Tag Archives: Howard Marks

The face and mouth and result of cocaine in 1999 – and real crime’s face

This is what happens when you go to bed late, wake up late, turn over and go back to sleep at least three times when you should have got up and written a blog but now have no time to transcribe either of the long blog chats you have sitting inside your iPhone.

What happens?

My blog ends up as extracts from my diary in 1999.


NOVEMBER 11th

Not the originals, but similar

Not the originals – long gone – but something vaguely similar

I had a drink with a workmate.

Biting into a bacon and lettuce bap, his front crowns came out: three linked false teeth.

He tried to stick them back in with chewing gum borrowed from the barman – to no avail.

He borrowed a rubber band from me and tried to strap them to the rest of his teeth, as with a dental brace – to no avail.

He eventually went to the toilet and stuffed paper behind his upper lip so that the pressure forced the teeth back in place, preventing them from pushing forward and out.

NOVEMBER 14th

Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

I spent the afternoon with a friend. Her husband was there and, if I did not know him, I guess I would have thought he had been an alcoholic who had been damaged by drink. He was full of little mannerisms: scratching by the side of his ear, moving his mouth oddly, altering the open-ness of his eyes and occasionally slightly grimacing with his mouth. The last, I think, is probably a sight of too much cocaine use as it does something to the gums.

My friend told me he was drinking heavily: something like half a bottle of spirits every day. My friend mentioned divorce to him again a few weeks ago but he, in effect, just ignored it.

He has always been intellectually arrogant – something I presume the cocaine would only accentuate. He has told her that he thinks, if he put his mind to it, he could go into politics and become Prime Minister within 10 years. At home, he has a lot of nose problems – there is a lot of snorting and sniffing and clearing of nasal passages.

In the evening, I talked to a chum I had arranged to see a chat with at the Union Chapel in Islington. The chat is by former cannabis smuggler Howard Marks and former-US criminal-turned-Reservoir Dogs actor and crime novelist Edward Bunker. My chum said he was “getting cold feet about going” because he was having moral qualms about giving the £12.50 ticket fee to “such terrible people”.

I said I had gone to lots of countries with appalling regimes. And we both paid council tax which partly went to the Metropolitan Police, some of whom are simply selling heroin in the streets of South London – probably Brixton, where he lives.

NOVEMBER 15th

Howard Marks - Mr Nice

Howard Marks – Mr Nice to deal with

In the evening, I went to the Unity Chapel in Islington. Without my chum, but with someone else. It was full with perhaps 300 people.

Howard Marks shambled on stage and his clothes and face shambled on with him: a black shirt and dark-grey trousers, all hanging in folds – and the skin of his face hanging slightly in folds too, as if all three were very slightly too big for him.

He said the most cash he had ever been given at any one time was in dollars but equivalent to £2 million.

He spoke in a strong Welsh accent and seemed much the worse for wear from years of drugs. Occasionally, he would giggle slightly in a drunken/druggy way then recover himself and carry on; often he would go off at tangents, sometimes forgetting where he had started.

(Extreme right) Edward Bunker (Mr Blue) in Reservoir Dogs

(Extreme right) Edward Bunker (Mr Blue) in Reservoir Dogs

Edward Bunker was very neatly dressed in a very light grey suit with cream shirt and red tie. His movements were slow and starched with occasional barely- perceptible jerks. His pale, slightly pastry-coloured pink face was immovable and it looked as if his eyes were permanently closed: you could see no whites in them.

When Marks and Bunker sat down together after the interval for a question-and-answer session, the difference was even more obvious. Marks was basically a druggy man who had slipped into smuggling which happened to be criminal; Bunker was a career criminal. Marks was visibly smoking a big fat spliff on stage, Bunker seemed to be on something darker, stronger and more internal.

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Ignore the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, this is how the Profumo political sex scandal really happened

John Profumo, the UK’s Minister for War

John Profumo, the UK’s disgraced Secretary of State for War

A couple of days ago in my blog, there was a discussion between one of my Facebook Friends and writer Harry Rogers about whether people accused of sex crimes should be named in the press before they are prosecuted.

There is another interesting angle to this which Harry Rogers knows a bit about. Not a sex crime but a sex scandal… The Profumo sex scandal of 1963 which ultimately brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.

