Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Kray Twins and Others I've Met

I moved on from Arthur Horton's bookie office and moved to Albert Cook & Son, 808Wandsworth Road, then a bit later into betting shop work. Along the way I met quite a few 'interesting' characters. The most famous, or infamous, were Reggie and Ronnie Kray, known by most simply as 'The Twins'. I'll start with these two chaps; it was some time around the early to mid sixties.

I was working for a car-dealer whose mother-in-law was a Croydon bookie, Beat Chapman. I worked for her in her Tamworth Road betting shop for a while when she asked me if I'd help her son-in-law, Brian, to learn the betting game. I agreed.

Met Brian and his aim was to add another string to his bow. He thought betting shops were a licence to print money. Not always true, but 'the bookie always wins' was burned into his brain I think.

Firstly he had to find premises. He bought a corner café in Purley Way Croydon, with many factories just opposite. Looked a good site to me. Applied for a bookmakers licence and it was approved. Set about gutting the café and turning it into a plain and simple betting shop, complete with Extel broadcasting installed. I was the 'settler/manager' and employed two girls as counter-hands. They took the betting slips and paid out the winnings. I just settled the bets and kept a general eye on things. Brian frequently helped out during the afternoon.

At about 1.30 one afternoon I was sorting through the early morning slips with my back to the counter. Brian came to my desk and sat on the corner. He whispered to me: "Get on the blower and tell Charlie and Bomber to get here now! The Twins have just come in." I went to look round; Brian hissed "Don't turn round, get on the blower now." He was obviously very tense. I made the call. I simply said: "Brian wants you now - the Twins have turned up." The line went dead.

Four minutes later the door burst open and four of Brian's 'acquaintances' came striding in. I knew Chas and Bomber, but not the other two. I was now able to witness what all this kerfuffle was about. Very smartly dressed in blue mohair tailored suits; pristine collar and ties and expensive looking shoes - that was the Krays. Their Mum would have been proud of them, which, as we all know, she was!

Chas went straight over to Reggie Kray, hand extended and they shook hands - as did Bomber, and then Brian joined the mob. There was much back-slapping and "How you doing?" small talk.

Chas asked Ronnie: "Wotcha doing round these parts then? Bit out of your way, innit?"
Reggie answered: "We're on our way to Brighton but we're gonna miss the first race or two. Just wanna have a couple of bets, that's all."

Brian's face regained some colour; he'd gone quite pale. There was a bit more general chit-chat and the Krays, plus their three associates, left the shop and went on their way. Chas, Bomber and the other two heavies also departed.

Brian was obviously relieved when they'd all gone. He said to me that he'd been convinced the Krays were going to 'protect' the new shop! The Krays knew Brian as he and his Dad had often supplied cars for them. That's all I knew about his dealings with them; it was all I wanted to know too. My business was to look after the betting shop; any other business was nothing to do with me, and that's the way I liked it.

The Krays had about £20 in a couple of bets; they lost. No doubt they could afford it! I met them on a couple of other occasions when I went to a couple of boxing events in London. The Twins were great boxing fans and they were once very well thought of as boxers themselves.

They also liked to contribute to 'good causes' - donating plenty of cash, usually in a very public way. One evening at a boxing match there was a an 'auction' of a few things from the ring. Tommy Trinder, a well-known comedian (You Lucky People being his catchphrase) was the auctioneer. The Krays bid for everything, often bumping the bids up between them! The final item was a huge bouquet of flowers. The Krays were the highest bidders. After the applause died down, they passed the bouquet back to Trinder and said: "Give this to the nurses home, with our compliments".

Yes, they were villains and murderers. They terrified all of their victims. Not the kind of people one would want to associate with normally. However, in many people's eyes they were generous 'businessmen', running clubs, giving to charity and doing good things generally. It's similar to thousands of people who admired Hitler and Stalin, and some still do - sickening though it is to even think such a thing.

Next time I'll write a bit about my time with a Streatham bookie who started life as a sort of 'minder' for a London crook...


greenpanda said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Oh btw the kitten isn't mine - I got it off google images! Lol
The Kray twins have always fascinated me. I think no one is truly 'evil' or bad... even a terrible person like Hitler is capable of a kind and loving act. Thanks

PhilipH said...

