Tag Archives: Mafia

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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The new Kray Twins film, the famous Hollywood star & the Mafia – the truth

Micky Fawcett at the May Fair Hotel this afternoon

Micky Fawcett chatted at the May Fair Hotel this afternoon

So, this afternoon, I had tea with Micky Fawcett, former close associate of gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

“They’re going to make another film about the Twins,” he told me.

“Not another one!” I said.

So far, we have had The Krays (1990), The Rise of The Krays (2015), Legend (2015) and The Fall of The Krays (2016).

“This new one,” said Micky, “is by the same people who made The Fall of The Krays and the same two guys who played the Twins in that are playing them in this. They’re claiming the previous film made a lot of money, which it probably did. David Sullivan – the pornographer – is the backer of it all.

“What is this new one called?” I asked.

“At the moment, The Krays and The Mafia,” Micky told me.

“Well,” I said, “that is going to be a very short film.”

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Micky’s book on his days with the Krays and much else besides in his ‘unusual’ life

“Yes,” said Micky. “I’ll tell you their full connection with the Mafia. There was a club in London which was run by the Mafia – The Colony and Sporting Club – in Berkeley Square. This was in 1966/1967. The Hollywood actor George Raft was the front man.”

“He,” I said, “got banned from Britain by the Home Secretary, didn’t he?”

“Yeah,” said Micky. “They were doing OK, the Mafia.”

In his book, Freddie Foreman – The Godfather of British Crime, Freddie Foreman writes: “The Colony’s patrons included Frank Sinatra and Robert Ryan, Dino and Eddy Celini ran the casino and the real owner was the MD of American crime Meyer Lansky. The Colony went on for a couple of years and was a good earner. George Raft, who had Mafia connections, wanted us to keep a low profile, though. He didn’t want faces to frighten away guests. In those areas, it was not the done thing.”

I asked Micky Fawcett today: “The Krays were not actually involved in the club?”

“No,” he told me, “but the Krays were going in there and unsettling people. They didn’t do anything very much, but one example was when there was an argument among a Jewish family in the club and Ronnie Kray jumped up and was going to make an impression – he thought it would impress the Mafia. But they went: Ron, Ron, Ron. This is not how we do things.

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

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

“And, shortly afterwards, George Raft said: Reg, I can see you’re not doing very well and would like to make a small gift to you. I want to give you £300 a week. So they agreed this. What I’m going to do, George Raft told Reg, is I’m going to give you an advance of £3,000.

“I don’t think Reggie had ever seen £3,000 before. So he took the £3,000 and split it between Freddie Foreman – he gave him £1,000. He gave £1,000 to the Nash family. And that left him with £1,000 to split with his brothers Ronnie and Charlie. And, when he’d done that, that was the money gone.

“Then the fight happened at Mr Smith’s in Catford and the Americans all got out of the country quick and couldn’t get back in – George Raft was banned from re-entry by the Home Office because his continued presence in the United Kingdom would not be conducive to the public good – and that was the end of the story of the Mafia and the Krays.”

“Why,” I asked, “did the Mafia get out of he country quick?”

“Because they didn’t want to be associated with people shooting each other.”

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Six days in March: mafiosi in Prague, war in Serbia, Yanks in Amsterdam and a flying saucer in the Thames Valley

I have no time to transcribe the blog I should be writing today so, as always in such cases, you get a copy-and-paste from my e-diary – in this case, starting today 16 years ago in 1999


MONDAY 22nd MARCH 1999 – AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

There are precipitous stairs up to my new hotel. This, as with other houses in Amsterdam, is because there are two storeys below the two-storey hotel and people live vertically because, at one time, house tax was based on the width of your house so everything was built narrow.

The hotel is run by two thin gay men, probably in their late-40s or mid-50s, heavily wrinkled like white prunes.

The room has a brown carpet, pink bedsheets and bedspread; high light green walls with horizontal hanging ivy atop one of them. When trams pass, there is a thunderous rattling through the tall, single-glazed window. I think I may move soon.

