Tag Archives: John Aspinall

“All the London casinos were crooked” – gangsters, gambling and bullfighting

Micky Fawcett (left) with Michael at the May Fair hotel in 2014

“So how did your son Michael become a bullfighter in Spain?” I asked former Krays associate Micky Fawcett in the bar of the May Fair Hotel in London last week.

“Well, in the late 1970s,” Micky told me, “I was having a bit of trouble with the gendarmes in London so, around Christmastime, I got in a car to Spain with Michael, his mother and his mother’s sister. We got a flat out there. I had been in Spain before – with Billy Hill.”

“Why were you with Billy Hill?” I asked.

“He wanted to see me because he had pulled that masterstroke which I mention in the book.”

Micky’s autobiographical memoir Krayzy Days goes way beyond his days with the Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie.

Young Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray & Reggie’s wife

“I was out with Reggie in Mayfair one night,” Micky told me, “and we went to go in the 21 Club in Chesterfield Gardens and they wouldn’t let us in, so Reggie chinned the doorman and we went off to the Astor Club in a bad mood. The Astor was in an alley behind where we’re sitting now.

“Reggie owed lots of money in income tax at the time. He had just given me Esmerelda’s Barn (a Knightsbridge club) and said: You take it over. I dunno if you can do anything with it. Sell it to someone or something.

“And, down at the Astor, we saw this guy called Murphy. He was a rick.”

“A rick?” I asked.

“He sits in at the game in a casino but he’s working for the house. Cheating. All the cards are marked. And Reggie said to this guy: You might be able to do something with Mick here. And the guy said: I don’t do anything without I contact The Old Professor.”

“The Old Professor?” I asked.

“Billy Hill,” said Micky. “Anyway, Reggie was furious. It was another knock back to him that night. So we went in the office at The Astor and Reggie phoned Billy Hill and said: Listen. We’ve got somebody here who says he can’t do any business with us unless he gets the OK from you.

“And Bill said: Bring him round straight away.

“So we threw the guy in the car and took him round and Bill told the guy: Get in the kitchen, you. I’ll deal with you in a minute. Then Bill said to Reggie: Can I just throw him out? For old times, sake, eh, Reg?

Billy Hill at home. (Photo: Krayzy Days)

“And Reggie said: No, he’s going in the River.

“And Bill said: No, Reg, think about it. This will be the last place he’s ever been seen. Just for old times sake, eh? I’ll just throw him out.

“So Reggie said: Go on, then.

“And Bill went in the kitchen. A bit of noise. – Oh! Agh! Ugh! Ah! – All over the top. And Hillsy came out and said: I just kicked him up the arse and threw him out. Here you are Reg. And he gave Reggie a brown envelope. Wot’s this? says Reggie.

There’s a monkey in there, said Hillsy.”

“£500?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Micky. “And Billy told Reggie: It’s a gift. It ain’t nothing. We’ll be friends.

“So Reggie said: OK. And he took it because he didn’t have any money at all. He was skint.

“Anyway, about 48 hours later, I’m round Vallance Road (where the Krays lived) and Hillsy phones up. He says: Reg, I’ve got a problem. Can you get me some help?

“So Reggie gets a few of the more fierce-looking characters around. He didn’t give me nothing. I’d had nothing out of the £500. He said to me: Mick, you stay here and man the phone in case anything goes wrong. And away they go.

“A couple of hours later, he comes back and he ain’t saying very much. Eventually, I ask him what happened and he says: It was a false alarm, really. He was up there playing cards with some of his mates – the waiters out of the local restaurant. Foreigners.”

“So what was the problem?” I asked.

Teddy Machin (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“Well, I’m going to tell you,” said Micky. “I tell Teddy Machin about it and he tells Hillsy who says: Oh yeah. I know Mick. He came round here with Reggie. Bring him out here. I’d like to meet him. He was in Spain by then. He used to be back and forward to Spain. He used to get about. He’d been to South Africa. So I got on the plane and went out to Spain.

