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The Kray Twins

Dec 28, 2021
History
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22
minutes

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were two twin brothers who terrorised London during the 1950s and 60s.

In this episode, learn about how they built up their criminal empire, partied with celebrities, slept with politicians and threatened anyone who got in their way.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part four of our four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:00:29] As a reminder, in part one we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham.

[00:00:39] Then in part two we moved over to the United States and heard about the most famous mob boss in American history, Al Capone.

[00:00:49] In part three we went on the run with John Dillinger, the Depression-era bank robber.

[00:00:56] And in today’s episode, part four, we are going to be talking about the Kray twins, the twin brothers who terrorised London’s East End in the 1960s. 

[00:01:08] It’s a story that involves The Tower of London, boxing, celebrities, politicians, scandal and murder. 

[00:01:16] This has been one of my favourite episodes of this mini-series to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s get started with the amazing story of The Kray Twins.

[00:01:30] Reginald, or Reggie, Kray was born on 24th October, of 1933, 10 minutes before his identical twin brother, Ronald, or Ronnie.

[00:01:43] They were born in an area of London called Haggerston, in the East End of the city. 

[00:01:50] If you go to Haggerston now, you’ll find a trendy area of London popular with bankers and media types. You’ll find hipster bars, fancy restaurants, and high-rise newly built apartment blocks.

[00:02:05] But Haggerston, and the entire East End of London was a very different place when Reggie and Ronnie Kray were growing up. 

[00:02:15] The East End of the city had traditionally been the industrial part, full of factories, meat processing plants, tanneries - so those are places where leather is made - it was where the docks were. 

[00:02:29] And it was very poor, and crime was rife, there was a lot of criminal activity.

[00:02:36] It was there that Jack The Ripper had gone on a killing spree less than fifty years before the Krays were born, it was the location of Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist, and when the Krays were young boys, it was the area of London that would be hit hardest by the German bombs during the Blitz, the bombing of London during World War II.

[00:02:59] The Krays were evacuated from London during the war, they were sent away to the countryside for their safety, and when they returned they found a city trying to get back on its feet.

[00:03:12] They were encouraged to take up boxing by their grandfather, and they both showed early promise, they were pretty good boxers.

[00:03:22] The identical twins were becoming big, muscly men. Not the kind of people you would want to mess with.

[00:03:29] In 1952 the twins were called up to take part in National Service, the requirement to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, but their military career wasn’t to last for long.

[00:03:46] They turned up to the Tower of London, where they were meant to report to join the National Service. 

[00:03:53] They told the officer in charge that they weren’t going to take part, and after he tried to stop them Ronnie Kray punched him in the face and walked back home.

[00:04:04] Now, The Tower of London wasn’t far from where the Krays lived, so they simply walked back to their mother’s house.

[00:04:14] Unfortunately National Service wasn’t something you could just say no to, especially by punching a soldier in the face, and the following morning they were arrested and forced to return to the Tower.

[00:04:27] The Krays weren’t so keen on pretending to be soldiers, and later on that year they again ran away, then when they were confronted by a police officer they attacked him.

[00:04:39] So, after they were caught again they were thrown into military prison, where they caused all sorts of problems for their guards - beating up fellow prisoners, pouring dirty toilet water over the guards, and generally causing mischief.

[00:04:57] After being released from prison in 1954, aged 21, let’s just say that their mischief turned to full-on crime.

[00:05:08] They returned to the area they had grown up in, they proceeded to engage in all sorts of criminal activities, mainly extorting local businesses for protection.

[00:05:20] They formed a gang and ran what’s called a protection racket, forcing local businesses to pay them for “protection”. 

[00:05:30] If a business didn’t pay the Krays, well it might find its owner beaten up, or worse, it might find itself burned to the ground.

[00:05:40] Soon enough, the Kray twins had earned a deserved reputation for extreme violence, especially Ronnie Kray.

[00:05:51] Reggie was considered to be the more calm and composed brother, the one who was able to think on a more long-term basis.

[00:06:01] Ronnie, on the other hand, became known for being incredibly violent and unpredictable. It would later emerge that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but the result of this would be that people never knew what he was going to do.

[00:06:17] Ronnie would go back to prison in the late 1950s after attacking someone with a bayonet, the knife that is attached to a rifle, a gun, and he was actually labelled clinically insane by the prison doctors.

[00:06:34] Reggie, on the other hand, was busy in the East End cultivating the brothers’ reputation and expanding their business interests. 

[00:06:43] They were hard nosed criminals, yes, but Reggie had ambitions to expand their small empire into legitimate businesses.

[00:06:53] In the early 1960s, after Ronnie had been released from prison, the Krays started to use the money they had made from their protection rackets to buy up clubs in the fashionable West End of the city.

[00:07:10] Let’s remember also that London of the 1960s was one of the places to be. 

[00:07:15] The city was being transformed from a grim, dark and undesirable city to a stylish, fashionable world capital. 

[00:07:26] The Beatles were there, The Rolling Stones were there, The Who, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, anyone who was anyone was there. London was the place to be.

[00:07:38] And The Krays wanted a piece of it.

[00:07:41] Reggie, who was the more calculating and business-savvy of the twins, recognised that owning a club in a fashionable area of the city would be a way to legitimise the twins, and it would also be a good way of investing and then laundering the money they made from protection rackets.

[00:08:04] One of the Krays’ first clubs was a place called Esmeralda's Barn, which was located just south of Hyde Park, behind Buckingham Palace, the residence of the royal family. 

