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Vincent Kamp – The representational Renaissance artist of UK underworlds

Painter Vincent Kamp is unusual in that he sometimes creates not just one painting but perhaps six or eight separate scenes from an single imagined narrative story.

His PR man told me that Vince is “fascinated by the dark, gritty, underground world of urban subculture. His paintings delve beneath the surface of social class, creating intense portraits of charismatic people in a fused background of atmospheric lighting, sexuality and impending violence.”

“Fuck me!” I thought.

So I went and had a chat with him.

Vincent Kamp: “For me, it’s all about stories… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character.”


JOHN: Someone must have said Hogarth when describing your paintings?

VINCE: I think Hogarth is much tighter than me. I think I’m much looser. If you see my paintings up close, there’s much more evidence of brushstrokes and paint.

JOHN: Hogarth did lowlifes and scum-of-the-earths. That’s what he did. That’s what you’re interested in.

VINCE:  A little bit. Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: But your background is ordinary middle class life?

VINCE: Pretty much. I worked at my parents’ company for a long time. My father is a designer of scientific instruments. And I’ve got my own family – two kids – So I painted in the evenings and at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was struggling away like that for many, many years.

JOHN: Any artistic influence from your parents?

VINCE: My parents are both from Holland. I have never lived in Holland, but there is a very strong connection to North Holland – that Flemish style. We were always taken to museums and art galleries. My parents have quite a few oil paintings. So I grew up with that. It has always been my sort of sensibilities: that sort of Renaissance style painting.

JOHN: So why the attraction to down-market East End of London type people?

VINCE: For me, it’s all about stories. Whether it is a glamorous story or whether it is just some scum-of-the-earth guy stealing and robbing… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character. That’s what I’m interested in more than anything.

“…a story with a whole cast of characters”

The first thing I do is write a back story with a whole cast of characters. Then I use a casting director to find the people I need. Actors. Then I find the location. So, essentially, it is like I am making a film and I paint a storyboard, essentially, for the narrative I have already written down.

JOHN: You use actors for faces? Not real Faces? Have you encountered genuine naughty men?

VINCE: Let’s just say I’ve brushed with that world a little bit.

JOHN: Very appropriate. Brushed. But why not use genuine dodgy men? 

VINCE: I am trying to create a narrative scene and, if you’re not an actor and I am trying to tell you the narrative, you may just look a bit wooden… If you could catch them in the middle of a deal or whatever else, then maybe that would be interesting, but actually a gangster being photographed when he’s not ‘gangstering’ is just going to be a guy sat there looking nervous because you are pointing a camera at him.

JOHN: You take photographs?

VINCE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I explain the background of the scene to the actors. I’m talking to them, directing them and snapping away with my camera.

JOHN: You paint from photographs?

VINCE: Yes. For me, if you ask a person to hold a pose for a painting, that is never reality. But, when you snatch that moment in time in a photograph and then paint from that – That is much more real than asking someone to pose for a certain amount of time while I paint for however many hours.

JOHN: And you may alter what is in the photograph to change the person’s emotional look.

VINCE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. I take hundreds of photographs. I might borrow the hands from one; the face from another. I do charcoal studies and then think: You know, what I’m gonna do is tweak this guy to look a little more gnarly or more apprehensive or whatever. So I change subtle details here and there… and create my own lighting.

JOHN: Between the photograph and the painting, there might be Photoshopping?

VINCE: Loads of Photoshopping… Tons… 

JOHN: Why don’t you, in your head, do what the Photoshop will do? Wouldn’t that be quicker?

VINCE: Oh my God, no! Your reference is the most important part: getting that absolutely right. The painting, then, becomes more mechanical. Painting is very, very time-consuming. To hold an idea in your head for that length of time to get it exactly right is REALLY difficult. I have done it. But it is much better to use the tools that are available.

JOHN: With all this photographing of narrative stories, can a feature film be far off?

VINCE: I am directing a 15 minute short which we hope to start filming in mid-February. But it is at the early stages yet. It’s a screenplay I have written based on a show I did at the Ritz last month.