But this blog is really about Johnny Edgecombe, whom I think I probably met at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich in the 1990s. By then, he was known as Johnny Edge. I have a vague recollection that Malcolm introduced me to Johnny Edge once; but I can’t be certain.

What interests me about Johnny is how small incidents in apparently insignificant individuals’ lives can change history.

For those too young to remember, the Profumo Affair involved ‘good-time party girl’ Christine Keeler having sex with John Profumo, the UK’s Secretary of State for War. This was not good, given that he was married to actress Valerie Hobson. Worse though, given that Profumo knew Britain’s entire defence secrets and this was the height of the Cold War, was that Christine Keeler was also having sex with Yevgeni Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London. All military attachés are assumed to be spies.

In October 1962, the United States and the USSR almost stumbled into a nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

At the same time, in London, Johnny Edgecombe was Christine Keeler’s boyfriend and allegedly her pimp. Before that, Keeler’s boyfriend had been drug dealer ‘Lucky’ Gordon. When she split from Gordon, he attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. She then became Johnny Edgecombe’s girlfriend.

Just before Christmas 1962, she split from Johnny Edgecombe. What happened then resulted in a court case in which John Profumo’s name was mentioned in open court and the whole Profumo scandal became public knowledge.

Johnny Edgecombe went to prison for what happened in the mews.

I had a drink with Harry Rogers last night.

Harry Rogers in Greenwich last night

Harry Rogers remembers Johnny in Greenwich last night

“I met Johnny Edge just after he came out of prison,” Harry told me. “I think the intelligence services knew very well what was going on with Christine Keeler: that she was having an affair with Profumo and was also seeing Ivanov.”

“What had Johnny done before the Profumo thing?” I asked.

“He’d been friends with lots of jazz musicians in London,” Harry told me. “And he’d worked for Peter Rachman.”

“The dodgy slum landlord?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Rachman bought a lot of properties up and, when he had trouble getting people out of a property, he would get Johnny Edge and a couple of others to go and take over the basement in the building and set up a shebeen. A shebeen is an illegal drinking establishment with lots of loud music pumping all night. So Johnny’s role was to set up the shebeen and get musicians to come in there and party. They had a great time and the people got so fed up with the noise they left. It was like constructive dismissal – constructive eviction, really.”

“But eventually,” I said, “he met Christine Keeler, she left him and that triggered off the whole thing.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “When Christine Keeler left him – he was kind of pimping her in a way; he was living off her earnings, anyway – he wanted money and he needed money and also Johnny was in competition with Lucky Gordon, who was out to get Johnny. He saw him as the person who had taken ‘his Christine’ away from him – cos he’d been pimping her too.

“Lucky Gordon had caught up with Johnny in the Flamingo club in Wardour Street in Soho and there had been a big running fight through the club. They were chasing each other about all over he place. Lucky Gordon was going to beat up Johnny, but Johnny pulled a knife and ‘striped’ his face.

“After that, Lucky Gordon was really, really angry and so he got a machete and he was threatening to cut Johnny Edge’s head off. And that’s why Johnny got a gun. And the gun that he got was Christine Keeler’s. She had a Luger pistol.”

“Why did she have a gun?” I asked.

“I think for protection,” Harry replied. “Anyway, Johnny took her gun and he was carrying it because he knew that, if Lucky Gordon did catch up with him – if he wasn’t protected – Lucky was going to kill him.

1964 book on the scandal

A 1964 book on the Profumo Scandal

“When Christine left Johnny and went to Stephen Ward in the mews, Johnny got a taxi to the house. Christine was there but wouldn’t come to the window. Mandy Rice-Davies came to the window and told Johnny Christine doesn’t want to speak to you – Here’s some money – Go away! – and threw a handful of fivers out the window.

“That made Johnny angry, so then he decided he was going to go in and talk to Christine. So he tried to do what they do in the movies. He tried to shoot the door open by blowing the lock off the door with the gun.

“That didn’t work, so then he got back into the taxi…”

“The taxi driver,” I asked, “had just been sitting there twiddling his thumbs through all this?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “The cab driver was still waiting. Johnny got back in the cab. And they drove off.