[00:08:17] It’s now been demolished and replaced with a $1,000 a night five star hotel called The Berkeley, but I mention this to underline quite how fancy an area it was in. 

[00:08:30] Let’s just say that there are question marks over how exactly the Kray Twins managed to get their hands on the club, and it has been suggested that the pair forced the original owner to sell it to them.

[00:08:44] In any case, Reggie and Ronnie Kray became the owners of this exclusive club in one of the city’s most desirable locations.

[00:08:54] And the stars flocked to it, it was filled with celebrities. 

[00:08:59] Film stars, musicians, politicians, authors, playwrights, fashion designers. Anyone who was anyone would want to be seen at Esmeralda's Barn.

[00:09:10] For a while, the going was good. The clubs were full, the Krays were mingling with the stars, everyone was happy.

[00:09:19] To quote Ronnie Kray directly, “ They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world... and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable…”

[00:09:39] The Krays were now, at least to much of the outside world, respectable businessmen. They were nightclub owners, and they soon opened up several other nightclubs, again in Soho and the West End of the city, crucially far away from the East End, which was the centre of their criminal enterprise.

[00:10:02] Meanwhile, back in the East End, the Krays’ power and influence continued to grow. 

[00:10:10] By this time they had formed a sizable gang, which was called The Firm. 

[00:10:16] Members of the gang did most of the dirty work, collecting money and threatening business owners who either didn’t want to pay or were late on their payments. Everyone knew that it was Ronnie and Reggie who were really in control, and they were treated with a mixture of respect and fear by the people of East London.

[00:10:39] The Krays weren’t the only criminal gang in the city, of course. There were plenty of others. But businesses were happy to be associated with The Krays because they believed this would mean protection from the other gangs.

[00:10:53] Pubs would give the Kray twins free drinks, because they wanted to be known as places that the Krays would go, and would therefore not be touched by other criminals.

[00:11:06] Although many of the patrons of the Krays’ fancy establishments in the West End of the city weren’t aware of the true nature of the brothers' criminal activities, the police certainly were. 

[00:11:18] They knew exactly who the Krays were and what they were doing, they just had no way of proving it, because nobody would testify against them.

[00:11:28] The Krays were so feared, everyone was so afraid of them, that nobody would talk to the police. Whoever the police talked to, they came up against a wall of silence.

[00:11:41] Alongside the police, a newspaper called The Daily Mirror had been looking into the life of the Krays, but for a very different reason.

[00:11:53] Ronnie Kray was openly gay. It’s thought that Reggie Kray was either also gay or bisexual, but he was a lot more private.

[00:12:04] At this time in the United Kingdom, homosexuality was a crime; it was only decriminalised in 1967, and even then only for men over the age of 21.

[00:12:17] An investigative reporter called Norman Lucas had managed to work his way into the Krays’ inner circle, he had managed to become friends with the brothers, and was planning a story on them. 

[00:12:31] During the course of his research he discovered that Ronnie Kray had been in a sexual relationship with an elderly male Conservative politician called Lord Boothy.

[00:12:45] A story revealing all was published in July of 1964 with the headline “Peer And A Gangster”. 

[00:12:55] A peer is a member of the aristocracy in Britain.

[00:12:59] The story didn’t name Lord Boothy directly, but it was pretty clear that it was him. 

[00:13:06] So clear, in fact, that Lord Boothy wrote into the paper saying “everyone thinks it’s me, and I’m going to sue you for libel”, libel being the crime of writing something that harms someone’s reputation.

[00:13:22] Boothy actually won the case, winning today’s equivalent of almost a million pounds, so over a million Euros.

[00:13:29] But as soon as Boothy got the money, the Kray twins turned up and asked Boothy politely to hand over the money, otherwise they would say the rumours were actually true.

[00:13:43] A year later, Reggie got married to his childhood sweetheart, Frances Shea, but the marriage was not a happy one. 

[00:13:51] It was so unhappy, in fact, that his new wife killed herself with a drug overdose just two years into it, throwing Reggie into a deep depression and causing him to turn to drugs and alcohol.

[00:14:05] Ronnie, on the other hand, was suffering from increasing schizophrenia. He had been outed, he had been publicly named, as gay, and he felt that people were making fun of him for it.

[00:14:18] One such person was George Cornell, a member of a rival South London gang. He had called Ronnie Kray a “fat poof” - a poof is a derogatory term, a nasty expression, for a gay person.

[00:14:35] Now, if there is one person you don’t want to insult, it is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of unpredictable behaviour and extreme violence. 

[00:14:46] Sure enough, on March 9, 1966, when Ronnie found out that George Cornell was drinking at a pub called The Blind Beggar–a pub that you can still go to today, by the way–he went straight over there.

[00:15:04] It was ten past eight in the evening, and there were 32 other people, members of the public, in the pub. 

[00:15:09] Ronnie Kray went straight up to George Cornell, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.

[00:15:18] When the police turned up, nobody, not one of the 32 people who were there at the time, said they had seen anything. 

[00:15:27] Such was the fear that people had for the Krays.

[00:15:32] Ronnie and his brother owned that area of London. He could do whatever he wanted, and nobody would dare go to the police and say a word.

[00:15:41] Or so he thought.

[00:15:44] The following year it was to be the other Kray twin, Reggie, who would put the loyalty of his gang members to the test.

[00:15:53] In October of 1967, just a few months after his wife’s suicide, Reggie had paid another member of his gang, a man called Jack “The Hat” McVitie, to kill his financial advisor.

[00:16:07] Reggie had paid him £500 up front, and was going to pay him another £500 once the killing had taken place.

