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.            

Barbra Streisand: Becoming an Icon 1942-1984, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nicolas Maupied.


Barbra Streisand is a bit like the Rorschach-ink-blot test. Ugly or beautiful? Well, my sister, Jo, used to get told she looked like Barbra Streisand. In other words, she had a big hooter. This was the consolation prize you didn’t want to win. Streisand redefined what it meant to be beautiful. If you listen to her feminist fan Camille Paglia not only did she do that but redefined what it meant to be a woman, an outsider and all that jazz. The trouble with this is all the Barbie notions of femininity she so despises, blond hair, Farrah Fawcett features are pretty much my mindset of what female beauty looks like. What no one can argue about is Barbra Streisand had a voice like no other.

If we start at the beginning, she was born in Brooklyn and her dad died when she was a few months old and her mother didn’t really thing much of her daughter. Barbra (she took the a out of her name later) was so thin and anaemic her mum didn’t think she should take ballet lessons. She took ballet lessons. Her mum thought Barbra should go to college. She was a straight-A student. Barbra didn’t have time for college, she’d wanted to be a star since she was four of five and the first step was getting out of Brooklyn and crossing the bridge to the bright lights of Broadway, or thereabouts.  I know it’s kind of daft, but I never thought about Streisand as being Jewish, even though the clues are all there for anybody that wants to look.

She was sixteen when she took acting lessons with Alan Miller, who became her acting mentor. Such was her dedication she took all his classes and followed him home on the bus and continually asked questions. She took a Socratic view of the world. And this continued throughout her career, where at every step she took charge of her destiny. She explained later in the programme that she’d be described as a perfectionist. And I’m sure she was, but she declared herself to ‘strive for excellence’ which was a lesser beast, which allowed compromise, but not with the ‘narrow-minded’ which is the kind of thing a perfectionist would say.

The funny thing about funny girl is no one took her seriously. She went for auditions some marked her talented but ugly, which was much the same thing. No acting roles. The mighty Lee Strasberg who gave us the iconic Marlon Brando, described Streisand as talentless and annoying. Her endless questions didn’t suit his style of learning. I guess he thought her ugly too. Everybody else did.

Sixteen to eighteen, here’s one of those crazy things, 1960-61,  she asks Barry, one of her actor friends, if she could use his Ambex recording equipment and he agrees, even though he doesn’t know if she can sing. He talks about ‘cold shivers’ when he heard her. Yeh, voice of an angel. Her father had been a cantor in Russia and her mother Streisand said was a great singer.

Her voice, not her looks or acting talent is her passport to every kind of critical and successful awards Broadway and Hollywood can fling at her. She’s a world movie star with number one hits and a massive fan base. She directs and produces her own movies. Yentl based on a short story by Issac Bashevis Singer is a showcase of her talent and leverage. Streisand writes the screenplay (with help from Jack Rosenthal, but her name comes first and foremost). She directs the movie. She raises the money for the movie and is the producer. She stars in the movie. It’s her baby and it won awards and made money.  Her voice is amazing, but really, the film is shit.

Streisand, of course, like any icon leaves the past behind and recreates herself. If I remember rightly she had a later affair with Andre Agassi, when he could play tennis and she kept Michael Jackson on speed-dial. Icons do that sort of thing. Her first husband Eliot Gould when he divorced her said he thought she’d come back to him. Icons don’t look back, they’re always looking forward. The next big thing.  Streisand is a real star, but Yentl, get real. If I wasn’t already bald I’d be pulling my hair out. Beauty is in the eye of the moneyholder.


Imagine: Marlon Brando, BBC 2 – On the Waterfront, director Ella Kazan, 1954 and Steve Riley’s award-winning documentary, Listen to Me Marlon.


I spent three and a half hours with Marlon Brando, which is quite a long time for an old buddie like me without falling asleep, especially on a Saturday night, when there’s football on, and I’ve not got a beer in my hand, but I don’t feel that it was time wasted.