JOHN: That was a series of paintings…

“Being a director must have been in the back of your mind…”

VINCE: Yes. Called Diamond Roulette – six paintings… A heist thriller. The story is about a couple who are stealing from the high-end gamblers at the Ritz Club. People can lose £2 million or £3 million in a night – they have £10,000 chips there… In fact, they have £50,000 and £500,000 chips there… And these girls are often in the casinos and subtly take chips from the guys and someone spots this and sees an opportunity and that’s where the story starts.

JOHN: Being a director must have always been in the back of your mind.

VINCE: Of course I’m a massive film fan. I’ve always been fascinated about telling stories, always been writing stories.

JOHN: So, if you do shoot in mid-February, the short film will be ready for screening by…

VINCE: …by May at the latest, I hope.

JOHN: You are linked to a gallery near The Ritz.

VINCE: Yes. Clarendon Fine Art in Dover Street, Mayfair. They represent me. I’m exclusive. DeMontfort Fine Art, who own Clarendon, has 55 galleries around the country who sell my prints as well.

JOHN: You have made money out of art. You have supported a wife and two children – aged 12 and 9 – not cheap. Yet you have no art school training at all. How did you build a career?

VINCE: Well, you sell a load of work first of all. Then you start getting people talking about you. And, pretty soon, the art galleries come knocking.

JOHN: How did DeMontfort know you existed?

VINCE: On Instagram.

JOHN: Was there a turning point when you started being really successful?

VINCE: Well…

… CONCLUDED HERE

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Which gangster films do gangsters like?

Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Roza, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor & actor Ronald Fraser in the 1960s

In a blog a couple of weeks ago, I was saying the word ‘gangster’ is a strange word but, if it has to be used, then Micky Fawcett, a close associate of the Kray Twins, probably counts as one.

A former one. He wrote the highly-admired memoir Krayzy Days.

I got talking to him about movies.


JOHN: You told me that people in the business like The Godfather: Part II. That surprised me.

MICKY: Did it?

JOHN: It’s a lovely film, but I think about two-thirds of it is in Sicilian. I think Paramount considered putting it up for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film.

MICKY: Maybe that’s why people liked it. My favourite ones usually are the French ones – I’m watching one now on television – Spiral – this is the second series – it’s a subtitled French police thing.

JOHN: Oh, like those Scandinavian noir TV series.

MICKY: Not so much the Scandinavian ones; more the French.

JOHN: Why?

MICKY: Realistic. In the last one I saw, there were two policemen on a stake-out who have a fight with each other. You didn’t get that in Dixon of Dock Green. When I was growing up, everyone used to say: Oh! English gangster films! They’re useless! I remember them talking in The Kentucky Club with Joan Littlewood and one of her crew. You go down to get costumes for them films and you get a black shirt and a white tie… but nobody dresses like that! They were in the Kentucky surrounded by genuine gangsters.

JOHN: I think British gangster films got better after Get Carter. That and The Long Good Friday were good.

MICKY: They didn’t do much for me. There was Villain with Richard Burton…

JOHN: That was based on the Krays, wasn’t it?

MICKY: Richard Burton thought he was playing Ronnie Kray, yeah.

JOHN: Why was that good?

MICKY: I never said it was.

JOHN: It just felt to me like watching Richard Burton playing a part. I never really believed in it. I believed Donnie Brasco.

MICKY:  Yes, that was very good. But it was too good for the ordinary person.

JOHN: Why?

MICKY: Well, people like to see more shooting and violence and all that type of thing if they’re gonna watch a gangster film. But Donnie Brasco was very, very realistic. The scenes with Al Pacino in the house. A really, really good film.

JOHN: I don’t know if it’s true, but there was a distinction made in it that, if you introduced someone as “a friend of mine” he was a friend of yours but, if you introduced someone as “a friend of ours” he was a made man in the Cosa Nostra.

MICKY: That worked. It used to. They’re gone now: the Mafia. It’s the Russians now.

JOHN: I think maybe it helped it was made by an English director – Mike Newell, who did Four Weddings and a Funeral – he could see things objectively.