[00:16:17] But McVitie didn’t do it. 

[00:16:21] In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge mistake, McVitie had just backed out of a killing that he had been paid to do, it wasn’t the worst possible thing a gang member could have done.

[00:16:35] But Reggie Kray, who was no doubt still shaken by his wife’s suicide, and by now heavily addicted to drink and drugs, took exception to McVitie’s behaviour, he was not happy at all.

[00:16:51] He invited McVitie to a party at a house. When McVitie arrived, he found Ronnie and Reggie there, as well as several other members of the gang.

[00:17:03] Reggie then proceeded to very publicly and brutally kill McVitie with a knife. 

[00:17:10] This was a step too far. 

[00:17:13] McVitie was a member of their gang, he was one of them, and all he had done was not fulfil a contract properly.

[00:17:22] When word got out to other members of the Krays’ gang, opinion started to turn against them

[00:17:29] The Krays were ruthless, and if they had killed McVitie - a member of their own gang and theoretically their ally - then nobody was safe.

[00:17:40] What’s more, for the previous three or four years, the police had been busy gathering evidence against the Krays. Nobody would say anything, but after the police sensed that some of the gangsters were turning against the twins, they sensed their opportunity.

[00:17:57] On May the 8th of 1968, 8 months after the murder of Jack "the Hat" McVitie, the police arrested the Kray twins and 15 of their associates.

[00:18:10] They proceeded to turn all of them against each other, and successfully managed to get several key associates to testify against the brothers.

[00:18:21] Eventually, in March of 1969, almost a year after the arrest, the twins were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

[00:18:31] And sure enough, they spent almost all of the rest of their lives behind bars.

[00:18:38] Ronnie’s mental health continued to deteriorate, it continued to get worse, and he died in 1995 after suffering a heart attack.

[00:18:48] Reggie was allowed out of prison for a day to attend his funeral and pay his final respects, but he too died five years later. 

[00:18:58] He was allowed out of prison in August of 2000, because he was suffering from terminal bladder cancer. But his freedom wasn’t to last for long - he lived for just eight and a half weeks before going to meet his maker, and rejoining his twin brother.

[00:19:16] They are now buried together, in a cemetery in North East London, a cemetery you can visit today.

[00:19:22] Their gravestone reads “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them”. 

[00:19:31] Well, these were two men who certainly didn’t rest much while they were alive, and it was only when the light of the law shone too brightly on them and they were thrown into prison that they had time to contemplate their actions.

[00:19:45] Neither of the twins, at least publicly, showed any remorse for their crimes, saying they would have done exactly the same if they could and that was just the world they lived in.

[00:19:57] Whether or not that’s something the twins truly believed, one can only hazard a guess, but perhaps that is what you have to tell yourself when you are one half of the most violent and dangerous pair of twins the country, and perhaps even the world, has ever known.

[00:20:14] OK then, that is it for The Kray Twins, the two brothers who ruled the East End of London with an iron first, mingled with the stars, befriended and in Ronnie’s case, slept with politicians, but were ultimately cold-blooded killers.

[00:20:31] And with that comes the end of this four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:20:37] As a reminder, in part one we heard the story of the Real Peaky Blinders, and learned about the criminal underworld of Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th century.

[00:20:48] Then in part two it was Al Capone, the Chicago gangster and most famous mob-boss in American history.

[00:20:56] In part three it was John Dilllinger, the iconic bank robber, and in part four, well that was the story of The Kray Twins that we just heard.

[00:21:06] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:21:12] Which of these four sets of criminals do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:21:17] What do you think it is about criminals, people who are often violent and really not very nice people at all, that manages to capture our attention?

[00:21:26] I would love to know, and to chat to you about it, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:32] The place for that is our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com. There’s a space on there called “Podcasts”, so go in there, ask some questions, say what you think and let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:52] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part four of our four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:00:29] As a reminder, in part one we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham.

[00:00:39] Then in part two we moved over to the United States and heard about the most famous mob boss in American history, Al Capone.

[00:00:49] In part three we went on the run with John Dillinger, the Depression-era bank robber.

[00:00:56] And in today’s episode, part four, we are going to be talking about the Kray twins, the twin brothers who terrorised London’s East End in the 1960s. 

[00:01:08] It’s a story that involves The Tower of London, boxing, celebrities, politicians, scandal and murder. 

[00:01:16] This has been one of my favourite episodes of this mini-series to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s get started with the amazing story of The Kray Twins.

[00:01:30] Reginald, or Reggie, Kray was born on 24th October, of 1933, 10 minutes before his identical twin brother, Ronald, or Ronnie.

[00:01:43] They were born in an area of London called Haggerston, in the East End of the city. 

[00:01:50] If you go to Haggerston now, you’ll find a trendy area of London popular with bankers and media types. You’ll find hipster bars, fancy restaurants, and high-rise newly built apartment blocks.

[00:02:05] But Haggerston, and the entire East End of London was a very different place when Reggie and Ronnie Kray were growing up. 

[00:02:15] The East End of the city had traditionally been the industrial part, full of factories, meat processing plants, tanneries - so those are places where leather is made - it was where the docks were. 

[00:02:29] And it was very poor, and crime was rife, there was a lot of criminal activity.

[00:02:36] It was there that Jack The Ripper had gone on a killing spree less than fifty years before the Krays were born, it was the location of Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist, and when the Krays were young boys, it was the area of London that would be hit hardest by the German bombs during the Blitz, the bombing of London during World War II.

