In the inside cover, Roy Shaw, in Acknowledgements, writes BUY MY BOOK…OR ELSE! There were a lot of or elses for Roy Shaw. The Prettyboy—a media tag before a bareknuckle bout. He saw it as a marketing tool, in the same way as Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns or other professional boxers. He was born in Stepney, London 1936. Bullied at school. He found when he hit back at his attackers he’d talent for inflicting hurt. And the adrenalin high was addictive. It also meant he didn’t feel pain. He’d found his vocation. He trained as a boxer with the local lads. A hint of regret, think of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) ‘I coulda been a contenda’ speech in in Elia Kazan’s On the Water Front. Roy Shaw is proud of his boxing credentials. There’s a picture of him haven just beaten Ron Snyder. He was a contender for the Heavyweight World Championship and had boxed against Smokin’ Joe Frasier and narrowly lost on points. But, in a moment of insight, Shaw states Snyder might have let him win. He couldn’t hurt Snyder. His rant was for the little men that wouldn’t let him box and give him a license after his dishonourable discharge from the army. He’d never box with the big boys and was reduced to bareknuckle scraps for a purse—which was still good money. But he’d already served 18 years for armed robbery. Even the quicksilver hands of Muhammed Ali had slowed after his incarceration. Roy Shaw was fighting for money and his new life. He wasn’t going to lose, but neither was he going to win a title bout that offered prestige. Violence was just another job.
A familiar world in which heroes are villains. The ones getting grief are those that deserve it. For example, George Cornell. Roy Shaw had helped him out in a fight in Wandsworth Prison, where they were both serving time.
Shaw describes him as ‘a small vicious little man’. And as ‘one of the chief torturers for the Richardson brothers’.
Anyone that has been watching The Rise and Fall of the Krays will know, as Shaw reminds us, 9th March 1966, Ronnie Kray had been tipped off that George Cornell was drinking in the Blind Beggars pub. He walked in and shot him in the head.
While serving 21 months in Wandsworth, Shaw served time with Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell and George Cornell. All three were killed, he notes, by the Krays.
Feuds are fought to the death. Debts are settled among honourable men. And when straight folk or ‘slags’ piss them off, they too pay the price. ‘Nick-nack-paddy-whack’, for example, a black man asks to dance with his wife in the Limbo Club with predictable results. He was taking a liberty. But he couldn’t understand why an Irishman jumped on his back and was stopping him ‘bashing this geezer’. So he bashed him too. But the Irishman, instead of falling the way he should, fell against his overcoat and got it all bloody. He took that as a personal insult too. He took a taxi to Charing Cross Hospital and asked where the ward was for new admissions. He took a cosh to his head. On the way out, an orderly tried to grab him. He got knocked out.
Saturday night, he explained—running parallel with the normal world filled with slags—was ladies’ night in the underworld. He took his wife, Carolina, out into the West End to meet a few friends at the Astor Club. But there was a ‘bad vibe’. ‘You could cut the atmosphere with a knife’.
Descriptive terms such as this are clichéd. Going head to head with the writer of Lenny McLean’s autobiography, Roy Shaw’s wins by a knockout. Both wave the banner of being No.1 bestsellers. Neither former Guv’nors write their own book. They get someone else to do it. Peter Gerrard, ghost-writer of McLean’s book, claims to have worked with Reggie Kray and Ronnie Knight. He lived a colourful life, but the writing is grey. A familiar tale of I smashed this guy and this one too. Although similar, there is more vibrancy and colour in Roy Shaw’s account. The clichéd storyline apart of bad boy making bad, there are few descriptive dead ends. Shadow writer, Kate Kray packs a few literary punches. Her name sounds familiar. She goes one better than Peter Gerrard. She was married to Ronnie Kray. The Kray industry has a new generation of fans.
Shaw tells how Ronnie Kray came to see him when he was being held in Broadmoor. He’d punched his way out of every prison. Governors were glad to be rid of him and send him on to the locked wards and liquid coshes of another kind of underworld. Shaw admits prison was full of losers and lost time, and he raged against the system. But he’d never come across a friend that asked him to kill him in the prison system like Billy Doyle. When he refused, another patient obliged and hanged him in the toilets. Roy Shaw was classified as a psychopath. Clinically insane, he entered the underworld of the underworld.
Readers fall into the written word. That’s what I do. I’m not a fighter, but a reader. McLean’s book is filled with sentences like flapping geese that make a lot of noise about honour and old time values of a man’s world.
Ronnie Kray, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, came to see Shaw when he was in Broodmoor. He was a visitor. And hadn’t yet been sent to prison for thirty years and shipped off to Broadmoor himself. In The Rise and Fall of the Krays, his associates describe him as evil. He’d goaded Reggie until he too had murdered Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie. Reggie had shot him. And when the gun jammed, stabbed him to death.
Ronnie was homosexual. The arresting officer told how he was found in bed with a sixteen-year-old boy when they arrested him. Reggie was in bed with a woman, but had gay sex too. Ronnie’s Queen’s Council also told that when he was arrested, he declined a meeting with her because he had another meeting planned with a sixteen-year-old boy. Incarcerated for life in Broodmoor, Ronnie dresses the part and had a patient act as butler. As a reader and viewer that’s a crazy world. The bit I don’t get is why a sane woman would enter an institution and marry a homosexual prisoner that is never going to be realised.
Dr Sarah Trevelyan in Freedom Found told how she’d come to fall in love with convicted killer Jimmy Boyle. I kinda get that, but Boyle was getting realised.
In the straight world of the underworld, women are property. Shaw admits he was dreading getting the ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife Caroline. He’d married her when she was a teenager and they’d two kids. When the letter did come, he asked Ronnie to do a favour for him and deal with the slag that was living with Caroline. He was stabbed. And when Shaw was released after an 18 (sentences are pronounced without the years added, for example, the Krays got a 30) freedom disorientated him. The outside world moved so fast. Shaw holed up in a phone box and asked a friend to come pick him up. He couldn’t cope. But his mate gave him a car. Driving was too much for him. But he kept going because he’d a job to do. His daughter recognised him and gave him a cuddle. Nothing like your own flesh and blood. His daughter’s stepfather was holding hands with his wife, and telling her he loved her. Shaw sorted that. He flung him over the balcony. The slag had it coming to him.
In Kate Kray’s written world, cartoon violence has no repercussions. In a world full of corrupt politicians, corrupt cops, corrupt wardens and slags everybody gets what they deserve. It becomes repetitive and deadening.
Shaw’s in the Astor Club. Remember the ‘bad vibes’. A minder asks them to leave. He gets a slap, of course, because that’s what you do. But he doesn’t argue (giving a slap isn’t arguing). He wasn’t willing to cause trouble. Especially, with his wife with him. He slams the doors shut and pulls the shutters. He asks his mate Albert to get a petrol canister from his car.
I’ll let you decide whether he is a psychopath. Shaw poured the petrol down the wooden steps and around the entrance. He set it alight. The place ‘exploded into a ball of flame’. That’s another cliché, but as a reader, I’ll leave it there. Just another night out in 1963, London. There’s nothing Pretty about it. Shaw was rehabilitated and became a successful businessman. He’d have been more dangerous as a politician.