MICKY: Goodfellas I liked – That beginning and the cigarette as a currency.

JOHN: I don’t really like Martin Scorsese – in Mean Streets they really did just mutter.

MICKY: I thought that was a good film.

JOHN: The Departed was OK and I liked Casino. I think a lot of that is based on reality. The head-in-the-vice scene where the eye pops out.

MICKY: The line I remember in Casino is when the old-timers are talking and the boss says “Look, why take a chance?” So they shot him.


(EXTRACT FROM THE CASINO SCRIPT)

The BOSSES are gathered around a conference table as the 

lawyers and nurses silently walk out the door as if on cue.

                      NICKY (V.O.)

          See, when something like this happens, 

          you know how things are gonna work out.

          It’s always better with no witnesses. 

          So, what about Andy?

THE CAMERA PANS FROM ONE BOSS TO THE OTHER.

                      FORLANO

               (Putting down his 

               oxygen mask once the 

               door behind him is 

               shut)

          He won’t talk. Stone is a good kid. 

          Stand-up guy, just like his old man. 

          That’s the way I see it.

                      BORELLI

          I agree. He’s solid. A fuckin’ Marine.

                      CAPELLI

               (Holding his oxygen mask) 

          He’s okay. He always was.

          Remo, what do you think?

                      GAGGI

               (Pause)

          Look… why take a chance? At least, 

          that’s the way I feel about it.


JOHN: And I think that was based on a real incident too. Any British equivalent to that?

MICKY: No. No. The trouble is, for me… If you was a professional footballer, you wouldn’t really want to watch films about professional football too much, because you’d be criticising them all day long. When you’re surrounded by it, as I was for years…

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The girl who loves gangsters the Kray Twins and imprisoned Charles Bronson

Sarajane at the Kray Twins’ grave in Chingford, East London

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Sarajane Martin which said:

“I am aware this may be a long shot but I’m a 21 year old Fine Art student living in London, studying at the University of Westminster and I am in the process of writing my dissertation…”

She asked if I could help her with something. Alas I could not, but I can spot a good blog subject when I see one, so we had a tea and coffee this week. She handed in her dissertation today.


Sarajane: I was born in a moving car going at about 80 miles an hour. My dad kept driving and he said he heard the sound of a child being born behind him. He turned round and me mam was sat there with me and he was fucking flying and he just kept going.

John: He was on his way to the hospital?

Sarajane: Yeah. He ran in and he said: Me wife’s had a baby in the car! And they told him: You are drunk, sir. Please go! And he’s like: For fucksake! My wife’s just had a baby!

John: It was unexpected, then?

Sarajane: Yeah. Afterwards, me dad went back to the house to get things for me mam, like pyjamas and stuff, and the second he hit the spot when I had come out, where he heard that noise, Pretty Flamingo by Manfred Mann came on the radio and he sang it all the way to Durham, thinking about his new daughter. He sang it to me my whole life. I have a tattoo of a flamingo on my leg and it says Daddy and he’s got one on his.

John: When Ron Kray shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub, there was a jukebox playing, wasn’t there?”

Sarajane: Yeah. It was playing The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Ron said, the second he shot him, it went: The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… Anymore… Anymore and it jammed. How weird is that?

John: What is your BA (Hons) dissertation called?

Sarajane: What Does Performance Art Contribute To The Myth of The Criminal?

John: What DOES it contribute?

Sarajane: Well, if I’m being totally honest, I just said ‘Performance Art’ because I’m an art student and I had to connect it to art somehow. I wanted to write about gangsters and bad boys an’ that.

John: In her autobiography Handstands in the Dark, Janey Godley says that old-time Glasgow gangsters were like actors. They were putting on a performance of being gangsters.

Sarajane: It’s right, that. It IS a performance, like it’s not real. I got interested in criminals. I think it’s a thing we all do.

Sarajane Martin at Soho Theatre in a T-shirt

John: You have a Kray Twins T-shirt on.

Sarajane: Ultimate gangsters.