[00:02:59] The Krays were evacuated from London during the war, they were sent away to the countryside for their safety, and when they returned they found a city trying to get back on its feet.

[00:03:12] They were encouraged to take up boxing by their grandfather, and they both showed early promise, they were pretty good boxers.

[00:03:22] The identical twins were becoming big, muscly men. Not the kind of people you would want to mess with.

[00:03:29] In 1952 the twins were called up to take part in National Service, the requirement to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, but their military career wasn’t to last for long.

[00:03:46] They turned up to the Tower of London, where they were meant to report to join the National Service. 

[00:03:53] They told the officer in charge that they weren’t going to take part, and after he tried to stop them Ronnie Kray punched him in the face and walked back home.

[00:04:04] Now, The Tower of London wasn’t far from where the Krays lived, so they simply walked back to their mother’s house.

[00:04:14] Unfortunately National Service wasn’t something you could just say no to, especially by punching a soldier in the face, and the following morning they were arrested and forced to return to the Tower.

[00:04:27] The Krays weren’t so keen on pretending to be soldiers, and later on that year they again ran away, then when they were confronted by a police officer they attacked him.

[00:04:39] So, after they were caught again they were thrown into military prison, where they caused all sorts of problems for their guards - beating up fellow prisoners, pouring dirty toilet water over the guards, and generally causing mischief.

[00:04:57] After being released from prison in 1954, aged 21, let’s just say that their mischief turned to full-on crime.

[00:05:08] They returned to the area they had grown up in, they proceeded to engage in all sorts of criminal activities, mainly extorting local businesses for protection.

[00:05:20] They formed a gang and ran what’s called a protection racket, forcing local businesses to pay them for “protection”. 

[00:05:30] If a business didn’t pay the Krays, well it might find its owner beaten up, or worse, it might find itself burned to the ground.

[00:05:40] Soon enough, the Kray twins had earned a deserved reputation for extreme violence, especially Ronnie Kray.

[00:05:51] Reggie was considered to be the more calm and composed brother, the one who was able to think on a more long-term basis.

[00:06:01] Ronnie, on the other hand, became known for being incredibly violent and unpredictable. It would later emerge that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but the result of this would be that people never knew what he was going to do.

[00:06:17] Ronnie would go back to prison in the late 1950s after attacking someone with a bayonet, the knife that is attached to a rifle, a gun, and he was actually labelled clinically insane by the prison doctors.

[00:06:34] Reggie, on the other hand, was busy in the East End cultivating the brothers’ reputation and expanding their business interests. 

[00:06:43] They were hard nosed criminals, yes, but Reggie had ambitions to expand their small empire into legitimate businesses.

[00:06:53] In the early 1960s, after Ronnie had been released from prison, the Krays started to use the money they had made from their protection rackets to buy up clubs in the fashionable West End of the city.

[00:07:10] Let’s remember also that London of the 1960s was one of the places to be. 

[00:07:15] The city was being transformed from a grim, dark and undesirable city to a stylish, fashionable world capital. 

[00:07:26] The Beatles were there, The Rolling Stones were there, The Who, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, anyone who was anyone was there. London was the place to be.

[00:07:38] And The Krays wanted a piece of it.

[00:07:41] Reggie, who was the more calculating and business-savvy of the twins, recognised that owning a club in a fashionable area of the city would be a way to legitimise the twins, and it would also be a good way of investing and then laundering the money they made from protection rackets.

[00:08:04] One of the Krays’ first clubs was a place called Esmeralda's Barn, which was located just south of Hyde Park, behind Buckingham Palace, the residence of the royal family. 

[00:08:17] It’s now been demolished and replaced with a $1,000 a night five star hotel called The Berkeley, but I mention this to underline quite how fancy an area it was in. 

[00:08:30] Let’s just say that there are question marks over how exactly the Kray Twins managed to get their hands on the club, and it has been suggested that the pair forced the original owner to sell it to them.

[00:08:44] In any case, Reggie and Ronnie Kray became the owners of this exclusive club in one of the city’s most desirable locations.

[00:08:54] And the stars flocked to it, it was filled with celebrities. 

[00:08:59] Film stars, musicians, politicians, authors, playwrights, fashion designers. Anyone who was anyone would want to be seen at Esmeralda's Barn.

[00:09:10] For a while, the going was good. The clubs were full, the Krays were mingling with the stars, everyone was happy.

[00:09:19] To quote Ronnie Kray directly, “ They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world... and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable…”

[00:09:39] The Krays were now, at least to much of the outside world, respectable businessmen. They were nightclub owners, and they soon opened up several other nightclubs, again in Soho and the West End of the city, crucially far away from the East End, which was the centre of their criminal enterprise.

[00:10:02] Meanwhile, back in the East End, the Krays’ power and influence continued to grow. 

[00:10:10] By this time they had formed a sizable gang, which was called The Firm. 

[00:10:16] Members of the gang did most of the dirty work, collecting money and threatening business owners who either didn’t want to pay or were late on their payments. Everyone knew that it was Ronnie and Reggie who were really in control, and they were treated with a mixture of respect and fear by the people of East London.

[00:10:39] The Krays weren’t the only criminal gang in the city, of course. There were plenty of others. But businesses were happy to be associated with The Krays because they believed this would mean protection from the other gangs.

[00:10:53] Pubs would give the Kray twins free drinks, because they wanted to be known as places that the Krays would go, and would therefore not be touched by other criminals.

[00:11:06] Although many of the patrons of the Krays’ fancy establishments in the West End of the city weren’t aware of the true nature of the brothers' criminal activities, the police certainly were. 