Thanks for dropping by. I agree, nobody is 100% evil - but there are plenty who have come quite close to it.

Cheers, Phil

Anonymous said...

Hi .. I have just bought a set of playing cards in a a red book case. Looks a bit like those small bibles. On the spine it says "A Square Deal" and on the cover it says "Beat Chapman Telephone Croydon 5124 (all times)". I wondered if you could roughly date this? After reading your blog mid 1960's I guess. But it has no shop name on it. I found you by googling "Beat Chapman" Croydon!

Very best regards,

PhilipH said...

Hi Mark. I would say 1962-ish or possibly earlier. Beat Chapman was a stand-alone lady and had just the one very small shop in Tamworth Road, West Croydon. I did not know of the cards you've found but I would hazard a guess that they MIGHT have been little advertising gifts for her credit betting business prior to the opening of shops. This would have been for credit customers and for any pub and factory 'runners' to use for placing bets. Cheers, Phil

Mark Warner said...

Hi Philip!

Many thanks for your reply! It's so nice to find out about items I buy! Whow would have know I'd have found out anything about that!

I am NOT trying to plug it but I thought you might be interested to see photos of it. I have it on ebay "Vintage Playing Card Box - Advertising A Croydon Bookmaker Early 1960s" and item # 191614065175. As I said it really is just I thought you might like to see!

BTW I lived in Croydon for 10-15 years in the 80's and 90's. I worked in the NLA Tower (Threepenny bit building) for Hill Samuel for 13.5 years. Well back then I guess most people in Croydon had at some point or another worked in the Tower and mostly for Hill Samuel. TSB really screwed that one up!

I lived firstly above a butcher's on Lower Addiscombe Road opposite a pub that was at the end of Cherry Orchard Road ... I then lived behind the IBM building right on a road leading off form the other end of Cherry orchard Road (about 20 yards) from the tower ... I then lived in Lansdowne Road (I think that's what it is called, it runs parallel to the railway. I then moved to Chandos Mansion in South Norwood ... before I departed the area for Brighton.

Main memories are Beanos (or a name like it) second had record shop, Surrey Street market, the Ship, playing lots of pool and getting steaming drunk in the Labour Club which was (and I guess still is) in a big old house! I certainly do not miss those hangovers!

Best wishes,


PhilipH said...

Hi Mark,

Your eBay listing is most interesting and I am "watching it" to see how it goes; hope you get a few more bids before long.

I knew all the places you mention, especially dear old Surrey Street where I worked during school holidays and weekends for a few stall holders there when I was 10 and 11 years old. I left Croydon in the early 70s and the last time I had a nostalgic visit to the old home town was a big disappointment.

Ah well, nothing stays the same.

Brighton was our nearest seaside town and we enjoyed out visits. No doubt it's changed also by now but not as much as the concrete jungle aka Croydon.

You give excellent descriptions on your eBay items and that, in my opinion, is what sells. Good pictures too.

Wishing you all the best, Phil

Mark Warner said...

Hi Many thanks!! I am now in a sad exile in Eastbourne

Yes, that's how we (my wife at the time came to Brighton .. we were day trippers. And of course it is very commutable to a building right outside of East Croydon station. I pass through it a couple of times a year. I did get out and have a pint in the Porter and Sorter posher and much extended, but still a boozer.

I don't go to Brighton now (or very rarely). It still holds my heart. Lots of things going on and lots of independent shops. But the one criticism is in my opinion it has gone "too gay". When I was there it was very much live and let live and a mixing of gay and straight (both groups were majorly eccentric). There obviously were gay pubs and virtually all the clubs were gay ... but living there you'd drink in the gay pubs or and if you wanted an after 11pm drink club in them. You'd be made welcome, have a laugh and not bat an eyelid. I just found on my last couple of visits that it ALL seemed a bit OTT gay and slightly intimidating. I appeared to be the only straight in the village. So saying I would guess that actually living there it might be a completely different story!!!

I met some trippers from Croydon last year who were down for Airbourne (big airshow here) and they told me that hearing gunshots is quite normal. Unheard of when I was there. I was worried about knives though! Best regards Mark