John: Criminals are bad people.

Sarajane: I know. It’s not that I think they’re nice people. I just find them more interesting than good people. That’s just a human reaction, isn’t it?

John: Any specific reason?

Sarajane: I know exactly why. I have two older brothers. The oldest one is 37. I’m nearly half his age. I’m 21 and I’ve done much more than he’s ever done because he has just like been in prison his whole life near enough. Petty stuff. Gone with the wrong crowd. Daft. Stupid. A rolling stone.

He would write me letters when I was a kid. I remember seeing it was an HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) envelope and I was buzzing, thinking it was really cool. My brother in prison had sent me a letter! I was thinking of this when I was writing a letter to Bronson.

John: Charles Bronson, the criminal.

Sarajane: Yes.

John: He’s changed his name again, hasn’t he?

Sarajane: Yes. Charles Salvador.

John: Some women get married to long-term prisoners.

Sarajane: People start to write to a person because they know that person’s a murderer.

John: Why would they want to write to someone who has killed people?”

Sarajane: Because they see the good in people. They say Ron Kray was mad. But he was ill. Nowadays, he wouldn’t have lived like that. It was such a different time.

John: There are still psycho killers around today, though.

Sarajane: Yeah. Yeah. But they’re treated differently.

John: Have you seen The Piranha Brothers in Monty Python?

Sarajane: No.

John: People say the East End of London was safer when the Krays were around. They only killed their own, not ordinary people.

Sarajane: Yes. In a Fred Dinenage book, Ron is quoted as saying he wanted to kill George Cornell. He says he had shot people before but he did it just to maim not to kill. With George, I wanted to. I walked in there and wanted to kill him. That’s mad.

John: You are from the North East of England. There are loads of hard men up there.

Sarajane: Yeah. But Northerners are wankers.

John: Are you sure you want that quoted?

Sarajane: I’m a Northerner, so I can say it. They’re just not very interested in the world around them.

John: If this were 1963 or 1965, would you have thought of marrying Ron Kray?

Sarajane: Probably. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have done what he done if we had met. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have been that interested in me. They reckoned when Ron liked someone, that was it. Someone said: You would hear that the Krays were coming and all the good-looking lads would piss off. They knew Ron was on the way.

John: You just fancy bad boys.

Sarajane: I don’t fancy Bronson or owt like that. I just love ‘em, you know what I mean? I don’t fancy them. It’s not like that.

John: You would not marry Bronson but you love him?

Sarajane: Yeah, but in a different way… Appreciation…

John: …of what?

Sarajane: I don’t know.

John: You appreciate his art?

Art by Charles Bronson was controversially displayed at Angel station, London, in 2010

Sarajane: I do. I love his art.

John: It IS interesting.

Sarajane: Do you know he sent a Get Well Soon card to the girl who lost her leg in Alton Towers? (When a rollercoaster crashed at the amusement park.) Bless him.

John: I hate to say this, but Hitler was an artist.

Sarajane: And Joseph Goebbels was about five foot high and used to wear high heels when he was in photos. What a weird thought.

John: You graduate this year. What are you going to be?”

Sarajane: I felt I knew before I started the course.

John: What did you think back then you were going to be?”

Sarajane: Famous. That was the only thing I wanted. I wanted to come to London and be famous. Like Bronson. Go into prison and become famous.

John: Really?

Sarajane: No. I’m joking. I always just wanted to be a painter. I was going to be pure punk and drop out of Art School and just be a failure. And then I thought: No, I can’t go my whole life saying Oh, yeah, I dropped out of Art School.

John: Have you done any art inspired by the Krays?

Sarajane: I’m saving it for my degree show. I want it to be like you feel the presence of the two of them.  Possibly something like two life-sized sculptures which show the difference in their characters.

John: So what are you going to do when you leave university this year?

Sarajane: I haven’t got a clue. All I know so far is I’m going to Nuremberg and to The Berghof. And Nürburgring. Do you like Formula One racing?

John: I’ve never seen it live.