[00:11:18] They knew exactly who the Krays were and what they were doing, they just had no way of proving it, because nobody would testify against them.

[00:11:28] The Krays were so feared, everyone was so afraid of them, that nobody would talk to the police. Whoever the police talked to, they came up against a wall of silence.

[00:11:41] Alongside the police, a newspaper called The Daily Mirror had been looking into the life of the Krays, but for a very different reason.

[00:11:53] Ronnie Kray was openly gay. It’s thought that Reggie Kray was either also gay or bisexual, but he was a lot more private.

[00:12:04] At this time in the United Kingdom, homosexuality was a crime; it was only decriminalised in 1967, and even then only for men over the age of 21.

[00:12:17] An investigative reporter called Norman Lucas had managed to work his way into the Krays’ inner circle, he had managed to become friends with the brothers, and was planning a story on them. 

[00:12:31] During the course of his research he discovered that Ronnie Kray had been in a sexual relationship with an elderly male Conservative politician called Lord Boothy.

[00:12:45] A story revealing all was published in July of 1964 with the headline “Peer And A Gangster”. 

[00:12:55] A peer is a member of the aristocracy in Britain.

[00:12:59] The story didn’t name Lord Boothy directly, but it was pretty clear that it was him. 

[00:13:06] So clear, in fact, that Lord Boothy wrote into the paper saying “everyone thinks it’s me, and I’m going to sue you for libel”, libel being the crime of writing something that harms someone’s reputation.

[00:13:22] Boothy actually won the case, winning today’s equivalent of almost a million pounds, so over a million Euros.

[00:13:29] But as soon as Boothy got the money, the Kray twins turned up and asked Boothy politely to hand over the money, otherwise they would say the rumours were actually true.

[00:13:43] A year later, Reggie got married to his childhood sweetheart, Frances Shea, but the marriage was not a happy one. 

[00:13:51] It was so unhappy, in fact, that his new wife killed herself with a drug overdose just two years into it, throwing Reggie into a deep depression and causing him to turn to drugs and alcohol.

[00:14:05] Ronnie, on the other hand, was suffering from increasing schizophrenia. He had been outed, he had been publicly named, as gay, and he felt that people were making fun of him for it.

[00:14:18] One such person was George Cornell, a member of a rival South London gang. He had called Ronnie Kray a “fat poof” - a poof is a derogatory term, a nasty expression, for a gay person.

[00:14:35] Now, if there is one person you don’t want to insult, it is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of unpredictable behaviour and extreme violence. 

[00:14:46] Sure enough, on March 9, 1966, when Ronnie found out that George Cornell was drinking at a pub called The Blind Beggar–a pub that you can still go to today, by the way–he went straight over there.

[00:15:04] It was ten past eight in the evening, and there were 32 other people, members of the public, in the pub. 

[00:15:09] Ronnie Kray went straight up to George Cornell, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.

[00:15:18] When the police turned up, nobody, not one of the 32 people who were there at the time, said they had seen anything. 

[00:15:27] Such was the fear that people had for the Krays.

[00:15:32] Ronnie and his brother owned that area of London. He could do whatever he wanted, and nobody would dare go to the police and say a word.

[00:15:41] Or so he thought.

[00:15:44] The following year it was to be the other Kray twin, Reggie, who would put the loyalty of his gang members to the test.

[00:15:53] In October of 1967, just a few months after his wife’s suicide, Reggie had paid another member of his gang, a man called Jack “The Hat” McVitie, to kill his financial advisor.

[00:16:07] Reggie had paid him £500 up front, and was going to pay him another £500 once the killing had taken place.

[00:16:17] But McVitie didn’t do it. 

[00:16:21] In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge mistake, McVitie had just backed out of a killing that he had been paid to do, it wasn’t the worst possible thing a gang member could have done.

[00:16:35] But Reggie Kray, who was no doubt still shaken by his wife’s suicide, and by now heavily addicted to drink and drugs, took exception to McVitie’s behaviour, he was not happy at all.

[00:16:51] He invited McVitie to a party at a house. When McVitie arrived, he found Ronnie and Reggie there, as well as several other members of the gang.

[00:17:03] Reggie then proceeded to very publicly and brutally kill McVitie with a knife. 

[00:17:10] This was a step too far. 

[00:17:13] McVitie was a member of their gang, he was one of them, and all he had done was not fulfil a contract properly.

[00:17:22] When word got out to other members of the Krays’ gang, opinion started to turn against them

[00:17:29] The Krays were ruthless, and if they had killed McVitie - a member of their own gang and theoretically their ally - then nobody was safe.

[00:17:40] What’s more, for the previous three or four years, the police had been busy gathering evidence against the Krays. Nobody would say anything, but after the police sensed that some of the gangsters were turning against the twins, they sensed their opportunity.

[00:17:57] On May the 8th of 1968, 8 months after the murder of Jack "the Hat" McVitie, the police arrested the Kray twins and 15 of their associates.

[00:18:10] They proceeded to turn all of them against each other, and successfully managed to get several key associates to testify against the brothers.

[00:18:21] Eventually, in March of 1969, almost a year after the arrest, the twins were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

[00:18:31] And sure enough, they spent almost all of the rest of their lives behind bars.

[00:18:38] Ronnie’s mental health continued to deteriorate, it continued to get worse, and he died in 1995 after suffering a heart attack.

[00:18:48] Reggie was allowed out of prison for a day to attend his funeral and pay his final respects, but he too died five years later. 

