small World of Sammy Lee was shot in black and white. To show poverty and seedy world is comparatively easy in black and white: it lends itself to showing that kind of decay. But colour is a different matter.

“There had been a film called Up The Junction released a little earlier, in 1968. It had been a TV play in black and white, then they made a cinema film of it in colour, which made it look very glossy and beautiful and expensive and, although it was made in London in the same sort of sad, junky-ridden areas we were shooting in in the North East… Well, Wolf’s gift to me on Get Carter was to capture the seediness in colour.”

Thus are great movies made.

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“My name is Jason and I am on the hunt for the Golden Fleece of film investment”

Jason Cook with camera this week

That title is a good opening line, especially from someone with dyslexia.

I first blogged about the indefatigable criminal-turned-author-turned-film-producer Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian Jason Cook) in December 2010.

We got chatting again this week at the Broadcast Video Expo at Earl’s Court in London.

Jason currently has eight film projects at various stages of pre-production: all different genres ranging from animation to sci-fi and a true-life story based on his three autobiographical novels… and he is still looking for finance in the current bleak economic climate.

The Devil’s Dandruff, based on the first of his three novels There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, has always sounded highly commercial to me, especially given that there is a potential film trilogy there.

He has managed to keep the budget down to £2 million, which seems remarkably thrifty, given the plot but, despite having an enthusiastic letter from an ‘A’ list actor (my jaw dropped when I saw this name) he is still having problems raising the finance.

“There’s been lots of talk about David Cameron bringing finance to British independent films,” Jason told me, “but yet we’re still waiting for that to trickle down to people on the creative side. There are people out there with great ideas and great dreams, but the thing that’s lacking is the investment.

“I’m a working class lad from Borehamwood; I think if I was an Oxbridge graduate I would be more acceptable and respectable for investors. It is difficult coming from where I’ve come from. I have not mixed in the ‘right’ circles.

“I was a genuine lad who got involved in drugs, gun crime and gangsters from the age of twelve and was put in prison for my crimes – the first time for nine months. The second time I got four years and one day and I served two years and seven months.

“At that time, if the judge gave you four years, you would only serve half. This particular judge thought my crime was bad enough that I should serve longer. So he sentenced me to four years and one day, which meant I would have to serve two thirds. That’s fair enough. I did the crime, so I gotta pay the time.

“After coming out of prison twelve years ago, I got myself clean of drugs – because I was also an addict at that time – and I got away from all the crime people surrounding me and I went clean.

“I started to write about my experiences, which turned into my first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, about where I grew up and how I got involved.

“I self-published the first book and self-publicised it because I was just a normal guy off the street who’d written a book. I had no backing. I wasn’t a sportsman. I wasn’t a glamour model who could get her boobs out. So I self-published that first one so I could start building recognition.

“I then wrote the second one The Gangster’s Runner because of the good reviews. It’s about the people I was involved with and how I was used in the underworld as a drug runner and a drug enforcer and money collector. Ecstasy, coke and hash.

“And the third novel A Nice Little Earner is how everything ties up and we all go our own ways and it elaborates on the range of characters, from politicians to judges, solicitors, barristers to every level of society. All the way from the street-seller to the user. The up-market characters are based around real people. The details have been changed to protect everyone – to protect them and to protect myself from reprisals. But the books are a big insight into the underworld in London and across the world.

“I’m not glamorising crime; I’m not making it seem good; I’m showing the bare elements of drug addicts, a young lad being blinded by the lights and peer pressure, fast cars, fast money and I’m showing the real gritty parts of real life. All real.

“I’ve always been interested in films. From an early age, I was in Elstree Youth Theatre. I started working on film sets as an extra and became a runner. I want to create films people want to see. Partly for the money but a lot of it for the creative side. I think I can tell a good story.

“The irony is I’ve been clean from drugs and crime for twelve years now but, while everyone else is falling out of pubs, I can’t get into them because I’m still on PubWatch. I was arrested for drugs and put in prison. That’s OK. That’s fair. But, when I came out, I went into my local pubs and they told me I had been put on PubWatch so I was not allowed into any pubs any more for life. I never did drugs or did any crime in any pub and I had never had any trouble with any landlord, but I was put on PubWatch for life because I was involved in drugs in the local area and around London.

“I’m still being punished for my crimes twelve years later, after being rehabilitated…

“Perhaps I should jump on the bandwagon,” Jason laughs. “I should sue the Metropolitan Police and go to the European Court of Human Rights and claim my human rights have been infringed. Everyone else seems to be doing it.”

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