Sarajane: I like the old 1970s Formula One, me. Much cooler. And they were much more ‘for it’. Now it’s all money and there’s no, like, courage in the game. In the 1970s, they were like right up to death, looking it in the face: We don’t care. Niki Lauda is one of my heroes. His crash happened at Nürburgring. He was on fire. They had to put a thing in his lungs and like vacuum his lungs and he did it more than once. He was that much of an animal he was like: Do it again. It doesn’t even hurt that much, man: do it again.

John: You’re just looking for the ultimate bad boy.

Sarajane: He’s not a bad boy, though. He’s just a total nerd who had an accident.

John: You’re attracted to death and punk. It’s Goth Art.

Sarajane: Goth’s dead. I’m pure punk. I’m pure 1970s punk, me.

Sarajane Martin – work in progress

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How ‘Brown Bread Fred’ Foreman stopped Ronnie Kray from killing

Micky (left) met Fred in August (Photograph by Steve Wraith)

At the beginning of August this year, Micky Fawcett, a former associate of the Kray Twins, Ronnie & Reggie, re-met Fred Foreman at the Radisson Hotel in London’s Tottenham Court Road.

I blogged about it.

They had not met since the 1960s.

When I met Micky more recently, I asked him about ‘Brown Bread’ Fred.

“I used to see him quite a bit,” he told me. “I had some quite interesting times with him – he had that pub in the Borough, just as you come over London Bridge. I used to go and see him and go upstairs and have a glass of vintage port with him.”

Brown Bread is Cockney rhyming slang for Dead,” I said. “He had a reputation.”

“He saved a man’s life once,” said Micky. “No-one really believed him. But I was a witness to the fact he did.

“The Twins were trying to get a spieler (an illegal gambling club) going underneath the Regency (a club they owned). A few of us were down there and Ronnie walked out of the toilet, pulled out a revolver, put it at a feller’s head and the gun jammed.

“Everyone was diving under the tables. Fred, Reggie and myself leapt forward and Fred ended up wrestling with Ronnie to try and get the gun out of his hand and eventually he did.

“What had happened was this feller called George Dixon had had a spot of bother with the Nash family and he was a bit concerned. So he had said to Ronnie: I’m having a bit of trouble with the Nashes; I wonder if you could help me?

“And Ronnie said: Yeah, OK, but keep out of the way until I give you the all clear,

“Then this feller Dixon saw Charlie Kray and said: I had a bit of trouble with the Nashes and Ronnie said he would help me. Could you find out what’s happening?

“So Charlie said: Yeah, OK. Come down the Regency on Monday.

“So Dixon had disobeyed Ronnie, but it was a little bit deeper than that. Because I think something had happened sexually between Ronnie and Georgie Dixon.

“When it happened, Ronnie started shouting out: Just cos you know me in one, don’t mean to say I’m… and you’re using me to… – and you wouldn’t have known what he was talking about if you didn’t also have an evil mind and suspect the worst.

“Since then, it’s gone into folklore but no-one believes Freddie Foreman saved a feller’s life. And he did. I was there.

“He’s got a documentary coming out next year. I think it will be good.”

(Left-right) Micky Fawcett, Michael Fawcett, Brian Anderson, Steve Wraith and Fred Foreman.

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The link between ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair & gangsters The Kray Twins

(L-R) Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair (née Booth), Tony Booth, 1983

In the 1960s: Labour MP and Soviet agent Tom Driberg (left) with Conservative Lord Bob Boothby, a chum of Ronnie Kray.

I always think Six Degrees of Separation is overstating the case.

It is usually less. And the overlap of politics, showbiz and crime is pretty much a given constant.

Three days ago, actor Tony Booth (of Till Death Us Do Part, Coronation Street, the Confessions comedy films et al) died.

He married Pat Phoenix (of Coronation Street). His daughter – Cherie Booth – married politician Tony Blair. (of Iraq War Two). His brother was the actor James Booth (of Zulu etc).

Coincidentally, two days before Tony Booth died, I was having a chat with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett and the Stratford East Theatre Workshop cropped up in conversation.