TUESDAY 23rd MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with the Englishman who runs the TV station where I am freelancing. We previously worked together at TV stations in Prague in 1994 and 1995. He says Prague has changed since I was there; the various foreign mafias have taken over large sections of society; it started, he says, with the privatisation of taxis. The TV operation we both worked for in Prague was sold (at a loss) by UIH to Time-Warner last week; but, in return, UIH got Time-Warner cable interests in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europe has become the new Wild West.

WEDNESDAY 24th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with three workmates. One of them observed that the Dutch give a bad time to Germans – shop assistants are coldly difficult to them in shops etc – because of the Second World War. As we ate, NATO planes and cruise missiles were starting to attack Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo.

THURSDAY 25th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

In McDonalds, the assistant was giving a hard, contemptuous time to a well-dressed family of Russians who spoke very bad English.

FRIDAY 26th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

At breakfast in the hotel, there was an American couple: he was wide and tall like some American Football player, she was much smaller and much younger. The TV was tuned to BBC1 News. The American couple had missed the start of the bombing of Serbia, presumably because they were travelling around. Their abbreviated conversation went:

Him: “What’s going on?”

Me: “NATO has started bombing Serbia.”

Her: “What’s NATO?”

Him: “North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It’s…what is it?…The big six?” (LOOKS AT ME)

Me: (CONFUSED)

Her: “I thought that was just a trade organisation.”

Him: “No, it does some policing, too.”

At Schiphol Airport in the evening, there was a group of very jolly people in their 20s – about a dozen – on the travelator in front of me. It turned out they were going to my Gate. And they were drunk – amiable, jolly and drunk. It came as no surprise they were travelling on Finnair to Helsinki as the only times I had encountered Finns before – in Leningrad in 1985 – they were all amiable, jolly and staggeringly drunk. Something to do with the strict drink laws in Finland: at that time, Finns came across to Leningrad, sold denim jeans and Western goods to Russians and got very charmingly drunk on vodka.

My friend Lynn’s partner Frank had asked me to get him some schnapps at the airport duty free – stuff you can only get in Schiphol. It comes in an opaque brown bottle. I couldn’t see it, so I asked a man who was stacking the drinks shelves: “Do you have any schnapps?”

Inevitably, I was standing right by the schnapps: he pointed to two different brands, both in white bottles.

“I was asked to get some schnapps in a brown bottle,” I said: “Do you have any in a brown bottle?”

He looked at me as if I was mad, almost shrinking backwards, and replied:

“No, we do not have schnapps in a brown bottle.”

The EasyJet plane to Luton took off two hours late because:

a) the incoming plane broke down in Luton and
b) they had to fly a replacement plane into Amsterdam and
c) they said: “Air traffic over Western Europe has been disrupted by NATO”

I suppose squadrons of giant B-52 bombers taking off from Gloucestershire and flying to Serbia would do that.

SATURDAY 27th MARCH – BOREHAMWOOD

John Ward drives home in his Wardmobile

John Ward driving to his home in his self-made Wardmobile

My chum mad inventor John Ward has built a flying saucer. Today, with his son, he was collecting it from a garage in Weybridge then coming round to collect some stuff from me on his way home to Northamptonshire.

On the way to me, he was stopped by a Thames Valley police car with flashing lights and siren. Inside was a Sergeant Whittaker.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked Sergeant Whittaker.

He told John they had looked at their cameras and seen John and his son driving along the road in their car pulling an object brightly painted in fluorescent orange, red, yellow and blue.

“You are a distraction,” Sergeant Whittaker told John.

“Thankyou,” said John.

“Don’t be flippant,” Sergeant Whittaker warned him.

Sergeant Whittaker then appeared to flounder around trying to find something on which to arrest John.

“Have you got a licence for that?” Sergeant Whittaker asked, pointing at the flying saucer.

“It’s a trailer,” John replied.

“It has a seat in it,” observed Sergeant Whittaker.

“Ah,” said John, “But it has no engine in it: so it is legally a trailer.”

John Ward knows about these things.

At this point, an old man on a motorcycle passed by and was so amazed by the flying saucer and the police car with the flashing lights that he lost control of his motorcycle, hit the central barrier and fell off.

“Look!” Sergeant Whittaker told John. “He was distracted by your… your… thing!”

“No,” argued John. “It’s all your flashing red and blue and white lights distracted him.”

Sergeant Whittaker said accusingly: “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We could have arranged a police escort.”

