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CRIME WAITS FOR NO MAN: Illtyd Harrington on the Krays, and the legacy of the celebrity gangster

Kray twins, Reginald (left) and Ronald, photographed by David Bailey

Kray twins, Reginald (left) and Ronald, photographed by David Bailey

Published: 23 August, 2012

THE mythical world of the East End is over.

A new dawn has broken.

Triumphant Olympians drink – rather than spurt – champagne like Formula 1 drivers.

Sadly, I must now also record the end of the celebrity gangster.

The underworld has no ruler; no Sherlock Holmes has come forth and there are no signs of that evil genius Professor Moriarty, his mortal enemy.

Even Limehouse has lost its Edwardian reputation for being at the centre of white slave traffic. In truth the funding and organisation of illegal drugs now follows the pattern for corporate capitalism, integrating itself with pornography, and producing a profit of between £4billion to £5bn a year.

There’s probably a board of directors some­where.

Money laundering and tax evasion are the new holy writ of the City of London so step aside any aspiring heir, anxious to become Public Enemy No 1.

I taught the last of the Krays, Gary, a meek and inoffensive boy in a rowdy school of 750 in Bethnal Green, which had tutored his father Charlie and his uncles Ron and Reg.

I witnessed the brothers Kray come on a pastoral visit a few days before their final arrest. New five pound notes were handed out to some of their old teachers.

Later I came across Ronnie, the classified psychopath, while on an official visit to Broadmoor.

They were not heavenly twins.

Murder, extortion, intimidation, male and female rough rape was their trade, and links with the most corrupt elements in Scotland Yard.

The newest episode in this saga is Bringing down the Krays* by Bobby Teale, the grass who put them inside.

Some weeks after my arrival in Bethnal Green, in the winter of 1965, an over-active citizen was rubbed out in a quiet street near my school.

A happy crowd gathered to look at the crime scene. They pointed out the rings the police had made around the bullet holes.

About the hole, a neat piece of graffiti: “The Krays Dunnit.” Poor Ginger Marks had been slain there. Now he is at peace in deep concrete within the Bow flyover.

Senior members of the underworld once only allowed minimum publicity.

Gangland boss Jack “Spot” Corner, after moving to a mansion flat in Edgware Road, got his come-uppance, and departed this life in west rather than east London. An immaculate man, he used the same dry cleaners as myself.

Billy Hill was, according to the popular press, the demon king of the underworld. Mr Hill said: “I’m only a second-hand car dealer off Warren Street.” He was a survivor and with his buxom wife he enjoyed a quiet drink on Sundays in the Grand Hotel, Brighton.

Mr Hill gave only one piece of fatherly advice to the Krays: “Only steal from a thief – they never grass you up.” A professorial valediction from a successful villain.

The brothers from Spandau Ballet – Gary and Martin Kemp – played the twins in a feature film, with that outstanding actress Billie Whitelaw playing their indestructible mother Vi.

The twins were given the best funerals the East End had seen for years; black plumed horses carried them along Bethnal Green Road with the same dignity that carriages go down The Mall.

The underworld in London is rich in literature, but it was Brecht’s version of the Threepenny Opera which came nearest to anticipating the Krays: Mack the Knife was Ronnie Kray. One of the by-products of their absence is that it is very difficult to employ an assassin to murder your wife, husband or partner.

These gentlemen are generally found in the outer suburbs, ask derisory sums and generally botch the job . That is, if the court reports are accurate.

But there is a conclusion to this story. Not to be outdone, an ingenious plan has been worked out by the Labour Party to inflate the bloated pensions and fading personalities of party grandees: they all want to become police commissioners!

Labour has revealed its “untouchables”. John Prescott is a very unlikely Elliot Ness – after all, he failed to arrest Bush or Blair as war criminals.

Step forward Alun Michael, another Blair lackey.

Thrown out by the Welsh Assembly after Blair tried to impose him, a man of little style and no substance, he now wants to police South Wales. Sheep-shaggers, wife-stealers and illegal hymn singers after rugby matches will face his wrath. Friends remarked after he took charge of the foot and mouth outbreak, that he was more mouth than foot.

Even the Krays never claimed to be public servants, although their old teacher Bill Evans, who taught them to box, proposed at a staff meeting that they become CBEs for their acts in cleaning up the criminal community.

An acolyte to my profession expressed irritation – unaware that the silence of the East End is never broken. This is a code stronger than the Omerta in Sicily. Crime, like time, marches on.

• Bobby Teale’s Bringing Down the Krays: Finally the Truth about Ronnie and Reggie by the Man who Took them Down is published by Ebury Press, £14.99


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