Joan Littlewood outside the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

This was a hotbed of new working class talent run by alas now half-forgotten Joan Littlewood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her base – the Theatre Royal, Stratford (in London’s East End) – was/is a hop, a spit and a left hook away from the Krays’ family home in Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. So, of course, everyone knew everyone else. East End working class culture and all that.

The Kray Twins owned the Kentucky club in nearby Mile End Road.

A lot of the Joan Littlewood acting talent appear in the movie Sparrows Can’t Sing which she directed. It starred her protegés James Booth and Barbara Windsor and, apparently in a small cameo towards the end, the Kray Twins even turn up in it.

James Booth at the Kray Twins’ club in Sparrows Can’t Sing

“Joan Littlewood was always in The Kentucky,” Micky Fawcett told me. “Her, Barbara Windsor, Victor Spinetti, James Booth, George Sewell – George Sewell’s dad was a famous character.

“She said to me once: I’d love to make a film about the two boys and I’d have him – James Booth – play them. But she never made it, of course.”

According to Micky, both Joan Littlewood and the Twins hated the biographical film The Krays, eventually made in 1990.

In his book Krayzy Days, Micky writes of the Twins:

‘They loved having the celebrities around and were thrilled to be invited to the premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing at the ABC, a cinema which stood opposite The Kentucky. I usually blanked all of those showbiz events. They were a real bore. Whenever the stars were around, the conversation would always have to be about the Twins. That was all any of them were interested in. Ronnie and Reggie were happy to play along. That night, they were done up in dinner suits, standing out from everyone else with their bow ties. A friend of mine whispered to me: I can’t wait to see if one of them stars thinks Ronnie’s a waiter and asks him to get a drink.

The premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing, with Barbara Windsor (an ex-girlfriend of Charlie Kray) accompanied by future husband, armed robber Ronnie Knight.

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

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

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

“And you were bonking…”

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

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

“And you wanted to be…?”

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

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

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

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

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

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

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

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Life in the 1960s: a world of murderers, spies, criminals, politicians, mysteries.

Micky Fawcett lived life in the Krayzy Days

So, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a journalist:

“I am looking for more information on Teddy Smith’s background….particularly place and date of birth, but in fact anything… Is there any chance you can help? I’m interested in Smith because of certain connections to other areas of research, namely political issues.”

I have blogged about Teddy Smith before. He was an associate of the Kray Twins, London gangsters in the 1960s.

So last week I had a chat with my chum Micky Fawcett, author of Krayzy Days, a definitive book on the Krays which goes beyond them into Micky’s dealings with the Unione Corse, the US Mafia et al.

Micky told me: “The full story with me and Teddy Smith is that there’s no story. He was one of those people who was just there and it was as if he’d always been there. I dunno where he came from.

“I remember walking out of the (Krays’) house one time and he said: They get on my nerves. It’s so boring. Talking about violence all the time. Any type of violence. It gets on my nerves. They oughta know what I did to get myself certified and into Broadmoor. And that was the end of that conversation. He told people he was the youngest person ever in Broadmoor. He was sent there as a borstal boy. I dunno if that’s true. But it’s what he told people.”

“So he must have been under 23 when he went into Broadmoor?” I asked.

Teddy Smith without his cigarette holder and little dog

“I dunno where or when he was born. He had relations who lived at the top of Dartmouth Park Hill in Highgate. He was a bit sort of middle class.”

“What was he doing for the Krays?” I asked.

“Don’t know.”

I looked at Micky.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I never give it a second thought. He was just there. He used to walk around with a little dog and a cigarette holder. He was gay, but he weren’t camp. Nothing effeminate. And you just accepted it: Oh, yeah, he’s gay. I told you before about that time we met Francis Bacon, the painter. I didn’t like the look of him. Francis Bacon. Well, I weren’t impressed.”

“This bloke who got in touch with me,” I said, “seems to think there’s some political angle with Teddy Smith, which I don’t think there is, is there?”

“No,” said Micky, “but the connection would be Tom Driberg the MP – I’ve seen writers since say he and Teddy Smith were lovers. I dunno if that’s true or not.”