“And it turned out they hadn’t been waiters. They had been alarmed at the Twins moving in to the 21 Club and chinning the doorman.

“The 21 Club was one of the top casinos in the country. They were a bit concerned cos they were running the gambling in London. Someone wrote a book about it. (The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and The Perfect Con and there was a 2009 TV documentary titled The Real Casino Royale and a Daily Telegraph article.) One of their customers was George Osborne’s uncle.”

“The recent Chancellor of the Exchequer?”

“Yeah. At Aspinall’s, above the Clermont Club, just round the corner from here. They was all crooked. At some point, Billy Hill had said to John Aspinall: You can either blow the whistle and ruin your business or you can include us in it. And Aspinall said: Well, I’ve got no choice, have I? You’re in it.

More on the Unione Corse in the book

“The ‘waiters’ who were with Billy Hill when Reggie went round were the Unione Corse who were running the gambling in Mayfair.”

“They were running all the casinos?”

“Yeah. All the casinos were crooked, near enough. They had a system where they could mark the cards. I don’t know how. Nobody did. But they did. And Billy Hill did.

“So, when I went out to Spain, he told me all the story about how it was the Unione Corse. He wined me and dined me a bit. He took me to the Marbella Club and he said: Come over to Tangier. He had a club there as well and they were in Tangier as well. So I went there with him. Boulevard Hassan II was his address there.

“Anyway, that’s how I got the flavour for Spain. And, when I was in Spain, he took me to bullfights.”

“So,” I asked, “when you later went out to Spain with your son Michael and his mother, how old was Michael?”

Micky Fawcett chatted in Mayfair last week

“Nine. And I said to Michael: I’ll take you to a bullfight. And we did. Then, a few days later, we were on the beach and Michael was messing around with the muleta – the red flag – and he’s playing bullfighters.

“And the fellah who had the concession for that part of the beach was an ex-bullfighter who fought as El Solo. He introduced Michael to other bullfighters. All of a sudden, we were catapulted right into the middle of that sort of thing. The man who ran the bullring had been written about by Hemingway.

“So they have to test the little baby bulls and they see which ones are brave. And Michael was just playing at fighting with the little bulls.”

“There was,” I asked, “no sticking swords or anything else into them?”

“Oh no, no,” said Micky. “Baby bulls. But, while we were there, doing all that, an English woman who was a journalist started making enquiries about Michael and, next thing you know, there’s a picture of Michael in the bullfighting magazine El Ruedo with writing underneath in Spanish all about him. He was 10 years old by then.

“And I didn’t know at the time, but it was also in the Evening Standard in London. So there I am out in Spain trying to keep a low profile and Michael’s got a big picture and article in the big bullfighting magazine and in the Evening Standard back in London – and it was even in the local paper The Stratford Express.”

Young Michael Fawcett got publicity

“He must have been proud,” I said, “aged ten.”

“Nah,” said Micky. “He didn’t care. He said: Oh no! It’ll spoil my image! Cos he was into music.”

“How long did this go on for?” I asked.

“A few months, I suppose. What happened was I then ran out of money.”

“So you had to come back to Britain?”

“Well, no. Not quite.”

“Is this,” I asked, “when you ended up in jail in Belgium or somewhere?”

“Worse,” said Micky.

 

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The day English comedians Malcolm Hardee & Ricky Grover broke into a zoo

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover in the glamour of South Mimms service station

So, yesterday I was sitting in South Mimms service station on the M25 motorway talking to comedian and actor Ricky Grover about Malcolm Hardee, ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’.

“Every day I spent out with Malcolm,” said Ricky, “there were always two or three near-death experiences. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

“I know,” I laughed. “I went out on the Thames with him on his boat twice. We could have died both times.”

“That was just part and parcel of Malcolm,” laughed Ricky. “Do you know we once broke into a zoo?”

“No.”

