Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Kray Twins and Others I've Met

It is now early 1960-ish

I've moved on from Arthur Horton's bookie office and gone to Albert Cook and Son, 801 Wandsworth Road, then  later into betting shop work. 

Along the way I met quite a few 'interesting' characters, the most famous, or infamous, being 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.

A Croydon bookie, 'Beat Chapman' was a lady whom  I worked for her in  Tamworth Road betting shop for a while.  I was the only male working in her office; a first for me, sadly.  
Beatie 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 being a used car trader at the time. 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 we 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, surprisingly, 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' with two girls as counter-hands. They took  the betting slips and paid out any winnings. I  settled the bets and kept control of things. Brian often 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, looking a bit 
 He whispered : "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, just get on the blower now!" 
He was obviously very tense. I made the call.  I  said: "Brian wants you now - the Twins have turned up." The line went dead.

Four minutes later the door bursts 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?"

He answered: "We're on our way to Brighton but we're gonna miss the first race or two. Just wanted to 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  associates, left and went on their way.  Chas, Bomber and the other two heavies also departed.

Brian was obviously relieved when they'd all gone. 
He told me  he'd been convinced the Krays were coming to 'protect'  his new shop! 
The Krays knew Brian  and his Dad as they'd  often supplied cars for them.
 That's all I knew about his dealings with them.  That 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 Twins laid out about £50 on 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 with my next bookie employer, John Parry of Streatham. 
The Twins were great boxing fans  and were once very well thought of as boxers themselves.

They also liked to contribute to 'good causes' - donating plenty of cash, often in a very public way. 
One evening at a boxing match in Shoreditch town hall there was a 'charity 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 again 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. They terrified 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. 
They were no angels, but there were and still are worse people in this wicked world.

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...


PhilipH said...

This harks back to 2009.

Shadow said...

They sound like interesting characters, I am curious... I'll wait...

Fram Actual said...

I am not sure who in the United States might be compared with the Kray Twins -- Sam Giancana ? "Bugsy" Siegel ? Tony Accardo ? -- but you certainly crossed paths with the pinnacle of British crime bosses in life and legend, Philip.

I had the occasion to encounter a few mid-level "captains" in the Detroit Mafia/mob outfit during the eras of Black Bill Tacco and the Zerilli Family when I was a journalist in Michigan. One even sat on the board of directors for the corporation I worked for at the time. It was an interesting place to work -- a few people were criminally indicted for failure to register as agents of a foreign government and the corporation dissolved, but that was sort of a different matter.

This was a fascinating post to read, Philip. Did you ever think about moving over into the Kray organization? Had you made such a leap, you might be living on a Mediterranean island now instead of in damp, chilly, foggy Old England.

PhilipH said...

Hello Shadow. The gambling world of yesterday was populated by many 'interesting' characters, much more so than today. Now, gambling has become a cancer in society in that it is found everywhere. Big business governs it all, with the blessing of the government. A betting shop is now a mini casino. People get addicted to roulette, blackjack and dice games that gobble up cash at a rate of knots. It was never like that when I earned a living from it. It's far too easy to lose now and it saddens me.

Hi Fram. As you well know, the "villain" of the piece always has an attraction of some sort. Ask any actor and you'll probably find that they would jump at the offer of playing the 'bad boy' in the next film. It's the excitement that such characters evoke, a sort of dashing glamour, that makes the more interesting than the 'do gooders' in the story. Hope that makes a little sense!

I look back with some pleasure at times gone by and most of the 'chaps' I encountered, however slightly, but never wanted to get 'involved' further. Like so many things in life it's easier to get involved than to get 'uninvolved' - once you're in, you're in!

Strangely enough, I actually prefer the moderate climate to the sun, sand and Sangria climate. I'm a Spring and Autumn lover; the hot summer day does me more harm than good. May sound odd to many, but, thankfully we're all different and unique in this crazy world.

Snowbrush said...

Guys like the Twins often are highly respected for the good they do, but still… Your former business fascinates me for two reasons. One is that I have no idea if you were ever a betting man. The second is that I am so decidedly NOT a betting man that I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket. I did put a single quarter (25 pence, I guess it would be) in slot machine in Vegas once, lost it, and berated myself the rest of the way across the desert to Fresno, California. If everyone were like me, every betting establishment and every pub, bar, and lounge, would be out of business within weeks because they would get NO customers. Come to think of it, restaurants wouldn’t do much bette. In some ways, I’ve been among the wildest guys out there, while in others I’ve been as straight and narrow as they come.

PhilipH said...

Yes, I'm sorry to say that I used to be a bit of a punter, mainly on the nags.

I remember my very first foray into having a bet or three, when I was 12-ish. I got on a train from West Croydon rail station to Epsom Downs - on Derby Day, (it was on a Wednesday in June back in those days). Couldn't afford a ticket into the 'stands' so I joined the crowds on the downs.

Various 'bookie' stands were there too. I was too naïve to know that they were all shysters. I remember having five bets, one in each of the first five races. I just put 6d (six OLD pence) on a horse with the biggest odds I could find. Nothing under 12-1, and a couple at 33-1. All lost of course.

Got home. Showed my Dad the bookie tickets I'd kept with the horse's name written on the back, with the price. He was LIVID. He harangued me about the stupidity of wasting half-a-crown (2/6d) on horses at my time of life. I argued the point that IF one of them had won I'd have been a big winner!

I've not had a bet for years now, other than on Grand National day and Derby Day, and then it's just to have an interest as we watch the races on TV.

I don't buy lottery tickets either. These 'numbers games' used to be how many gangsters in the USA made crooked money, running their own lotteries and fixing the results ... probably all legal now. Odds of over 14,000,000 to 1 against winning the jackpot is definitely a mug's game.

Obviously gambling is a real mug's game, a cliché but also a truism. I earned a decent living from working in the business for nigh on 20 years so that must prove it's a losing game for most punters.

G. B. Miller said...

Fascinating story about meeting two very well known individuals. I gotta say, this is my first foray into reading your blog and I definitely look forward to reading more. I'm always interested in reading about life from other parts of the world and I thank you for sharing it.

Father Nature's Corner

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Small world for my daughter once worked for RUSH salon products in Croydon. She's moved on to better things but her life in UK has allowed ud to frequent UK twice in the last few years.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You might enjoy my December 2010 posts on my second blog linked to the photo blog.