“You’re joking,” said John.

“No I’m not…..Where are you going with it?”

“I’m dropping in at a friend’s in Borehamwood to collect some stuff, then taking it home.”

“Oh no you’re not. You’re a distraction. You’re taking it straight home.”

At this point, John phoned me on his mobile.

“Are you phoning the press?” the sergeant asked.

“Not yet,” said John.

“I know you from somewhere,” Sergeant Whittaker said. “Have I seen you on television?”

“No, I’m not him,” said John. “Reg, the bloke with the glasses in Coronation Street. People sometimes confuse me for him. But I’m not him.”

“No, you’re not him,” agreed Sergeant Whittaker, “but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Eventually, Sergeant Whittaker got in John’s car and his policeman mate drove the police car. They set off in convoy, lights flashing and escorted John’s flying saucer to the border of the next police area – where a Buckinghamshire police car took over.

“Is that it?” the Buckinghamshire policeman asked when he saw the flying saucer. He had obviously been expecting something like a vast over-hanging mobile home on a pantechnicon.

When the Buckinghamshire police car reached the borders of Northamptonshire, there was a Northamptonshire police car waiting for them.

“Oh,” the Northamptonshire policeman said on seeing John, “It’s you.”

“Have we met?” John asked him.

“No,” said the Northamptonshire policeman.

When the other car had gone, the Northamptonshire policeman told John: “They’re mad down south. It’s a waste of time. They should be out catching criminals. I’m going back to the station.”

And off he went.

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What links MI5, the Mafia, the Playboy Club, Lord Lucan and Charles Saatchi?

Did this man move to Africa without his wife?

Did this man emigrate to Africa without his wife?

You meet people at parties.

They tell you things.

They may or may not be true.

I met a man at a party who works at a London gaming club – watching what goes on and making sure everything runs smoothly.

He told me he used to be a dealer at the Playboy Club in Park Lane in the 1960s. He also worked at Aspinall’s private gambling club and at a gaming club in Berkeley Square which was owned by Mafia-linked Hollywood actor George Raft until he sold it to Britain’s Barclay Brothers. The Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency’s building later stood on the site. He also worked a club opposite the old MI5 building in Curzon Street (the latter had no windows on the ground floor, a bomb canopy at first floor level and windows for machine guns at the corners). There was an MI5 bunker underneath one of these clubs; stairs went down for several storeys.

He told me he believed missing peer Lord Lucan (a friend of John Aspinall) – the day after he killed the family nanny – fled with help from tycoon James Goldsmith who owned large areas of various countries in southern Africa into which someone could disappear without trace. Lucan was born in 1934. He is probably now dead from old age after a happy ‘retirement’.

So it goes.

The man at the party also had a story about the killing of a Playboy bunny and the disappearance of an Arab who was probably responsible. Another Arab had accidentally became an arms dealer and ended up in a mental home in the UK.

The Sultan of Brunei’s personal identity card for all occasions

The Sultan of Brunei’s personal identity card for all occasions

And the Sultan of Brunei had once been asked for identification at the Playboy Club and took a Brunei banknote out of his wallet, pointing to the picture of himself.

In its heyday, he claimed, the Playboy Club in London made three times the total amount made by all the other clubs and the magazine profits combined so, when it closed, it brought down the then Playboy empire. At the Playboy Club in Park Lane in its heyday, a man (who is still alive) had closed-circuit TV monitors in his office showing various parts of the club, including a camera in Playboy Bunnies’ changing room.

The man at the party told me the only way he could stay sane among the unimaginable amounts of money moving around was to think of it all as plastic not money.

You meet people at parties.

They tell you things.

They may or may not be true.

There is footage of 1960s Playboy Bunnies on YouTube.

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GORDON’S ALIVE! – Brian Blessed from “Doctor Who” to “Flash Gordon” to taking a real life rocket into space

Tomorrow, BBC TV celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first transmission of Doctor Who.

The real Brian Blessed - OTT character

The real Brian Blessed – an OTT character

Last night, at a special University of Hertfordshire event, the actor Brian Blessed revealed: “I was once asked to be Doctor Who – after (the first Doctor) William Hartnell – but I wasn’t available.”