“Years ago,” Ricky said, “I bought a new car. I was really pleased. It was the first brand-new car I’d ever bought. A Toyota RAV4. I drove round and showed Malcolm and he said: Oy Oy That’s alright, innit? My mum wants to learn to drive. Would you teach her to drive?

“So I said: Course I will. When do you wanna go?

Now, he said. So this first day of getting my car, we drove to Deal on the Kent coast, where Malcolm’s mum lived.

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm and mother Joan

“When he’d said ‘learn to drive’ I’d thought he’d meant she’d had a few lessons. But she was brand spanking new to it – like she went to get into the passenger side.

“This was a new car. You know what it’s like when you get a new car? You’re worried it’s gonna scratch and all that. All that went out the window. I didn’t care. I thought Oh. It’s Malcolm. I’ll just go with the flow. By the end, we was missing things by inches, going down weird alleys and things.

“So I drop his mum back home and, on the way back to London from Deal, Malcolm asked: Do you wanna go to the zoo? Right out of the blue, as Malcolm did.

“I said: Yeah, alright.

“He says: It’s not a normal zoo. This bloke let’s all the animals walk about free and you can stroke them…

John Aspinall?” I asked. “He had an animal park near Canterbury.”

“I dunno,” replied Ricky, “but we go to the zoo and it’s closed, so I said: Oh, that’s a shame! And Malcolm says: Don’t matter. It’s alright. He took his coat off, threw it over the barbed wire at the top, climbed over and let me in through the turnstiles. He said: It’ll be alright, I know the bloke who owns the place. He didn’t – obviously.

“So we start walking through the middle of this zoo and, after a few minutes, it hit me again what he’d said: It’s not a normal zoo. It’s a zoo where the animals just walk about. And Malcolm had that ridiculous walk. He looked like an animal himself, didn’t he? He was like a smaller version of a Bigfoot. You remember he had that weird walk?

“So I thought: If them animals see us, he’ll be alright. Because Malcolm didn’t give a fuck about anything. I thought: If an animal sees us, Malcolm’s gonna be alright and the animal’s gonna be on me.”

“Because,” I said, “Malcolm wouldn’t be scared but you would be?”

“Not only that,” said Ricky, “but because I’m the lumpy one. More flesh. More meat. I’m a better deal. They’ll get a good couple of days of eating out of me. They’d only get a half hour out of Malcolm.

“I’m walking through there and me arsehole went a little bit and then Malcolm shouted Oy! Oy! – I jumped out of me skin but I’m trying to act brave. And Malcolm’s seen a silverback gorilla, hasn’t he? A great big silverback. And he says Oy Oy to it, calls it over and shook hands with the silverback and the gorilla’s hand must have been five times bigger that Malcolm’s. It only had to give a jerk and it’d pull Malcolm’s arm right off his body.

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

Oy Oy… Oy Oy goes Malcolm, like he’s saying Hello to it and he says Come over! Come over! to me.

“So I go over and I think I don’t really fancy shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. You can’t reason with a silverback – it ain’t gonna make no difference.

“So I say: No, it’s alright, Malcolm. I’m alright for a minute.

“And I look round and I think: What the fuck am I doing? I’m in the middle of a zoo almost shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. And I started stepping out, trying to walk towards the exit. And I could hear all these growls in the bushes.

“Anyway, I got out and we managed to get home. But that was just an average day with Malcolm. When I got my car home, it looked like it had been to Afghanistan, because Malcolm’s mum had been driving it. It was splattered with mud and scratches. Typical Malcolm. It was a white car.

“My wife Maria looked at it and went: What’s happened? 

I’ve just been out with Malcolm, I told her.

Oh, she said.

“What I loved about Malcolm was he had funny bones. There are gonna be so many people at the Edinburgh Fringe this year – like always – really working at becoming funny. With Malcolm, he started off funny and ended up being on the stage rather than getting on the stage and trying to be funny.”

