When it comes to lifestyles that involve conversing with celebrities Frank Sinatra and Barbara Windsor; appearing in famous interviews or being photographed by David Bailey, the life of an infamous gangster is the last thing that springs to mind. Yet, for Ronnie and Reggie Kray, living in 1960s London, crime was a fact of life; the consequences were avoidable, and the accompanying life was dangerous yet lavish.
The scandalous brothers have recently been brought back into the spotlight after the film ‘Legend’, starring Tom Hardy as both brothers, appeared in cinemas earlier this year. Yet, the film plays around with the true story. What is the actual narrative of the Krays, and who helped them to avoid conviction for so long?
The twins adopted crime into their lives from a young age. Raised in Bethnal Green, they both boxed – upon quitting at 19 they had never lost a fight – before purchasing a club in Bethnal Green and working in Liverpool, where they hijacked, stole and burnt down properties in order to acquire more pubs. Though in and out of prison, more clubs were bought, a gang by the name of ‘The Firm’ was formed and the brothers earned themselves a formidable reputation, Ronnie famously stating that himself and his brother ‘ruled London’.
It goes without saying that the Krays were protected. When Ronnie was exposed by the Sunday Mirror to have had a sexual relationship with prominent politician Lord Boothby, the brothers and the Lord threatened to sue. The newspaper backed down, Boothby was paid £40,000 and consequently, the press were daunted. The Conservatives were afraid that more information would leak about Boothby while the Labour party’s Tom Driberg was also rumoured to have been involved with Ronnie Kray; both politics and the press could not touch the brothers.
However, all was not to last, and both brothers were sentenced to life in 1968. Ronnie Kray was convicted for murder, famously occurring in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, where he shot and killed rival gang member leader, George Cornell. Reggie murdered Jack Mcvitie, a minor member of his gang in 1967, stabbing him in the face and stomach four months after the suicide of his wife, Frances.
Maybe the Krays believed that they could beat the system; that they were, according to Ronnie, ‘untouchable’. Yet, they were criminals. Although well known in their home town, close to their family and bound by blood to each other, crime played an all too prominent role in their lives. Ultimately, they show us how they used powerful people to avoid being brought to justice, yet also how this system eventually broke down.