20th Century Gangland: The Richardsons
Unlike the more 'celebrated' - if that is the word - Kray Twins (see previous post), the
Richardson brothers (Charlie and Eddie) from south-east London were not much featured in the popular media of their day - until the 1967 trial that followed their downfall, which saw them branded sensationally as leaders of the 'Torture Gang'. The extent to which the headlines - full of strong stuff about pulling teeth out using pliers, cutting off toes using bolt cutters and nailing victims to the floor using 6-inch nails - accurately reflected what they actually got up to remains an open question. Frankie Fraser (of whom more in an upcoming post), an associate of the Richardsons and believed by many to be the plier-wielder himself - is quoted as later calling the allegations 'rubbish' and asserting that they were 'all false... Today, we wouldn't have even been charged, let alone gone to prison.'
Regardless of all that, what we do know for sure is that the Richardsons' activities very much straddled the old line between shady entrepreneurialism to outright criminality, as they graduated from dealing scrap metal and selling fruit machines to protection rackets, thieving, fraud and plenty more. Whatever the media and the world at large said, Charlie himself (in his My Manor, an absolutely classic example of the British gangland memoir) always insisted that he was a businessman, simply engaged in getting hold of money the best he could.
And get hold of money he could. While the Krays et al. got all the attention the Richardsons, they say, took care of business. To quote James Morton ( from Gangland: London's Underworld), '...until recently East End villains have always had a much greater press coverage than their South London counterparts, but informed observers have always regarded the latter as more dangerous, perhaps because they have displayed a greater ability to keep their heads below the parapet.'
The torture trial changed all that, in terms of media coverage at least, and turned the gang into scary monsters. Perhaps they were. But when we were kids, rolling around south London at the time, when the black kids in school bragged that Muhammed Ali was their cousin, literally, we said the same about Charlie. So the scary monster was also a local hero - at least to young boys who did not really know what was what.
Garry held onto this interest in Charlie and Eddie until he grew up, and when he found himself at Goldsmiths College in 1995 he tried to get it all off his chest in his first publication (below), in a way that combined local folklore with a fair bit of silly sociological jargon, as can be seen from the title - whatever it may mean.