“As soon as I met him,” Ricky told me, “I clicked with him and the reason was he wasn’t like a normal person. Normal people drive me fucking mad. Not many people got much out of Malcolm except Oy Oy. But I think Malcolm opened up to me a bit. He told me things I’d never say that were quite deep. He had a really lovely genuineness about him.”

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

“Everybody,” I said, “tended to say Malcolm’s act was his life.”

“His act was shit, wasn’t it?” said Ricky. “His actual act was shit, but he was SO funny.”

“Well,” I said, “he only had about six jokes which he told for about twenty years.”

“I went to the Edinburgh Fringe with him,” said Ricky, “when I’d been doing comedy about six months and the shows were really badly organised – obviously. No advertising. Just giving out flyers to anyone in the street, so most of our audience was foreign. They didn’t have a clue what we was talking about. They were just sitting there staring at us.

“It must have been the worst show on the Fringe. It was Malcolm, me and The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper and the show climaxed with the Dam Busters theme music playing and us standing there in black bin-liners, back-to-back, going round in circles holding little wooden planes on sticks. The planes were painted with ultra violet paint, but it wasn’t totally dark and the audience could see us: just sixteen foreigners who didn’t speak English staring at us performing with ultra violet planes not in the dark.

“It was just shit and, after we’d done about three shows, I told him: Malcolm, I don’t think I want to do comedy. I’ve tried it and I think I’ll go back to doing what I was doing before, just messing about. I can nick a living. This alternative comedy thing isn’t really for me. 

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (pholograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Malcolm said: Listen to me. I’ve spotted some of the biggest talent in this country. And he rolled off all these names. Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Paul Merton… all the names. He said: I was the one who spotted them. I was the one who found them. I was the one who told people about them.

“And he said to me: You’ve got something a lot more special. You’ve got a lot more layers. You’ve got a lot more gears. You are going to be absolutely massive. 

“So I was really enthralled in the moment. Can you imagine? A young comic, six months in. And I said Do you really mean that? and he said No. Of course I don’t.

“And I pissed myself for about twenty minutes. I couldn’t stop laughing and I still laugh about it now. And whenever I start taking myself seriously, I always think of that because it brings it all down to earth.

“I remember telling Jo Brand about it and she really laughed. Because what happens is you can get so wrapped-up in the importance of it all and what you think you can achieve but no-one knows. No-one knows what will happen.

“You know and I know there are shit people who make it massive and there’s people we both know who should have their own series on telly who never get the chance. Like everything else in this world, most of it is all corrupt. It’s not how it should be. So I think you’ve got to just enjoy the journey. Enjoy what you’re doing the best way you can – and that’s what Malcolm did. It was such a laugh being with Malcolm.

“When you said he only had half a dozen jokes, when we went to Edinburgh, he was already twenty years into doing them. There was a group of firemen used to come and watch him in Edinburgh – and, every year, they used to piss themselves like it was the first time they’d ever heard the jokes.

“It wasn’t about the jokes. The Number One thing you need to be funny is insecurity. As soon as you think you’ve got something, you’re in trouble. And Malcolm was full of all of that. I’ve seen him have a pop at someone in the audience with cancer and bring the house down and make the geezer with cancer piss himself laughing and feel like a person again instead of an object who’s dying.

“Malcolm had a real good connection with people.

“One thing I’m sad about, though,” said Ricky, “is that I gave Malcolm a wide berth the last couple of years of his life. I still saw him, but I didn’t spend time with him like I used to, because I’ve got an addictive nature, so if…”

“He was on cocaine…” I said.

Wreaths on the hearse at Malcolm Hardee's funeral

Wreaths on Malcolm Hardee’s hearse. The top one was from Ricky Grover.

“Exactly,” said Ricky. “So, if I’d ended up on gear, I wouldn’t have been able to function. It’s hard enough living with the addiction of over-eating, let alone getting into all that as well. Because he went that next step. He didn’t want to make old bones. I think Malcolm went pretty much when he… He knew he was going to go over early…”

Malcolm drowned, drunk, in January 2005.

So it goes.

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