Tag Archives: George Sewell

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

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

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

It does what it says on the tin.

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

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

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

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

“Cop for his boat and blow…”

“Get a rhubarb…”

and

“To be slommory…”

But perhaps I have led too sheltered a life.

Written when Reggie had ‘only’ done 16 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is an interesting read.

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

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