Yesterday’s event was not a celebration of Doctor Who, but a celebration of the 1980 film Flash Gordon, one of a series of events leading up to next year’s celebrations of one hundred years of film-making at Elstree and Borehamwood where, coincidentally, I live.

Comedian Bob Slayer once told me a story about Brian Blessed.

“I was outside a pub in Soho,” Bob told me. “The Toucan, next to Soho Square. It’s a small pub and a lot of people drink outside of it in the evening. I was on the phone to a friend when who should walk by but Brian Blessed.

“I mentioned this to my friend on the other end of the phone and he immediately suggested that I should shout out Gordon’s alive! like it would be the funniest thing in the world and no-one else had ever shouted that at Brian Blessed.

“I declined, but my friend double-dared me and so, just as Brian disappeared around the corner, I bellowed: Gordon’s alive!

“Brian then reappeared from around the corner and boomed one word back at me at a volume and resonance that made my effort sound like a choirboy whose voice has not broken. The single word he boomed out was a beautifully simple upward-inflecting CUNT!! – and then he was gone again.”

Brian Blessed’s notoriously booming line Gordon’s alive! comes from the 1980 Flash Gordon film.

Flash Gordon (1980) - kitsch, cult or masterpiece?

Flash Gordon (1980) Is it kitsch, cult or cinematic perfection?

He has an overwhelming OTT charm which could persuade anyone that the inside of an active volcano is a suitable place to use as a refrigerator. Last night, he was talking-up Flash Gordon as great art:

“I’ve got a feeling,” he said, “that Flash Gordon is almost perfection. There is such a great style about it and it’s becoming more and more of a… and then, of course, there is the cry Gordon’s alive!

“There were 70,000 people at the O2 Arena the other week for the Metal Hammer Awards for rock bands and I shouted Gordon’s alive! and I had to shout it about fifty times. It is much requested.

“I was at Buckingham Palace last year at the Christmas Concert – because I’m famous – and the Queen came up and said: You know, we watch Flash Gordon all the time, me and the grandchildren, It’s a wonderful film. Would you mind saying ‘Gordon’s alive’?

“So I shouted Gordon’s alive!!!! for her…

Thankyou so much, she said, very politely.

Brian Blessed grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire and, in the next village was future Star Trek/X-Men star Patrick Stewart.

Brian’s father was a coalminer; Patrick’s was a milkman. Brian says they have been friends since they were nine years old.

Brian Blessed flying high as Vultan

Brian Blessed stood on a perch & flew with embarrassing wire

In Flash Gordon, Brian played Vultan, prince of the Hawkmen, sporting a large pair of wings.

“Those wings took half an hour to put on,” he explained last night. “I had dark-skinned make-up with very black hair, black beard and they wanted my teeth very white, like in the 1930s serial. I couldn’t sit in a chair because of my wings, so they built me a perch and all the cameramen and carpenters said Pretty Polly… Pretty Polly as they passed.

“Before you ‘flew’, you couldn’t have breakfast, you couldn’t have lunch – you’d be vomiting. Speaking is really difficult with all these wires on you. I had an extra one on my bollocks. We all had to be lowered down when one person fainted.

“When I was cast as Vultan, I thought of the original comic strip and then I thought of Charlie Chaplin. In some of his films, he had a great big guy who bent lamp posts and beat people up if they didn’t pay their bills and he had big black lines under his eyes and a black beard and a great smile. I based Vultan on that character.

“Then, of course, when I saw the old black & white Flash Gordon serial again, I realised he actually plays Vultan in that and he has a grizzly bear with him all the time. So I said to Dino De Laurentiis  (Italian producer of the 1980 Flash Gordon):

Can I have a grizzly bear?  

But he said Fuck off.

“De Laurentiis was a tough guy, quite a terrifying guy – a bit Mafia. When he came on set, we never got much done because the director Mike Hodges got nervous and the cast and wardrobe and make-up got nervous. When I was doing these flying sequences and Dino came in with his henchmen – you could see their guns – you could see the guns they had under their coats – and the money in sachels… Dino was a very imposing figure. Nobody dared say a word but, when I was hung up on the wires for these flying sequence, I told him:

“Dino! We can’t get anything fucking done! Every time you come in, everybody gets fucking nervous, it’s costing fucking millions. Dino – fuck off!