I’ve watched On the Waterfront before. Don’t ask me when, or what it’s about, that’s a bit like asking me if I’ve read a book, and I say yeh, and then can perhaps pick out some detail that has sellotaped two neurons together with sufficient force to constitute working memory. In this case, it’s Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) telling his brother ‘I could have been a contender.’ There’s universality about that line that sticks, an everyman truth that if we did the right thing and stuck at it, we’d get our just rewards. It’s a morality play and the American Dream, writ large on Malloy’s face and nothing and no one is going to stop us.

The film is black and white, but that’s not what makes it dated. Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb) is mobster that runs the docks and what he says goes and without him no ship gets unloaded. He’s corrupt because unions are corrupt and, with kickbacks, stop people from working for a fair’s day pay. Yankee Doodle I say to that, because I remember mobsters, I even remember unions, but this notion of a fair day’s pay that really was an 1950’s invention. Offshore tax free havens for money laundering such as the British Virgin Isles, Jersey or London hadn’t even been invented. All right then, London had been invented.  Shoreman lining up for a job, if their face fitted, they got a job, if it didn’t they never. No change there, as far as I can see. I ask myself who the villains would be now? Ask yourself that question too.

Then there’s the question of loyalty and ratting on your friends. Johnny Friendly tells Terry to go and spy on those that want to do things differently, the disgruntled masses that don’t want to pay kickbacks to workshy loafers in their chapel that give nothing back but take everything. Strangely familiar too. That’s not ratting, or grassing, because you’re really for us or against us, and these people are different. That was a theme Ella Kazan was all too familiar with. In Arthur Miller’s marvellous autobiography Timebends he tells how Kazan was asked to appear before the Hoover inspired witchhunt House of UnAmerican Activities to talk about his friends, associates and work colleagues. Someone like B-part player, Ronnie Reagan was delighted to do so. As did Kazan. Miller, his former friend and associate, didn’t. Kazan’s knowledge about ratting and stool pigeons came first hand.  (

I get it, I really do, and Marlon Brando, the youngest actor to receive an Oscar for best actor got it too. Hollywood was open for business and Marlon Brando was the new star and the bright young thing that offered something different from traditional male leads. He was lucky. ‘I arrived in New York with the clothes on my back,’ Brando tells the listener. ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight,’ Guys and Dolls. Brando was hot as Sarah Palin in snow boots. Watch him being interviewed by two young and attractive presenters. It makes your toes curl with embarrassment. But a magazine cover asked ‘Could there have been an Elvis without Brando?’ Another way of putting this is could there have been a John F Kennedy without Brando? JFK didn’t even like wearing hats, that’s how hip the first Catholic president was.

Brando sought a new self, away from the razzmatazz of Hollywood in Haiti. There wasn’t just a Mutiny on the Bounty. He found that the old self didn’t go home. The old self was home. ‘Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man,’ is the Jesuit epigram in Apsted’s 7-UP series.  Luck isn’t always a Lady. A son that kills his half-sister’s boyfriend and is convicted of manslaughter and his daughter that commits suicide.

Brando’s life becomes what he says he most hates – a soap opera. If he didn’t become an actor he claims he would have made a good conman. The world’s greatest actor. Imagine how he felt having to audition for roles such as that in The Godfather. That’s like Muhammad Ali, being called Cassius Clay, and  having to audition for the boxing ring. Then I realized that Ali did have to, when he came out of prison. Brando supported King and the black right’s movement. He was an activist for social justice. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine what he thought of Donald J Trump.

Actors come and go. Brando’s tapes include him boasting about being paid $14 million for twelve days work on Superman. Then, there’s Macbeth’s soliloquy, all actors seem to have it in their portfolio, even the best actor in the world but if you want to hear the real thing then listen to Anthony Hopkins sending up his Shakespearean friends on Parkinson, most notably that other best actor in the world Laurence Olivier. Even the mad Conrad’s Kurtz, in Apocalypse Now would recognise the sentiments.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.