The Rise and Fall of the Krays, STV, ITV Hub.

‘Rise’—‘Fear and Fame’—‘Fall. The first episode charts how the Kray twins with a propensity for violence rose from a humble working-class background in the East End of London. We’re on familiar territory here. The wife-beating father, who kicked their mum in the stomach, and caused her to miscarry. But no mention of their older brother, Charlie. Her hairdresser told viewers, she never had the little girl that she craved. Pictures of the twins Reggie and Ronnie shows two cute and dark-eyed babies. Ron caught tuberculosis, a killer then, but Violet brought him from the hospital, and tucked him in beside Reg and he recovered. They were inseparable. In the boxing ring Reg had a bit more guile, and was under-17’s champion of England. Both their grandparents were boxers. Ron was more of a berserker. But they never stopped battling each other and the world. When Ron was sent down to Wandsworth and then sent sideways to a psychiatric unit, what he didn’t know—because  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest hadn’t been written or made into a film yet—was that time stopped. Prison time only started again when he was deemed medically cured of his psychosis.  He never was, but as long as he kept taking the tablets, the voices inside his head wouldn’t always manifest themselves in violence.

Reg did a swap with Ron in the visiting room. Ron pulling on Reg’s overcoat and swanning out. They couldn’t hold Reg, and Ron had escaped. He couldn’t have been that mad after all.

The Krays ran their nascent empire from a snooker hall. They taxed local crooks, in much the same way crooked cops taxed the same crooks and sellers of porn and brothels. Career criminals paid their cut or they got cut. In much the same way, the entertainment industry was targeted. No trouble if the owners paid tax and fealty to the Krays. Muscling in on businesses and taking them over.

The 1960’s director of a film starring Barbara Windsor laughed as he told viewers how a couple of cars appeared and asked about having permission to film on their turf. He said he’d squared it with the police. But he had to employ two of the Kray’s henchmen. He told how a barman who’d charged him for a drink was taken from behind the bar and severely beaten by the Kray twins because the film crew were ostensibly their guests.

The Queen’s Counsel who represented the Krays and Barbara Windsor’s husband told how she was verbally abused when it got into the press that ‘the little sparrow’ of the East End, Bab’s husband was a gangster. But it added kudos to the film. More generally, it added grit to the hedonistic mix of new money and power. Their criminal empire began to shift beyond the East End with the acquisition of a casino and nightclub in the West End of London were the richest socialites and money-class lived and worked. It was in the former Ron hooked up with the upper-class homosexual and Tory peer Lord Boothby. The Kray’s mum, Violet, stayed in the same house they were born in, but the twins brought her hero Judy Garland to have a cup of tea and she crooned ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz.  Nothing could stop them, and more importantly for the media, they dressed well and had that criminal swagger.   

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

As a reader it sticks in my craw that sometimes the film is better than the book (e.g. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ben Hur and Spartacus are examples of the former) but here I think it’s a honourable draw. If you want to save several hours of your life, and don’t fancy reading over 500 pages, watch the film and save several hours of your life. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the twenty-odd-year old Jordan Belfort beginning his meteoric rise by starting a brokerage firm in 1993, Stratton Oakmont. It ends as a morality play after eight years, as all good books do, with the narrator aged thirty-four, older and wiser. Belfort no longer having a starring part in a show he likes and frequently reference, Lifestyles of the Rich and Dysfunctional—he’s arrested by the FBI, having blown millions of dollars, lots of it up his nose.

The subtext on the front page is a lead line to his gargantuan drug addiction, throw in a bit of alcoholism and a penchant for sex with hookers at every opportunity, call it sex addiction and sometimes even having sex with his supermodel wife and their you’ve got it. Jordan Belfort’s story told in a convincing fuck-you voice.

This is what happened he’s saying. My rise and fall—and while it lasted it was a blast.

John Lanchester in How to Speak Money, A Lexicon of Money has an entry ‘bullshit versus nonsense’.   

