Remembering the twins from a safe distance
Peter J. M. Wayne
ESCAPE FROM THE KRAY MADNESS by Chris Lambrianou with Robin McGibbon Sidgwick & Jackson, £15.99, pp. 343 THE ICRAYS' LIEUTENANT by Albert Donoghue with Martin Short Smith Gryphon, £15.99, pp. 242 An East End funeral is always a grand affair. On a cold winter's morning last March, upwards of 50,000 Londoners rose in tribute as the body of gangster Ronnie Kray was borne through their streets, almost in state, aboard a burnished glass hearse drawn by six black horses. Behind the bier, at the head of a motorcade of snaking, flower-bedecked Daimler limousines, the chief mourner — dark- suited, sallow-faced surviving twin Reggie Take cover —fax bomb!' — sat handcuffed to his prison escort acknowledging the crowd's salute.
In the wake of such baroque obsequies, it comes as no surprise to see on the book- stands yet another crop of Kray-related 'revelatory' literature. There are, it seems, a whole battalion of erstwhile confederates only too willing to make an easy buck by 'setting the record straight' on the roles they once played in the Great Kray Saga. Chris Lambrianou's sanctimonious account of his misadventures therein, pointedly entitled Escape from the Kray Madness, is a case in point. Though his publishers pile on the hype about their man's impeccable criminal pedigree (armed robbery, safe- blowing, protection, racketeering and even attempted murder), Lambrianou was in fact only ever on the edge of events as far as the Krays were concerned. But 30 years later, this bit-player steps boldly back into the spotlight to denounce not only his former bosses, but virtually every other member of the original cast as well.
Back in 1967, Lambrianou was charged and subsequently convicted of the murder of Jack 'The Hat' McVitie. It turns out that he had only been an accessory after the event, but nevertheless, through a mixture of fear, misplaced concern for a more implicated brother, and legal misrepresen- tation, he spent 15 years in prison before eventually being released on parole licence in 1983.
So what does he have to say 12 years after that happy day? Very little of conse- quence that hasn't already been discussed elsewhere. Quite the most extraordinary section of his book deals with Lambri- anou's dramatic conversion to Christianity 11 years into his sentence. Close to insanity (by his own admission), doped up to the eyeballs on a mixture of Mandrax and Sodium Amertol (his regular medication), Lambrianou is lying alone in his cell one night when suddenly he sees three men standing in the corner beckoning to him: They looked Middle Eastern and were wear- ing dark raincoats. The one in the middle. .. had long jet black hair and a neat- ly trimmed beard. He had such a clarity of vision I knew he was a man of purpose.
From there on in, the hitherto nihilistic Lambrianou becomes 'God's labourer' on an evangelical mission. He takes a job as the Chaplain's orderly, writes his Meditations, attempts to convert other prisoners . . . .
Well at least he is honest enough to admit he would never have been granted parole had he not 'met Jesus' in his cell at Maidstone Prison. And he does seem to be keeping out of trouble these days, taking tea with his probation officer (who wrote the foreword) in the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, or staying 'at the lovely home of Lord and Lady Lees [sic] in Lychet Min- ster, Dorset'.
Albert Donoghue's book, The ICray's Lieutenant, has no such soul-redeeming features. Unlike Lambrianou, he was close to the twins, working directly under Reggie as his 'chief henchman' for four years prior to that final picaresque denouement at the Old Bailey. Donoghue doesn't beat about the bush either. On the front cover of this visceral testament, he describes himself as the ICrays"final betrayer', as good a name as any, I suppose, for one who stood in the dock looking straight into the Other Two's eyes as he gave the damning evidence that sealed their fate for the next 30 years.
Why did Donoghue 'spin' like this? Had he too received a nocturnal visitation from the three Middle Eastern men and realised the error of his ways? Not a bit of it. For over a year before Nipper Read and his team closed in on the crumbling Kray empire, the trusted and ever-alert lieu- tenant had already guessed it was only a matter of time before the inevitable came to pass. 'What can I do,' he asks himself as the rest of the Firm sail blindly on toward oblivion, `to cut down my eventual sen- tence?'
Taking into account that Donoghue walked off with a two-year sentence of which he only had three months to serve at the conclusion of the trial, his ploy seems to have paid off handsomely. Meanwhile, the others got their 30s and their 20s and their 15s. Donoghue remains unabashed. 'Well, there you are,' he comments nonchalantly before tucking into the excel- lent free lunch provided in the basement of the Old Bailey.
With chapter-titles like 'Thieves' Ponces', 'Big Frank Meets the Big Sleep' and 'Goons for Hire', the reader is given some inkling of the style that lies ahead. However, nothing could have prepared me for the vitriolic way Donoghue lampoons, insults and insinuates on practically every page of the book. How about 'if anyone in our crowd should have died, it was that pair' or 'they sounded like a pair of drag queens rather than London's toughest criminals' or even 'they were educationally sub-normal in the extreme: they couldn't read and they couldn't write beyond a nor- mal six-year-old's ability'? These are but a few random examples.
Perhaps Donoghue believes the ICrays have lost any influence they may once have had. That they are merely the anti-heroes of another era. That he can denounce with impunity as freely as he likes now Ronnie has passed on to 'a more durable under- world than his own'.
Back at his East End funeral earlier this year it appears to be rather a different story. Reggie is composed, as the solemn procession moves off once more. Outside, oblivious to the cold, a boy of about 12 dressed in baggy jeans and Reebok trainers runs by the car's side. There is a passion about him which transcends generations. From the church as far as the cemetery in Chingford he never once drops behind.
Peter J. M. Wayne is currently serving a 10- year sentence at H. M. Prison, Blundeston.