[00:18:58] He was allowed out of prison in August of 2000, because he was suffering from terminal bladder cancer. But his freedom wasn’t to last for long - he lived for just eight and a half weeks before going to meet his maker, and rejoining his twin brother.

[00:19:16] They are now buried together, in a cemetery in North East London, a cemetery you can visit today.

[00:19:22] Their gravestone reads “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them”. 

[00:19:31] Well, these were two men who certainly didn’t rest much while they were alive, and it was only when the light of the law shone too brightly on them and they were thrown into prison that they had time to contemplate their actions.

[00:19:45] Neither of the twins, at least publicly, showed any remorse for their crimes, saying they would have done exactly the same if they could and that was just the world they lived in.

[00:19:57] Whether or not that’s something the twins truly believed, one can only hazard a guess, but perhaps that is what you have to tell yourself when you are one half of the most violent and dangerous pair of twins the country, and perhaps even the world, has ever known.

[00:20:14] OK then, that is it for The Kray Twins, the two brothers who ruled the East End of London with an iron first, mingled with the stars, befriended and in Ronnie’s case, slept with politicians, but were ultimately cold-blooded killers.

[00:20:31] And with that comes the end of this four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:20:37] As a reminder, in part one we heard the story of the Real Peaky Blinders, and learned about the criminal underworld of Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th century.

[00:20:48] Then in part two it was Al Capone, the Chicago gangster and most famous mob-boss in American history.

[00:20:56] In part three it was John Dilllinger, the iconic bank robber, and in part four, well that was the story of The Kray Twins that we just heard.

[00:21:06] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:21:12] Which of these four sets of criminals do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:21:17] What do you think it is about criminals, people who are often violent and really not very nice people at all, that manages to capture our attention?

[00:21:26] I would love to know, and to chat to you about it, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:32] The place for that is our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com. There’s a space on there called “Podcasts”, so go in there, ask some questions, say what you think and let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:52] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part four of our four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:00:29] As a reminder, in part one we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham.

[00:00:39] Then in part two we moved over to the United States and heard about the most famous mob boss in American history, Al Capone.

[00:00:49] In part three we went on the run with John Dillinger, the Depression-era bank robber.

[00:00:56] And in today’s episode, part four, we are going to be talking about the Kray twins, the twin brothers who terrorised London’s East End in the 1960s. 

[00:01:08] It’s a story that involves The Tower of London, boxing, celebrities, politicians, scandal and murder. 

[00:01:16] This has been one of my favourite episodes of this mini-series to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s get started with the amazing story of The Kray Twins.

[00:01:30] Reginald, or Reggie, Kray was born on 24th October, of 1933, 10 minutes before his identical twin brother, Ronald, or Ronnie.

[00:01:43] They were born in an area of London called Haggerston, in the East End of the city. 

[00:01:50] If you go to Haggerston now, you’ll find a trendy area of London popular with bankers and media types. You’ll find hipster bars, fancy restaurants, and high-rise newly built apartment blocks.

[00:02:05] But Haggerston, and the entire East End of London was a very different place when Reggie and Ronnie Kray were growing up. 

[00:02:15] The East End of the city had traditionally been the industrial part, full of factories, meat processing plants, tanneries - so those are places where leather is made - it was where the docks were. 

[00:02:29] And it was very poor, and crime was rife, there was a lot of criminal activity.

[00:02:36] It was there that Jack The Ripper had gone on a killing spree less than fifty years before the Krays were born, it was the location of Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist, and when the Krays were young boys, it was the area of London that would be hit hardest by the German bombs during the Blitz, the bombing of London during World War II.

[00:02:59] The Krays were evacuated from London during the war, they were sent away to the countryside for their safety, and when they returned they found a city trying to get back on its feet.

[00:03:12] They were encouraged to take up boxing by their grandfather, and they both showed early promise, they were pretty good boxers.

[00:03:22] The identical twins were becoming big, muscly men. Not the kind of people you would want to mess with.

[00:03:29] In 1952 the twins were called up to take part in National Service, the requirement to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, but their military career wasn’t to last for long.

[00:03:46] They turned up to the Tower of London, where they were meant to report to join the National Service. 

[00:03:53] They told the officer in charge that they weren’t going to take part, and after he tried to stop them Ronnie Kray punched him in the face and walked back home.

[00:04:04] Now, The Tower of London wasn’t far from where the Krays lived, so they simply walked back to their mother’s house.

[00:04:14] Unfortunately National Service wasn’t something you could just say no to, especially by punching a soldier in the face, and the following morning they were arrested and forced to return to the Tower.

[00:04:27] The Krays weren’t so keen on pretending to be soldiers, and later on that year they again ran away, then when they were confronted by a police officer they attacked him.

[00:04:39] So, after they were caught again they were thrown into military prison, where they caused all sorts of problems for their guards - beating up fellow prisoners, pouring dirty toilet water over the guards, and generally causing mischief.

[00:04:57] After being released from prison in 1954, aged 21, let’s just say that their mischief turned to full-on crime.

[00:05:08] They returned to the area they had grown up in, they proceeded to engage in all sorts of criminal activities, mainly extorting local businesses for protection.

[00:05:20] They formed a gang and ran what’s called a protection racket, forcing local businesses to pay them for “protection”. 

[00:05:30] If a business didn’t pay the Krays, well it might find its owner beaten up, or worse, it might find itself burned to the ground.

[00:05:40] Soon enough, the Kray twins had earned a deserved reputation for extreme violence, especially Ronnie Kray.