Belfort puts words in his character’s mouth. They agree that he was the smartest man they’d ever met. Smartest-man-in-the-room syndrome. And Trump, the moron’s moron, does get a walk on part, but only as a figure of fun. A reality host with wigwam hair.   And the young broker, a child prodigy with numbers, wasn’t going to disagree. Belfort quickly figured Wall Street was 99% bullshit and 1% nonsense. A giant confidence trick.  His target wasn’t the common man, but those with money, the five-percent of Americans that were rich or superrich and liked to think they were smarter than everybody else. He realized if he could get past their secretaries and those guardians of conservatism they were reckless gamblers. The would-be broker could coach a monkey into selling them stock in new and upcoming companies. Belfort fixed the market so it was win-win for him and his cronies at Stratton Oakmont and you have the legend, he was like Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving the spoils to him and his merry men (and women) and fuck the poor. Poor being here, someone down to their last $250 000.

There was no Warren Buffet starting Berkshire Hathaway with a $10 000 investment and through prudent investment and year-on-year profits creating a $50 million portfolio and making tens of millions hand over fist from a John Major, Conservative, government then in power. Belfort was making the same kind of money by training his cohort to shout down the phone and not to take no for an answer. Die or sell. Michael Lewis describes it in the preface to Liar’s Poker as a historical trend ‘a modern gold rush, never has so many unskilled twenty-four-year olds made so much money in so little time as we made in New York and London’.  

Belfort establishes what he terms ‘The Life’ was like very early when he spends over $500 000 of credit card on hookers ($5000 a pop) drugs and booze and marks it down as entertainment, a write-down for tax. His second in command Danny Porush and his first trainee, who has almost the same level of drug intake, with drug of choice Quaaludes and throw in suitcases of cocaine and crystal. In the opening exchanges Porush, after swallowing a live goldfish, is trying to convince his boss it would be a blast to have a party and throw dwarves and watch the little people land on their head in a big dartboard thing, probably without the dartboard.  Belfort wasn’t sure that’d be a good idea, but he wasn’t totally against it. A sticking point was liability and insurance.

Here we are December 13, 1993:

‘The next morning—or if you want to get technical about it, a few hours later I was having an awesome dream. It was the sort of dream every young man hopes and prays for, so I decided to go with it. I’m alone in bed, when Venice the hooker comes to me. She kneels down at the edge of my sumptuous king-size bed, hovering just out of reach, a perfect little vision. I can see her clearly now…the lusty mane and chestnut brown hair…the fine features of her face…those young juicy jugs, those incredible loamy loins, glistening with greed and desire.’

‘Loamy loins’ pop up a lot, usually in relation to The Duchess, his second wife. Other characters in his story such as the Depraved Chinaman, Steve Madden the shoe millionaire and Elliot Lavigne, the World Class Degenerate tend to be affixed qualifying labels. While trying to do a bit of money laundering in Switzerland, ($20 million, starting with small tranches of a few million) for example, the banker and master forger both smoke and at some point inhale and don’t exhale. Mixed metaphors and mixed stereotypes make clunky prose. Similarly, his second wife’s Aunt Patricia in London sounds like something out of Mary Poppins. And Belfort makes the generalization the working classes in Britain worship the royal family and can see no wrong in those royal charlatans in horsey- mediocrity-land. Perhaps Belfort isn’t as smart as he figures. I’ve got one word for that, deluded. Or perhaps I’m just deluded?

But the autobiography isn’t about us, the working class; it’s about him and his cronies. What it shows quite convincingly is the rich can break the law and suffer no consequence. This was before the moron’s moron got elected President for doing many of the same things Belfort done. But hey, at least one of them got prison time and I’m sorry it was the latter and not the former. Belfort writes a rip-snorting book. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. You can’t say any fairer than that.  I’m glad Belfort is rehabilitated and doing the right thing. As for the other charlatan…