The Kray twins; Ronnie and Reggie. Lovable rogues? Sixties icons? Brutal Thugs? Or, vicious killers?
Were they Robin Hood type characters? Did they rob the rich and other criminals to give money to and protect the poor in the East End of London? Or, were they brutal criminals who ruled London in nearly a decade reign of terror?
Perhaps a new film, set to be released later this year and starring Tom Hardy, will finally answer this question. But first, who were the Kray Twins?
Ronald and Reginald Kray were twin boys born in East London, 1933, to a working-class family. Throughout their childhood, the twins were extremely close and both amateur boxers during their youth, often said never to have lost a match. At the age of 19, in 1952, the twins already had established careers in London’s underworld, known locally for their gang and violence. See here for more on our Kray’s tour, where you can learn all about their notorious reign.
They were called up to national service with the Royal Fusiliers and, within a few minutes, had assaulted a senior officer who tried to stop them immediately absconding. They are known to be among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London, and both were imprisoned. During this time, their aggressive behaviour earned them dishonourable discharges.
Upon their release, the twins turned to crime full-time, buying a run-down snooker club in Bethnal Green, from which they ran a protection racket. They eventually expanded into the nightclub trade, and were seen as respectable celebrity owners. Political scandal caught up with the twins in the 1960s though when a newspaper published that Ron allegedly had a homosexual relationship with a UK politician. However, the story was later dropped, due to threats from the twins.
In 1966, they helped Frank “The Mad Axeman” Mitchell, a former prison mate of Ronnie’s), escape from Dartmoor. Mitchell vanished soon after, supposedly because the twins ordered that he be killed due to reckless behaviour.
On March 9th, 1966, Ronnie Kray was drinking in a pub in the East End when he learnt that gang rival, George Cornell, was drinking in The Blind Beggar Pub, in Whitechapel. Ronnie marched into the pub and shot him once in the forehead.
A year later, in October, Ronnie and Reggie lured Jack “The Hat” McVitie, a minor member of their gang, to a basement flat on the pretence of a party. As McVitie entered the room, Reggie fired a handgun twice at his head, but the gun failed to discharge. Instead, Ronnie grabbed him whilst Reggie stabbed the gang member in the face, stomach and neck. The twins then disposed of the body, which was never recovered.
At this point, the twins were riding high and seemed somewhat invincible though their behaviour was becoming more and more erratic. Ronnie was a paranoid schizophrenic and had acute delusions of grandeur whilst Reggie was in a spiral of depression following the suicide of his wife and was easily influenced by his brother.
Since 1964, Inspector Leonard “Nipper” Read of Scotland Yard had been leading an enquiry to them. Due to a combination of political scandal, the twin’s reputation and connections, coupled with the fear of violence, reprisals and general distrust of the police at the time, evidence was rarely forthcoming.
Finally, in 1968, the police felt they had enough evidence and on May 8th, arrested them, along with 15 other members of “the firm”. Both were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, with a minimum of thirty years (this was the longest sentence ever passed at the Old Bailey for murder).
On the inside, the twins were separated, and Ronnie was certified insane, dying in 1995 of a heart attack. Reggie was released in 2000 on compassionate grounds, suffering from terminal bladder cancer. He died later that year.
Perhaps the twins would not have been remembered if it were not for one man though; John Pearson. Pearson is an author who was hired by Ronnie and Reggie in 1967 to write their biography. During their time in prison, both brothers wrote to Pearson and shared secrets that had gone unsaid throughout their reign.
The result was a landmark biography, published in 1972 “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins”. It was followed by two sequels in 2001 and 2010: “The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of the Krays” and “Notorious: The Immortal Legend of the Kray Twins.”
The forthcoming 2015 film, “Legend”, starring Tom Hardy (as both Kray brothers), Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton and David Thewlis among many other stars is an adaptation of Pearson’s first biography, as was the 1990’s film “The Krays”).
The primary focus of the film will be on Reggie Kray as he tries to control the psychotic tendencies and influences of his brother. During the production of the film, director, Brian Helgeland, spent time with many East End gangsters who knew the Krays, including Freddie Foreman. At the Cannes Film Festival, the script was described as “one of the best” they’ve come across.
The film certainly has us excited, and www.eastendtours.com look forward to September, so we can see if it does the story of London’s most notorious gangsters justice.