Because (to be honest) of time constraints on my originality, here is another extract from the autobiography of Malcolm Hardee, godfather to British alternative comedy – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – now tragically out-of-print.
Malcolm was not a man un-acquainted with the law and with prison and detention centres.
When you are taken from court, the police are in charge of you. When you get to the detention centre or prison, the Screws – the warders – are in charge. When you arrived at Blantyre House, the routine was that the Screws said:
“Stand up against that wall!”
Then they just whacked your head straight into the side of the wall.
I watched this through a gap in the door and saw them do it to the three blokes before me. But they didn’t do it to me because of my glasses. So I didn’t get the full treatment. But life at Blantyre House was very hard.
You had to run about four miles with medicine balls under your arms and get up at six o’clock to do press-ups every morning and drill like in the Army:
“Quick march! Slow march! Get in line!”
They had a swimming pool and on May 1st, whatever the weather, you had to do four lengths of the swimming pool. This particular May was one of those cold ones and the swimming pool had a thin layer of ice on it. Someone just forced us all to dive in it. They worked you like demons. I got solitary confinement for two days, in a damp cell on bread and water, just for shouting out: “Bollocks!” at some point during a football match.
I was in Blantyre House in 1968 when the gangsters who were thought to be untouchable were put behind bars: The Krays (Ronnie and Reggie). They only operated in London’s East End and it has become over-magnified how important they were. They were just one of many gangs. The Richardsons (Charlie and Eddie) were operating in South East London and they weren’t quite so high profile. The good ones, of course, are the ones you don’t read about – the Frenches were well known for local villainy and drew very little publicity. I was just on the very vague periphery of all this as they were a lot older and in a different league.
Eddie Richardson was involved in a big shooting at Mr Smith’s, underneath The Witchdoctor. It was a inter-gang thing. They all met down the gaming club and this bloke got shot and was bleeding all over the place from an artery. ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser (the Richardson’s infamous ‘enforcer’) hit a bloke who subsequently died and ‘Mad Frankie’ himself was shot in the thigh. He got outside and the police found him lying in a front garden round the corner in Fordel Road, Catford, where my Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Doug – the ones connected with the train crash – were then living. His mates had just left ‘Mad Frankie’ there. A bit inconsiderate to the neighbours.
No-one outside South East London knew the Richardsons until they were arrested and there was a lot of publicity at their trial about torturing people in a home-made electric chair.
But everyone knew the Krays. As comedian Lee Hurst says, the Blind Beggar must be the biggest pub in the world. Every time you meet a London taxi driver he was in the Blind Beggar the day Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.
Some people say the Krays wouldn’t have been big if there hadn’t been the shooting in the Blind Beggar. But these days people are getting shot all the time. In the paper yesterday there was a bloke shot in a pub in Yorkshire at lunchtime. I suppose The Krays were setting a trend.
The Krays also had that showbiz thing about them. They actually owned a club; the actress Barbara Windsor was a girlfriend of Charlie Kray and later married Ronnie Knight who worked for The Krays; and the Conservative politician Lord Bob Boothby, whose mistress had been Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife, was having it off with Ronnie, the gay Kray.
The film about The Krays was wrong on almost everything, really. I saw part of it being filmed in Greenwich, which was the wrong place to begin with. They’d done-up this street to look like 1934 when the twins were born and there was a scene where Billie Whitelaw was coming out of a door as their mother. I was watching this scene being shot with a friend. We were sitting in a place called Lil’s Diner, a local cafe, where a lot of lorry drivers go. The director was trying to get it right and first an aeroplane went over, then a lorry drove past and then someone coughed loudly and, on about the 5th or 6th take, he got it right and it was all quiet and the light was right and the sun was out and Billie Whitelaw came out the door with this double pram with two kids in it and one of the lorry drivers yelled out:
“So which one’s the poof, then?”
The director went mad.