[00:05:51] Reggie was considered to be the more calm and composed brother, the one who was able to think on a more long-term basis.

[00:06:01] Ronnie, on the other hand, became known for being incredibly violent and unpredictable. It would later emerge that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but the result of this would be that people never knew what he was going to do.

[00:06:17] Ronnie would go back to prison in the late 1950s after attacking someone with a bayonet, the knife that is attached to a rifle, a gun, and he was actually labelled clinically insane by the prison doctors.

[00:06:34] Reggie, on the other hand, was busy in the East End cultivating the brothers’ reputation and expanding their business interests. 

[00:06:43] They were hard nosed criminals, yes, but Reggie had ambitions to expand their small empire into legitimate businesses.

[00:06:53] In the early 1960s, after Ronnie had been released from prison, the Krays started to use the money they had made from their protection rackets to buy up clubs in the fashionable West End of the city.

[00:07:10] Let’s remember also that London of the 1960s was one of the places to be. 

[00:07:15] The city was being transformed from a grim, dark and undesirable city to a stylish, fashionable world capital. 

[00:07:26] The Beatles were there, The Rolling Stones were there, The Who, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, anyone who was anyone was there. London was the place to be.

[00:07:38] And The Krays wanted a piece of it.

[00:07:41] Reggie, who was the more calculating and business-savvy of the twins, recognised that owning a club in a fashionable area of the city would be a way to legitimise the twins, and it would also be a good way of investing and then laundering the money they made from protection rackets.

[00:08:04] One of the Krays’ first clubs was a place called Esmeralda's Barn, which was located just south of Hyde Park, behind Buckingham Palace, the residence of the royal family. 

[00:08:17] It’s now been demolished and replaced with a $1,000 a night five star hotel called The Berkeley, but I mention this to underline quite how fancy an area it was in. 

[00:08:30] Let’s just say that there are question marks over how exactly the Kray Twins managed to get their hands on the club, and it has been suggested that the pair forced the original owner to sell it to them.

[00:08:44] In any case, Reggie and Ronnie Kray became the owners of this exclusive club in one of the city’s most desirable locations.

[00:08:54] And the stars flocked to it, it was filled with celebrities. 

[00:08:59] Film stars, musicians, politicians, authors, playwrights, fashion designers. Anyone who was anyone would want to be seen at Esmeralda's Barn.

[00:09:10] For a while, the going was good. The clubs were full, the Krays were mingling with the stars, everyone was happy.

[00:09:19] To quote Ronnie Kray directly, “ They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world... and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable…”

[00:09:39] The Krays were now, at least to much of the outside world, respectable businessmen. They were nightclub owners, and they soon opened up several other nightclubs, again in Soho and the West End of the city, crucially far away from the East End, which was the centre of their criminal enterprise.

[00:10:02] Meanwhile, back in the East End, the Krays’ power and influence continued to grow. 

[00:10:10] By this time they had formed a sizable gang, which was called The Firm. 

[00:10:16] Members of the gang did most of the dirty work, collecting money and threatening business owners who either didn’t want to pay or were late on their payments. Everyone knew that it was Ronnie and Reggie who were really in control, and they were treated with a mixture of respect and fear by the people of East London.

[00:10:39] The Krays weren’t the only criminal gang in the city, of course. There were plenty of others. But businesses were happy to be associated with The Krays because they believed this would mean protection from the other gangs.

[00:10:53] Pubs would give the Kray twins free drinks, because they wanted to be known as places that the Krays would go, and would therefore not be touched by other criminals.

[00:11:06] Although many of the patrons of the Krays’ fancy establishments in the West End of the city weren’t aware of the true nature of the brothers' criminal activities, the police certainly were. 

[00:11:18] They knew exactly who the Krays were and what they were doing, they just had no way of proving it, because nobody would testify against them.

[00:11:28] The Krays were so feared, everyone was so afraid of them, that nobody would talk to the police. Whoever the police talked to, they came up against a wall of silence.

[00:11:41] Alongside the police, a newspaper called The Daily Mirror had been looking into the life of the Krays, but for a very different reason.

[00:11:53] Ronnie Kray was openly gay. It’s thought that Reggie Kray was either also gay or bisexual, but he was a lot more private.

[00:12:04] At this time in the United Kingdom, homosexuality was a crime; it was only decriminalised in 1967, and even then only for men over the age of 21.

[00:12:17] An investigative reporter called Norman Lucas had managed to work his way into the Krays’ inner circle, he had managed to become friends with the brothers, and was planning a story on them. 

[00:12:31] During the course of his research he discovered that Ronnie Kray had been in a sexual relationship with an elderly male Conservative politician called Lord Boothy.

[00:12:45] A story revealing all was published in July of 1964 with the headline “Peer And A Gangster”. 

[00:12:55] A peer is a member of the aristocracy in Britain.

[00:12:59] The story didn’t name Lord Boothy directly, but it was pretty clear that it was him. 

[00:13:06] So clear, in fact, that Lord Boothy wrote into the paper saying “everyone thinks it’s me, and I’m going to sue you for libel”, libel being the crime of writing something that harms someone’s reputation.

[00:13:22] Boothy actually won the case, winning today’s equivalent of almost a million pounds, so over a million Euros.

[00:13:29] But as soon as Boothy got the money, the Kray twins turned up and asked Boothy politely to hand over the money, otherwise they would say the rumours were actually true.

[00:13:43] A year later, Reggie got married to his childhood sweetheart, Frances Shea, but the marriage was not a happy one. 

