It is a story that has once again gripped the nation, and this East End tale of the Krays has been retold in documentaries, literature, theatre, even music has referenced the twins, and now London’s most notorious gangsters story has been produced into a total of three separate films, with one that is currently in post-production. The first movie was released in 1990, the twins were played by brother Martin and Gary Kemp, who were both musicians in the new wave band Spandeau Ballet. Martin is probably the most recognised of the siblings, as he played Steve Owen in the BBC soap opera Eastenders.
There are two films which have been released this year – The Rise of the Krays has skipped cinema screens. It follows earlier years of the two brothers and portrays their amateur boxing days as teens. The drugs, sex and murder is told along with the rise to becoming the respected and most feared villians of their day. There is set to be a follow on from this film that is currently in post-production which is called The Fall of the Krays.
However, I think the most compelling and extraordinary of all of the films that have followed this harrowing tale, is that of the biopic starring Tom Hardy, who played both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in Legend. It was expected to include hard-hitting and rather graphically violent scenes, but the subtle humour and genius acting by Hardy is something to be commended. Agreed, it has mixed views but doesn’t every film? It is a definite must see. The film is based on John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence which was written after the conviction of the Krays and began the recreation of their criminal empire behind bars.
So what is their story? As the film The Rise of the Krays told, they began as amateur boxers, known to cause fights between each other they were reportedly unbeaten. They were raised in the EastEnd of London, and were impoverished teens with something to prove, and became natural successors to a more glamorise lifestyle. Growing to fame, they rubbed shoulders with many a celebrity and built an empire owning nightclubs as a facade for their more sinister dealings specialising in extortion, protection and fraud. Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” led a squad of detectives to arrest the Ronald and Reginald Kray on the 9th May 1968 for the murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell.
The life after their conviction is also a rather interesting one. They managed to keep their infamous status and were ironically spoken favourably by many. Prison life seemed to change these notorious gangsters and are told to be very generous, kind and charitable criminals. The twins were separated after Ronnie was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and moved to Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric facility. and there was a deterioration in Reggie’s mental health as was moved from prison to prison, reportedly beaten by many wardens, he became isolated away from his brother and experienced somewhat hard years. Without his ‘backup’ he was now victim to the actions he had previously performed whilst at large with his brother behind bars.
After Ronnie was transferred to this a high-security psychiatric ward from the prison, his change in label from a resident to a patient helped his self concept and got on better in this facility. A humorous aspect to Ronnie’s time in Broadmarsh was as there was no compulsory uniform he had a tailor brought in and was seen as the best dressed on the ward, requesting Hugo Boss and Giorgio Armani.
Above: Brothers, Reggie (Left) & Ronnie (right) Kray
Ronald Kray died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 61.
Reginald Kray was released from prison in 2000 on compassionate grounds but died 8 weeks later to cancer at the age of 66.
It is amazing to believe how much interest and attention they receive to this day and that undoubtedly their crime spree throughout the streets of London was only half of their story. There is certainly more than meets the eye to these twins, their life story will remain a Legend.