“Dino laughed and said: He tells me to fuck off!

“I was the only one who could tell him to fuck off.”

The cast was equally colourful.

Ted Carroll as Biro - from rugby to pub owner

Ted Carroll as Biro – from England rugby player to pub owner

“The guy with the broken nose – Ted Carroll, who plays Biro – I befriended him,” Brian said last night. “He wasn’t an actor: he used to play wing half for England’s rugby side. He wanted to be seen, so I told him: Keep with me, because they’ve got to put the camera on me. Just keep alongside me.

Now he has a pub in Ilkley in Yorkshire and his pub’s full of photographs of Flash Gordon; you press a button and the film appears.

“We would have done a second Flash Gordon film, but Sam Jones, who played him, was injured in a car crash. The second film was going to be set on Mars and had the Clay Men in it, like the original Flash Gordon serial. And giant lizards. I would be flying around and he would be wounded and I’d be carrying him across the Martian volcanoes, but it never got made.”

Brian is, I guess, a luvvie at heart: lavishing praise on everyone he works with.

Sam Jones starred in a very hard part

Sam Jones: a perfect on-screen bubble of innocence & purity

“Flash Gordon is a very hard part to cast,” he claimed last night. “Like d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers is a very hard part to cast. You could get lots of handsome actors and put them in as Flash, but he has to have a kind of bubble of innocence, a purity. With Sam, you could put him anywhere and shoot him with the camera from any angle and he was pure, he was heroic. He was the perfect Flash. Just as good as Buster Crabbe in the original 1930s serial.

“And Max von Sydow was wonderful as the villain Ming The Merciless. He told me: I don’t know what to do, Brian, and I told him Use your hands. Use your hands, because you’re a magician and you’re sexual: use your hands. So he used his hands quite beautifully.”

Brian is known for being a larger-than-life, totally OTT character but says: “In my sixty years as an actor, I think I’ve only ever played three or four characters that are over-the-top – in Blackadder, Flash Gordon and Blackbeard. Now, 50% of my life now is exploration and 50% is acting.

“Hamlet says acting is holding a mirror up to Nature, holding a mirror up to life. But, of course, climbing Mount Everest or going to Mongolia or the North Pole IS life – and there is a huge difference. Acting is a great art, but you are pretending.

“I had Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi and Ken Branagh in front of me and I said this and they said Yes, Brian. You have to pretend. You’re not real. But going up Mount Everest and going into space and going on adventures IS real.

Brian Blessed, modern Galahad, climbing Everest without oxygen

Brian Blessed, adventurer, climbed Everest without oxygen

People say: “Isn’t it dangerous, Brian, going to the North Pole? Isn’t it dangerous going up Mount Everest without oxygen?

“Yes yes yes. But I think the greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure. You’ve gotta go for it.

“I am fucking bored shitless with all this crap about age. Forty is very young. It’s not how old you are – it’s how you are old.

“I’m 77 and next year I’m going back to Everest. In Moscow, I’ve just completed 800 hours in the centrifuge, in the hydra, in MiG-29s… and I am now a completely, fully-trained cosmonaut and I’m going to the International Space Station…”

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Chris Dangerfield cancels his Edinburgh Fringe shows after death threats… Matt Price replaces him with show about his own death threats from Turkish mafia

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

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt Price: suddenly-scheduled show at the Edinburgh Fringe

The last time comedian Matt Price was mentioned in this blog, it was about the time he asked a Glasgow gangster for a gun and about performing comedy inside Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. He meets interesting people and interesting things happen to him.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard from comedian Daphna Baram – the woman with her finger on the pulse of rising comics – that comedian Chris Dangerfield had pulled out of his show at the Edinburgh Fringe. His show had been billed as Chris Dangerfield: How I Spent £150,000 on Chinese Prostitutes.

Chris Dangerfield’s slot at The Hive, Daphna told me, had been taken up by Matt Price with his interestingly-titled show Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

I looked up Matt’s website and it said he was in Turkey throughout August. No mention of the Edinburgh Fringe.

So I asked him what was up.

