'Mad' Frank Fraser (and Uncle Jimmy)
In the Nineties Frank Fraser spearheaded a surge in the popularity of the ghost-written British gangster memoir, of which he produced a good many. These books were lapped-up by large numbers of people with a nostalgia for tales of the old gangland, told by some of the key actors in their old age. In this way Frank, with his notoriety as a Richardson 'torture gang' member and long life of violent crime in general, was transformed into 'Mad' Frankie Fraser, the media's favourite celebrity nutter - for a younger generation, and those newly interested in the field, he was the very face of old-school London hard-man villainy.
Frank came up, long before our time but in the same vicinity, on the Walworth Road/Elephant and Castle and surrounding areas. He got his start during the Second World War (see the previous post), getting involved in serious crime in the context of deserting from the army and a number of escapes from barracks. His career in incarceration began in 1941 (he spent over 40 years in prison, mostly for offences involving violence), following his raid a hosiery shop in Waterloo. This slowed him down a little and much reduced the benefit he'd been getting from the capital's wartime crime Blitz - he joked many years later in a television interview that he'd never forgiven the Germans for surrendering when they did.
On of his partners in crime during this period was our uncle Jimmy, our dad's elder brother. The two men were lifelong friends and colleagues, with Jimmy graduating from picking up what he could and robbing shops during the Blitz to becoming a top 'Jelly man', or safe blower. When apprehended in the mid-Fifties Jimmy was given two consecutive sentences totalling 14 years, which he did. We never met him until we were in our mid-teens. There are a number of stories about him in 'Mad Frank's Underworld History of Britain', a book well worth reading even for those with no interest in our uncle whatsoever. For those who can't quite make it out, the somewhat blurred caption beneath the photo below says 'My old mate, Jimmy Robson, the gamest of the game...' Jimmy died a few years after the picture was taken, and Frank more recently, in 2014.
A couple few years before he died Garry offered to ghost-write his uncle's own memoir for him to try and cash in on the craze while it was still hot, but Jimmy had no interest in it. Unlike his celebrity friend, who he was and what he did are familiar only to the dwindling band of in-the-know people who remember the old days. As for Frank, his legendary/celebrity status made him the subject of much discussion between those who loved him or hated him and what he represented - loved him for his terrific storytelling and disappearing-world London charisma, or hated him for so successfully exploiting his extremely violent career.
Note: Those who worry more about the welfare of animals than humans might like to know that in 1951 Frank kidnapped and hanged by their necks from a tree on Wandsworth Common the governor (warden) of Wandsworth prison and his dog. The governor survived the ordeal, the dog did not.