If you’re among the small screen audience that hasn’t lashed out on a BritBox subscription (other platforms are available), then you won’t have seen this astonishing three-part documentary which premiered on the service.
It takes a sometimes uncomfortable, in-depth look at the most famous gangsters in British history: Reggie and Ronnie Kray.
It includes interviews with those who knew the twins best, including former gang members, relatives and family friends, as well as celebrity photographer and friend David Bailey, the Krays’ lawyers, and some of the police officers who were involved in bringing them to justice.
The documentary will also unveil never-before-seen artefacts, including Reggie’s personal scrapbook, in which he carefully and lovingly pasted newspaper clippings documenting the brothers’ crimes, his personal photographs, audio recordings from prison, a poem from Ronnie to Reggie, and two unpublished manuscripts from former gang members – as well MI5 files on the Krays.
The series is a far cry from the slick 1990 biography that starred Martin and Gary Kemp, and while the 2015 film Legend, starring Tom Hardy, was a more realistic depiction of their crimes and misdemeanours, it still leaves much to discover.
Born 10 minutes apart in 1933, East London siblings Reginald and Ronald Kray were evacuated as children, took up boxing when they returned, and were among the last people to be held at the Tower of London after assaulting a police constable while AWOL from national service.
Their dishonourable discharges from the Royal Fusiliers also marked the beginning of their lives of crime, which involved the launch of several protection rackets from the Mile End snooker club they had bought.
The Kray twins spent the 1950s building up their property portfolio while carrying out hijacks, armed robberies and arson. While serving time for the protection racket (among other crimes), Ronnie bought the Esmeralda’s Barn nightclub, which is now home to the Berkeley Hotel, a purchase that elevated the Krays to the status of East End celebrities during the 1960s.
Ronnie later wrote in his autobiography: “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 untouchable.”
While these charming, prosperous nightclub owners rubbed shoulders with politicians, peers of the realm and famous faces including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Jayne Mansfield, a tabloid newspaper ran a story suggesting Ronnie was in a relationship with Conservative politician Lord Boothby.
The scandal put the Krays in the spotlight, and preceded several high-profile crimes, including the slaying of George Cornell, their helping spring Frank Mitchell, ‘the Mad Axeman’, from Dartmoor Prison in 1966, and the murder of Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie the year after.
At the end of 1967, Scotland Yard Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read finally had enough evidence to arrest the twins. On May 8, 1968, they were arrested and in March 1969, Ronnie and Reggie Kray were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Ronnie died at the age of 61 on March 17, 1995, while 66-year-old Reggie died in his sleep on October 1, 2000.
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