“I was supposed to be in Turkey for four and a half months,” he explained, “but it went horribly wrong after six weeks. Chris Dangerfield dropped out because of death threats from some very bad people and so I’m taking his time slot in Edinburgh – 6.30pm at the Hive from August 1st to 26th.

“I have only had a week in which to prepare my show, so it should be interesting… It’s been a very strange few months, but it’s quite a story. I could tell you more, but I don’t really know quite where to begin and I don’t want to give away what’s in my show.

“My concern at the moment is for Chris Dangerfield. I was dealing with some bad people myself, hence why I’m going to Edinburgh. The difference is they are in Turkey. The bad people Chris knows are in Britain.”

The billing for Matt’s new show says it “features fake Ralph Lauren polo shirts, holiday reps, the Turkish Mafia, Jason Manford’s brother and the bloke who played Tinky Winky (yes, the Teletubbies).”

Unexplained photo of Colin Manford in Turkey

Colin Manford: unexplained important photo

Yesterday, Matt told me: “The photo that stands out most for me from the trip is one of Colin Manford. It was in the stage area at one of the gigs. We did the last show there and were planning our escape via Rhodes. A plan that didn’t quite work out…”

As Tinky Winky from Teletubbies was involved – the ever creative Dave Thompson – I asked him what on earth had happened out in Turkey.

“The situation,” Dave told me, “was that an Englishman who spends a lot of time in Turkey saw what he thought was a gap in the market for stand-up comedy in the Turkish resorts around Ölüdeniz. This was a year ago last June.

“He decided to go full steam ahead with promoting comedy out there this year, with no experience of it whatsoever.

“Instead of trying out a few shows last year to see if there really was a demand for them, he went into full-scale production. He booked nine comedians to work in three packages, all of which would be doing twelve shows per week for the entire summer of this year… His preparations were highly inadequate.

“We were booked for the Englishman’s shows through a British promoter and the British promoter was superb in every aspect. They were completely open with us, giving us the contact details of the Englishman so we could meet him and judge for ourselves if he was worth dealing with.

“I met him in Leeds, when I arranged for him to come to see me in Harry Hill’s show Sausage Time (which was being recorded for the live DVD).

Harry Hill’s Sausage Time became involved

Harry Hill’s Sausage Time DVD became involved in the saga

“I noticed he didn’t buy one drink, allowing me to buy them all in the pub afterwards or drinking the beers from the rider in the dressing room. I got the feeling he didn’t have any money and that the entire project depended on the shows in Turkey being nearly sold out from the start. But, as I love travel and he paid for my plane ticket out there and arranged for us to be accommodated in a villa with a shared pool, I went out there just in case the project was a success.

“I was with Matt in the first group booked and I went out there anticipating the whole thing might collapse fairly soon, but prepared for it not to.

“The first show we did was in front of tour reps and their managers, for no money. The venue had been refurbished at the expense of the Turkish club owner, but there had been no consultation with anyone who had ever promoted comedy.

“Consequently, lots of money had been spent to build a dedicated comedy room that was totally inappropriate for comedy. The sound desk was in a separate room and had no communication with or view of the comedy room. There was no microphone stand. The sight-lines were appalling. The stage was too high and at the end of a long narrow room.  There were no seat backs on the seats, which had been specially made and installed, even though he expected the shows to last for over two hours.

Dave Thompson - no room for comedy

Dave Thompson – no room for comedy

“The room could have been superb for comedy – if the English guy who initiated all this had bothered to consult someone who had run comedy shows before – or even consulted comedians.

“As a result, the large amount of money spent on the room was totally wasted.

“I don’t normally swear onstage, but the show was such a fiasco – with a few fat, thick tour reps who hadn’t paid to see the show – that I did swear on this occasion.

“After the show, the English promoter was euphoric about it, saying it was going to be a huge success. The next day, though, it turned out the tour rep managers were not keen on the show and I was singled out as having sworn. I was sacked a few days later, having only done one unpaid show.

“As I always knew it was a strong possibility the whole project would collapse, I had continued booking work elsewhere for the summer. So I stayed in a different resort in Turkey for a few days and returned to Britain after having had a pleasant week swimming in the sea and the pool every day.

“But it had become clear while we were out there that the owner of the hotel and nightclub where the performances were happening was connected to the Turkish mafia.