“Well,” I said, “Tom Driberg did put it about a lot.”

MP / Soviet spy Tom Driberg

“I didn’t know who Driberg was at the time,” said Micky. “Didn’t care. He was just this tall feller standing around.”

“He was supposed to be,” I said, “a Soviet agent working via the Czechs.”

“Ah, was he?” said Micky. “He used to be a cottager, hanging around in gents toilets.”

“Did you ever meet Lord Boothby?” I asked.

Lord Boothby was a peer of the realm, a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. An entertaining politician a bit like Boris Johnson is now. Except Boothby mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people and politicians. He put it about a lot.

“No, I never met Boothby,” Micky told me, “but a pal of mine did. We were at the billiard hall one day and a feller called Albert Lovett said to me: See that kid over there? He’s ‘avin’ an affair with Lord Boothby. I had never heard of Lord Boothby. Not interested. And Albert said: He’s been telling me what they do. He gets their trousers off, gets them to bend over and smacks their arse with a slipper… He was a burglar.”

“Who?” I asked. “Lovett?”

“No. Lovett was a con man. The kid – Leslie Holt – he was a burglar. Another pal of mine, called Boy Boy Clifford, was a receiver. He was quite well-respected among everybody. He came from Hoxton originally. Dead now.

(Left-Right) Lord Bob Boothby, Ronnie Kray and Leslie Holt

“Leslie Holt took Boy Boy up to see Boothby and Boothby said: Hello… Hello… Get him a drink, Leslie. So Leslie went off and came back with a gin & tonic or whatever. And Boothby said: I said get him a fucking drink! You don’t call that a fucking drink, do you? Top it up! And they got talking and Boothby said to Boy Boy: Would you like to fuck my wife? That’s true. And that was a difficult one for poor old Boy Boy to answer.”

“Well,” I said, “supposedly Boothby had had a long-term affair with Harold Macmillan’s – the Prime Minister’s – wife.

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

“I dunno if he meant it,” said Micky. “Would you like to fuck my wife? Maybe it was just a show-off. He was a terrible show-off, Boothby. He liked shocking people.”

“What,” I asked, “happened to Leslie Holt?”

“He got murdered in Harley Street by the dentist.”

“Because?” I asked.

“He knew too much. They doubled the… They gave him an injection… This is the newspaper story, not my story.”

“So who wanted him killed?” I asked.

“Upstairs. The powers that be. Or it might have been the dentist himself or his friends or… I dunno.”

Then Micky and I got talking about the ‘suicide’ of boxer Freddie Mills.

At Freddie Mills’ Nite Spot in the 1960s – (L-R) Teddy Smith, Micky Fawcett, Johnny Davis, Reggie Kray, Freddie Mills, Ronnie Kray, Dicky Morgan and Sammt Lederman (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

Freddie Mills was a major British boxer – a former world light heavyweight champion – a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. A boxer-turned-TV personality a bit like Frank Bruno. Except Freddie Mills mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people.

His suicide is interesting because it has always been rumoured he was murdered. One widespread rumour is that he was murdered because he was ‘Jack The Stripper‘ – someone who had been going round killing prostitutes.

“I’ve heard there’s a chap who claims,” said Micky, “that he was duped into taking Freddie Mills to a spot where this chap’s father had hired two gunmen who came in from America, shot Freddie Mills and went away again. Mafia men.”

“Did he get killed because of the Jack The Stripper thing?” I asked.

“No. The story I was told is that Freddie Mills lost all his money and went downhill and got depressed and miserable and threatened to blackmail this guy who had connections with the Mafia who got him shot.”

Actor George Raft (centre) with Ronnie (left) and Reggie Kray

“He was going to blackmail him because of his criminal connections?” I asked.

“Yes. It was at the time when the Mob were in the West End in London.”

“The time when actor George Raft was coming over?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Micky.

Mickey talked more about George Raft in a blog last year.

They were different times back then.

But yet not very different from today.

Human nature is human nature.

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