“Meanwhile, the police had been phoned. They caught up with Johnny and arrested him and charged him with attempted murder. They said he’d actually tried to shoot Christine Keeler from the street through the window. He never did that. But they needed a court case to break open the whole thing so they could officially look into everything that was going on. And, from that point onwards it all came out.

“What Johnny told me was that not only was Stephen Ward supplying various members of the Establishment with women… There were a number of them: Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Rona Ricardo and two or three other girls were involved in this circle, this kind of call girl ring that he was running… They would all go down to Lord Astor’s place (Clivedon in Buckinghamshire) and have the swimming pool, the weekend orgies, all the rest of it… not only was Stephen Ward doing that, but he was also supplying lots of Members of Parliament and the aristocracy with marijuana.”

“Which would be a big thing then,” I said.

“Which was a big thing then,” Harry agreed. “And which Johnny Edge was supplying to Stephen Ward.”

“How did the Russian get involved?” I asked.

The Daily Mirror reports Profumo’s resignation

Profumo resigned because he lied to MPs

“Well,” explained Harry, “Stephen Ward would host parties which diplomats and all sorts of people would attend – He was just a military attaché. I don’t think there was any attempt to screw information out of Profumo. There’s no way that Christine Keeler was pumping Profumo for information to give to Ivanov, who she called her ‘Russian teddy bear’. It was all just sex and drugs, really. But spooks, being what they are, often read a lot more into the situation than is there.

“Profumo was a pretty honourable man. He just liked screwing.”

“You’ve heard about the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical that’s being written about Stephen Ward?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Johnny Edge told me Stephen Ward was a great guy and it was terrible the way he was vilified out. Really, he was just serving a need.”

“And was driven to suicide,” I said.

“And,” said Harry, “Johnny was sent to prison. He spent about six years inside. The Labour Party – Bessie Braddock in particular – said, as soon as they got into power, they would ensure he was released. But, of course, what happened when the Wilson government came in? They left him there to rot. He kept writing to them from prison trying to get them to honour what they had said they were going to do, but they left him there.

“He’d been sent to Dartmoor! For a while he shared a cell with Frank Mitchell.”

“The Mad Axeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the Screws. He was like an animal. But he took a liking to Johnny so, consequently, life was easy for Johnny inside because he had total protection. In those days, it wouldn’t have been easy being a black West Indian like Johnny in prison.’”

“And you met him soon after he got out?” I asked.

“When he first came out of prison,” explained Harry, “he didn’t go back to Notting Hill, he moved to a flat in Blackheath, then later he moved to a flat on a council estate by what’s now the Up The Creek comedy club.

“His aim was, if he could ever make enough money, to go out to the West Indies and buy a boat like his dad had had. Of course, it never happened.

“He would wake up in the morning and smoke a joint. Then he would get washed and dressed. Smoke another joint. Have breakfast. Smoke another joint. Then he was set up to go out for the day. He was always stoned. Always.

Johnny Edge in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life + one of his cigarettes

“He decided he was going to make money from selling chess sets. He met somebody who had access to a whole load of reproduction fancy chess sets: the Lewis chess set, the Reynard The Fox one, a Mexican carved crystal one and an erotic chess set – pornographic, basically – the bishops had little boys sucking them off. They weren’t cheap. He made a good mark-up on them.

“Also, if you wanted to buy half a pound or a pound of dope, Johnny knew where to go. In 1971, you could probably get a pound of dope for £500 and he’d charge you £550. He wasn’t a big dope importer or anything, but he was big mates with Howard Marks, who was.

“After the chess sets, he got into buying VW camper vans in Amsterdam and filling them up with Second World War leather jackets and overcoats he bought in a warehouse near where he bought the VWs. They looked like Nazi overcoats but weren’t – most were actually Dutch motorcycle police coats, but they looked the business.

“So Johnny would fill the camper vans with these coats, bring them back to Britain and sell them. The rock singer Chris Farlowe used to run a Nazi militaria shop and Johnny Edge used to sell him these Dutch police overcoats as genuine Nazi wartime overcoats at a massive mark-up.

“Needs must when the Devil drives. There was no way he was ever going to get employed in a straight job; he was so stoned all the time.

“He was a very likeable guy. He was a great guy.”

“And he died just over two years ago,” I said. “What did he die of?”

“Lung cancer,” said Harry.

So it goes.

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