“Mafia is maybe rather an umbrella term. But it was obvious that, in certain ways, they were not concerned about the law or the police. We did not have work permits and we were told that, if the police came to the show to enforce the law, as soon as they saw a certain person who would be in the audience, they would leave without interfering.”

I asked Matt Price yesterday what happened after Dave Thompson left.

Matt Price in London last week

Matt Price, armed, waiting for the Mafia to arrive

“For the five weeks that followed Dave’s departure,” he told me, “things really went downhill. Every day was more and more tense. The Englishman was, shall we say, ‘a fantasist’. He was drink driving every day and there were daily talks of ‘killing Tinky Winky’.

“I took the gigs in good faith thinking that it was the trip of a lifetime – and in so many ways it was, but not the way I expected!

“When I said goodbye to Dave Thompson, I never expected to end up on the last night sleeping in my clothes, holding a kitchen knife and wondering if was capable of killing anyone. Cole Parker and me locked ourselves into a luxury villa with weapons waiting for the Mafia to arrive.”

“Weapons?” I asked Matt. “Was that just the kitchen knife or something more substantial?”

“I would prefer not tell you?” said Matt. “The weapons will be explained in my Fringe show. It’s a huge part of the story, as is our escape.

“I’d like to create as much intrigue as possible really, John. You’d laugh if you heard some of the rumours going around about how we had to be rescued in the middle of the night by helicopter, we stole a car and drove to Istanbul, came home via Europe on the train, the SAS were sent in. The list goes on.

“I’ve had to get my show together at such short notice – one week – I’m hoping the mystery behind the story will get people in. All I want to say is that Chris Dangerfield and I have both been involved with some bad people. I just hope that none of the bad people confuse me for him.”

At this point, obviously, I asked Chris Dangerfield why he had cancelled his Edinburgh shows just one week before the Fringe began.

The logo for Chris Dangerfield’s cancelled show

The logo for Chris Dangerfield’s cancelled show

“Due to the sensitive nature of my situation,” he told me with unusual care, “I have decided to explain the situation myself on a podcast which will be aired this week. I apologise to anyone negatively affected by my cancellation, I wouldn’t have done it if I had any other options. Have a good festival and see you next year!”

“What about your sponsors?” I persisted.

“I’ve already had more press than I had last year,” said Chris, “and last year was a great success in this area. My Edinburgh sponsors this year sorted me out with 100 syringes, 100 x 27 gauge 25mm spikes, 100 2ml bottle ampoules of sterile water and 100 alcohol swabs. They are over the moon because of the coverage I’ve already had.

“They are wonderful people – Exchange Supplies. They were set up by drug workers to improve the harm reduction response to drug use. They developed the nevershare syringe – the world’s first syringe designed specifically for injecting drug users – and they also supply injecting paraphernalia. They are involved in harm reduction on the front line of a society that usually prefers to turn its back on its less palatable creations – usually causing a cultural sciatica we all have the pleasure of feeling.

Chris Dangerfield: addicted to strong stories

Chris Dangerfield not surprisingly gets enquiries daily

“I’m also getting enquiries daily,” he continued. “The British Comedy Guide just contacted me, asking about my cancellation and about hosting a podcast about the announcement. I’ll be using such platforms to raise the entire censorship debate as well as the ugly negative gender politics that seem to be doing their best to strangle the last breath from the weary lung of stand-up.”

I presumed this meant Chris did not want to talk to me about the alleged death threats and why he cancelled the show.

“So where are you going to perform it now, if not at the Fringe?” I asked. “It was a good title: How I Spent £150,000 on Chinese Prostitutes.

“This show will not be performed now – ever,” said Chris. “Mainly because it didn’t exist in the first place and it seems pointless to bother making the effort now. Much like last year’s show Sex Tourist, I was just going to wing it and cross my fingers.”

That doesn’t quite explain everyone’s reference to death threats and Chris clearly did not want to tell me any more details, but I look forward with interest to the explanatory podcast.

In the meantime, the whole sorry saga does have some good resulting from it.

