Roy Shaw (2003) Prettyboy.

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.            

Sara Trevelyan (2017) freedom found: a memoir.

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The spiel on the back page of the cover a kiss and tell from Jimmy Boyle: ‘She absolutely taught me how to love’.

Em, as my old da would say, fanny wash.

Sara in contrast has a whole book to tell the reader how it is or was.  ‘At the end of the 1970s, I met and fell in love with one of Scotland’s best-known prisoners, Jimmy Boyle. Our two very different worlds collided in an unexpected way…’

I love books, but gave Trevelyan’s away after reading the first few pages. Obviously, it boomeranged back. Trevelyan would find something significant about that. In her world view nothing happens by accident.  I stuck it in the toilet. I’ve read A Sense of Freedom (don’t remember much about it). And I was thinking about writing something with prisons in it.   What irked me most here was the writing. No cliché goes unused.

‘I spent my teenage years on the sunny beaches of Australia. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined myself living in Scotland and becoming the wife of such a notorious prisoner.’

We know about Jimmy Boyle. Myth and legend, he nailed a guy to the floor over an unpaid debt. Boyle’s crucifixion in the penal system. His rehabilitation in Barlinnie’s Special Unit.

For a bad yin, Jimmy did good. Nice house in the South of France. Property portfolio. Hobnobbing with gentry. Ditched Sarah Travelyan for Kate, a wee blonde Glaswegian. Said he was feeling a bit lonely. Asked Sara’s permission to meet someone else. She tries to be non-judgemental.  If he wasn’t already fucking her then I’m a parrot.  Inevitable, I’d say, but I’m cynical that way.

Sarah Trevelyan (she dropped the h from her name) is one of those open-book types (if you’ll excuse the cliché). The joy of being relatively wealthy is you get a second chance and then a third and so on.  She trained as a physiotherapist. Didn’t make it. Trained as doctor in London. Came north, worked as a junior doctor in the psychiatric wards of a hospital in Edinburgh. Didn’t sit her exams. Left medicine to become a counsellor and psychotherapist.

Every experience needs to be channelled and learned from, if not in this life, in the one after. My reading of this and I’m sure she’d forgive me, because that’s where freedom is, she’s been taken for a ride. I’m OK. You’re OK.

Jimmy Boyle in the Special Unit is a different man from Jimmy on the outside. I’m sure they fell in love. I’m reminded of William Carlos Williams and Jack Gilbert’s different interpretations and  poems about Icarus flying, yeh, he did fly, before he fell, before he drowned. Sometimes we forget that.

Then cynical old me is reminded  of the number of women with access to prisoners, number of women that wears the crown of a real-life specimen of a medical doctor, number of women that say they are in love with the bantam cockerel of the Special Unit. Prison is a place where men don’t grow up until they leave. Jimmy in terms of outside years, remains an adolescent boy. Boy with hard on meets women that loves him. They lived happily ever after and have two kids, a boy and a girl.

After the divorce from Jimmy Boyle, Sara reverted to her birth name is one of the lucky few, let’s call them the upper to middle classes, her mother was a doctor, her father was, in effect, Britain’s film censor.

Prolepsis. Sarah before and after her broken heart went overboard with lots of stuff about bridges and crumbling bridges and pillars moving apart.

Sara flits from one course to another, taking stock and getting ready to face the world. Tibetan treks. Angel therapy. She gets a cottage near the Findhorn Foundation. I like her. It’s difficult not to. And I do wish her well. I send her my love out in waves of stamped- addressed envelopes (refundable). We need more people like her. And, let’s be honest, less people like Jimmy. I know he’s rehabilitated and all that, but he still sounds like a selfish cunt.  He sounds a bit like me.

Let’s finish with something uplifting. It’s not all bad. Black matter may be the most common substance in the universe, that has no substance, but it’s the light of dying stars that show where we are, who we truly are.  Sara in her quest of a new identity and real identity quotes Rama Krishna: ‘The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.’


Robert Jeffrey (2009) The Barlinnie Story.

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I don’t know why people keep giving me books about prisons, gulags and death camps (often the same place) and say things like ‘you’ll like this’. Perhaps it’s because, to nick a quote from the Paul Ferris trial, I’m not fully ‘compos mental’. I’ve had a few drinks sitting in the company of murderers and had pals like Terry Ross who I went to school with and were in and out of prison. A kind of detox from normal society in which he came out fitter and faster.  Total institutions do interest me because that’s where all the bad things happen, but it’s not necessarily regarded as a bad thing, an ethos of indifference that radiates outwards and also inwards. The Sunday Mail, for example, has a front-page headline ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, a lifer in Low Moss. The subtext is look how easy these murderers and scum get it in jail.  Low Moss isn’t Barlinnie. Bar-L or Barlinnie is the Big House. But the narrative was the same for Jimmy Boyle et al and the Special Unit. Prison as lifestyle choices. Them and Us. Fling away the key. And anything that happens inside is too good for them.

Robert Jefferey is a former journalist with a number of books skewed towards Glasgow and its people. The Barliinnie Timeline is impressive. From 1897 when a plot of land was bought for £9750 outside Glasgow and 1882 when A Hall was commissioned. Victorian planners were criticised for spending too much public money and thinking big, but never thought big enough. Cells designed for one prisoner routinely held two or more. Overcrowding from 1897 to the work ending on E Hall in 2007, and when the Timeline ends in 2007 has been, and continues to be, a nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century problem that doesn’t go away. And it wasn’t until the twenty-first century that sloping out was abolished when prisoner began to receive compensation for such practices – ‘lock away a couple of prisoners in a tiny cell for ten hours or so with no access to toilets, hand washing, clean towels or disinfectant and let them defecate and urinate in front of each other’ –  but note these prisoner’s cases went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. It’s doubtful with Brexit that this would be the case now and prisoners would still be sloping out and it would be regarded as too expensive to change things. And anyway throw away the key. They deserve it. Politicians looking to amend Britain’s commitment to the idea of universal human rights comes into the same category of it doesn’t affect us. Policy creep can work in different ways outside prisons as the Grenfell disaster shows.

Voices such as George Wilson a lay preacher that regularly visited the Barlinnie Special Unit are rarely heard and even less likely to be listened to, drowned out by tabloid bile.

What I discovered was that there were powerful people who wanted him [Jimmy Boyle] to fail in order to prove their own theories that the likes of Jimmy Boyle wouldn’t change.

In other words people like us deserve what we get, so people like them can say I told you so. Every programme about Welfare in the title sells the same message. Look at them smoking and drinking. They are other and we pay for them. Give them less. Jail the scum. Propaganda coming from the top from David Cameron and George Osborne which shaped public policy and witch hunts of the poor and working class and below them those that break the law. That shame is ours, not theirs.

The Barlinnie Story is our story but a mixed bag. Duplication not only the narratives of old lags, but of whole pages inserted randomly between pages 50 and 88 and then the same pages appearing out of sequence later is unprofessional and better books than this have been pulped for less. And on page 90, in the chapter entitled ‘Dog Boxes, Chamber Pots and Compensation’ leads with: ‘ ‘sensational’ the natural way to describe the various attacks on staff, rooftop riots and assorted exercise yard rumbles down the year,s ‘[sic] is a slightly turgid way of leading into the practice of sloping out. But really, ‘year,s’? This is a stupid mistake and makes me think Jeffrey has not read his own copy and then the question arises, why should we?