[00:13:51] It was so unhappy, in fact, that his new wife killed herself with a drug overdose just two years into it, throwing Reggie into a deep depression and causing him to turn to drugs and alcohol.

[00:14:05] Ronnie, on the other hand, was suffering from increasing schizophrenia. He had been outed, he had been publicly named, as gay, and he felt that people were making fun of him for it.

[00:14:18] One such person was George Cornell, a member of a rival South London gang. He had called Ronnie Kray a “fat poof” - a poof is a derogatory term, a nasty expression, for a gay person.

[00:14:35] Now, if there is one person you don’t want to insult, it is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of unpredictable behaviour and extreme violence. 

[00:14:46] Sure enough, on March 9, 1966, when Ronnie found out that George Cornell was drinking at a pub called The Blind Beggar–a pub that you can still go to today, by the way–he went straight over there.

[00:15:04] It was ten past eight in the evening, and there were 32 other people, members of the public, in the pub. 

[00:15:09] Ronnie Kray went straight up to George Cornell, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.

[00:15:18] When the police turned up, nobody, not one of the 32 people who were there at the time, said they had seen anything. 

[00:15:27] Such was the fear that people had for the Krays.

[00:15:32] Ronnie and his brother owned that area of London. He could do whatever he wanted, and nobody would dare go to the police and say a word.

[00:15:41] Or so he thought.

[00:15:44] The following year it was to be the other Kray twin, Reggie, who would put the loyalty of his gang members to the test.

[00:15:53] In October of 1967, just a few months after his wife’s suicide, Reggie had paid another member of his gang, a man called Jack “The Hat” McVitie, to kill his financial advisor.

[00:16:07] Reggie had paid him £500 up front, and was going to pay him another £500 once the killing had taken place.

[00:16:17] But McVitie didn’t do it. 

[00:16:21] In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge mistake, McVitie had just backed out of a killing that he had been paid to do, it wasn’t the worst possible thing a gang member could have done.

[00:16:35] But Reggie Kray, who was no doubt still shaken by his wife’s suicide, and by now heavily addicted to drink and drugs, took exception to McVitie’s behaviour, he was not happy at all.

[00:16:51] He invited McVitie to a party at a house. When McVitie arrived, he found Ronnie and Reggie there, as well as several other members of the gang.

[00:17:03] Reggie then proceeded to very publicly and brutally kill McVitie with a knife. 

[00:17:10] This was a step too far. 

[00:17:13] McVitie was a member of their gang, he was one of them, and all he had done was not fulfil a contract properly.

[00:17:22] When word got out to other members of the Krays’ gang, opinion started to turn against them

[00:17:29] The Krays were ruthless, and if they had killed McVitie - a member of their own gang and theoretically their ally - then nobody was safe.

[00:17:40] What’s more, for the previous three or four years, the police had been busy gathering evidence against the Krays. Nobody would say anything, but after the police sensed that some of the gangsters were turning against the twins, they sensed their opportunity.

[00:17:57] On May the 8th of 1968, 8 months after the murder of Jack "the Hat" McVitie, the police arrested the Kray twins and 15 of their associates.

[00:18:10] They proceeded to turn all of them against each other, and successfully managed to get several key associates to testify against the brothers.

[00:18:21] Eventually, in March of 1969, almost a year after the arrest, the twins were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

[00:18:31] And sure enough, they spent almost all of the rest of their lives behind bars.

[00:18:38] Ronnie’s mental health continued to deteriorate, it continued to get worse, and he died in 1995 after suffering a heart attack.

[00:18:48] Reggie was allowed out of prison for a day to attend his funeral and pay his final respects, but he too died five years later. 

[00:18:58] He was allowed out of prison in August of 2000, because he was suffering from terminal bladder cancer. But his freedom wasn’t to last for long - he lived for just eight and a half weeks before going to meet his maker, and rejoining his twin brother.

[00:19:16] They are now buried together, in a cemetery in North East London, a cemetery you can visit today.

[00:19:22] Their gravestone reads “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them”. 

[00:19:31] Well, these were two men who certainly didn’t rest much while they were alive, and it was only when the light of the law shone too brightly on them and they were thrown into prison that they had time to contemplate their actions.

[00:19:45] Neither of the twins, at least publicly, showed any remorse for their crimes, saying they would have done exactly the same if they could and that was just the world they lived in.

[00:19:57] Whether or not that’s something the twins truly believed, one can only hazard a guess, but perhaps that is what you have to tell yourself when you are one half of the most violent and dangerous pair of twins the country, and perhaps even the world, has ever known.

[00:20:14] OK then, that is it for The Kray Twins, the two brothers who ruled the East End of London with an iron first, mingled with the stars, befriended and in Ronnie’s case, slept with politicians, but were ultimately cold-blooded killers.

[00:20:31] And with that comes the end of this four-part series on criminals and gangsters.

[00:20:37] As a reminder, in part one we heard the story of the Real Peaky Blinders, and learned about the criminal underworld of Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th century.

[00:20:48] Then in part two it was Al Capone, the Chicago gangster and most famous mob-boss in American history.

[00:20:56] In part three it was John Dilllinger, the iconic bank robber, and in part four, well that was the story of The Kray Twins that we just heard.

[00:21:06] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:21:12] Which of these four sets of criminals do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:21:17] What do you think it is about criminals, people who are often violent and really not very nice people at all, that manages to capture our attention?

[00:21:26] I would love to know, and to chat to you about it, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:32] The place for that is our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com. There’s a space on there called “Podcasts”, so go in there, ask some questions, say what you think and let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:52] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]