Matt Price will be performing his show Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia throughout the Edinburgh Fringe, even if I do not approve of the spelling of ‘Program’. And Dave Thompson tells me:

Dave Thompson (centre) the fake vicar

Dave Thompson (centre) was a fake vicar at a real wedding

“Shortly after returning from Turkey, I was offered a role in Harry Hill’s forthcoming feature film and did five days work on it. I have also had a lucky streak of work since, including being a fake vicar at a TV executive’s wedding and I will be relaxing on a beach in Croatia during August, a long way from Edinburgh and the Scottish weather. Be sure to mention I will also be handling the almost overwhelming surge in orders for my book The Sex Life of a Comedian.”

Roll up! Roll up! Promotion! Promotion!

Everyone even remotely connected to the Edinburgh Fringe in August is promoting their product(s).

See you at my chat show.

THERE IS A PROMO FOR MATT’S SHOW ON YOUTUBE:

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh, Turkey

Mafia capitalism takes the same route as the Titanic on its maiden voyage…

Capitalism with a dash of  socialism to add a restraining touch of morality  is, arguably, the least-worst economic option for running a country’s economy. Certainly better than Communism under inevitably self-perpetuating elites.

But shareholder-based capitalism is flawed and possibly doomed, because its aim is the short-term maximisation of profits for the shareholder rather than the long-term growth and health of businesses in which the shareholders invest. The aim is short-term profit-taking, not efficiency. In that sense, it has the same flaws as countries run by dictators or businesses run by criminal organisations… or, indeed, countries run by criminal organisations.

Which brings me to Italy.

I have just arrived in Milan for a couple of days.

I have blogged about the Mafia before…

According to a report issued two days ago, the Mafia is now “Italy’s biggest business”. But this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

Post-War Italy was, in effect, run by the secret Masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due) for around thirty years: an unholy alliance of politicians, big business, the military, the intelligence services and the Mafia. It was a conspiracy theorist’s most paranoid dream come true.

The real ‘new’ news story about the Mafia’s financial power seems to be that the current world financial crisis has particularly hit Italy and has partially unified the traditional Mafia groups.

In the current economic crisis, traditional banks are reluctant to lend, so many Italian businesses nationwide have been forced to borrow at crippling rates of interest from organised crime, including the three big Mafia groups – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

As a result, the Mafia now have an alleged annual turnover of around £116 billion with reserves of 65 billion Euros, making them “Italy’s biggest bank”.

This is according to a report issued a couple of days ago by Confesercenti, a prominent employers’ association which represents 270,000 small-to-medium businesses. They simply called their report Criminality’s Grip on Business  and it says the Mafia account for around 7% of Italy’s Gross Domestic Profit – and we are talking very ‘gross’ here.

Marco Venturi, the president of Confesercenti, was quoted as saying: “According to our estimates, loan sharking caused the closure in 2010 of 1,800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Right now, Mafia Inc is the only business enterprise willing to make substantial investments.”

That sounds to me like a man with an eye for publicity.

But, basically, if you are running a small business facing ruin and potential closure in the current economic crisis where banks are only interested in short-term strategies, you have few options to try to save yourself except to borrow from the Mafia… which ironically may itself result in ruin and the potential closure of your business.

Small business owners with tight margins and limited cash flow also, as always, face extortion and straight robbery by the Mafia, at a reported rate of one crime every minute.

This week’s Confesercenti report says the influence of various mafias is now being felt not only in traditional strongholds such as Naples and Palermo, but increasingly in the wealthy north of Italy, in regions such as Lombardy – in other words, the country’s business capital of Milan – and the report says the mafias have expanded there with the “complicity” of some politicians, as well as lawyers and accountants.

Again – perhaps especially in Italy – that comes as no surprise.

Another report this week – by Libera, an anti-Mafia association – says the average adult Italian spends nearly 1,300 Euros every year on slot machines, bingo and other forms of gambling. This 76 billion Euro market is Italy’s third biggest industry and the Libera report claims the Mafia have also now moved into what the report calls ‘new’ areas of business such as public health, transport and logistics.

Milan is known for its fashion industry and now seems to have picked up the latest street fashion – criminal organisations running not just Big Business but the country’s infrastructure.

Well, that is the story.

In fact, I think, as I said earlier, this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

In Italy, traditions run deep.

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Filed under Crime, Economics, Italy, Politics