Krays movie Legend sets East End alight 45 years after twins are jailed

PUBLISHED: 13:15 11 August 2014 | UPDATED: 14:29 11 August 2014

Kray twins who ruled the East End's gangland in the 1950s and 60s

Kray twins who ruled the East End's gangland in the 1950s and 60s


London’s East End is again buzzing with the Krays, with a new Hollywood movie depicting the notorious gangsters being filmed on the streets of Bethnal Green.

The film, Legend, is due for release in 2015, starring Tom Hardy in both rolls of Reggie and Ronnie and Emily Browning as his tragic wife Frances Shea.

Top Hollywood director-writer Brian Helgeland has been with his film crew on locations including Pellicci’s café in Bethnal Green Road, the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel and other haunts of the Krays in the 1950s and 60s.

His reasearchers have been talking to anyone who knew the notorious twins Ronnie and Reggie and older brother Charlie, “the firm” that ran protection rackets with their nightclubs and bars in Soho and the East End , while carrying out murder of their gangland rivals at the drop of a hat.

The killings, in fact, included Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie in Stoke Newington for bad mouthing them.

Ronnie (left) and Reggie Kray with older brother Charlie (centre) outside their house at 278 Vallance Road, c1950sRonnie (left) and Reggie Kray with older brother Charlie (centre) outside their house at 278 Vallance Road, c1950s

Former Page 3 pin-up Maureen Flanagan, now 73, was interviewed by film researchers about Violet Kray, the twins’ mum.

“I was Violet’s hairdresser and often popped into their house in Vallance Road,” Maureen recalls.

“The Working Title film company wanted to know what I knew about the family and about Frances, Reggie’s wife, who committed suicide.

“I knew the ‘Frances’ situation. She was so young, pretty, delicate and vulnerable—a very nervous person, but lovely.

Cousin Rita Smith, 78, with family snapshots of Kray twins as babies [photo: Mike Brooke]Cousin Rita Smith, 78, with family snapshots of Kray twins as babies [photo: Mike Brooke]

“I was also with Violet when she died in 1982 from cancer. She was concerned about Reggie in Parkhurst not having a woman to visit him after she was gone. I promised her I would visit both twins.”

Maureen’s chat lasted three hours over hospitality, in the Blind Beggar, ironically, the once-notorious pub in Whitechapel where in 1966 Ronnie Kray brazenly shot dead George Cornell, the “enforcer” for Krays’ rival Richardson gang.

Cousins of the Krays still live in Bethnal Green 45 years after the twins were jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 1969 for murder and extortion.

Rita Smith, now 78, a first cousin who lived two doors from the Krays in Vallance Road in the 1930s and 40s and grew up with the twins, recalls their dad Charlie Snr being on the run as a deserter during the Second World War.

Kray twins as babies in 1933... Ronnie (left) and ReggieKray twins as babies in 1933... Ronnie (left) and Reggie

“Charlie did a bunk from the Army and police were looking for him everywhere,” she said. “They came into Violet’s backyard, but couldn’t see him.

“Charlie was hiding in the outdoor lavatory with his feet on the seat so he wouldn’t be seen if they peered down. But they didn’t. They were standing right next to the toilet where he was hiding and didn’t know it.

”Every time the police came we all had to hide him. It happened quite a lot.”

Charlie wasn’t nice to Violet either, and used to knock her about when he was drunk.

Kim Peat and her mum Rita Smith, 78, the Krays' first cousin, at Rita's home in Bethnal Green [photo: Mike Brooke]Kim Peat and her mum Rita Smith, 78, the Krays' first cousin, at Rita's home in Bethnal Green [photo: Mike Brooke]

“I’ve seen him pull her along by the hair,” Rita added. “He went to hit her one day and didn’t realise Ronnie was upstairs. Ronnie came running down and pushed him against the wall and said, ‘You ever do that again I’ll kill you’. Charlie never touched her after that.”

Rita lives today just half-a-mile from Vallance Road in a Bethnal Green tower block. Her daughter Kim, who also lives a stone’s throw away, pops in each day to keep an eye in her—just like the twins did 60 years ago, though they were more heavy-handed their their “protection” when it came to her boyfriends.

“Reggie took me up the Tottenham Royal dancing one night when I left school,” Rita remembers. “A fella came up to me and started touching me.

“I could see Reggie looking at him going white with temper. He asked this guy to leave me alone and take his hands off me as I was his cousin.

“But the guy wouldn’t let go, so they had ‘a word’ with him.

“Ronnie made me sit on a chair and the bloke had to come up to me and apologise. They were going to shoot him if he didn’t, shoot his legs off—I felt terrible.”

Rita didn’t see “the darker side” of the twins, as she describes their career in murder and extortion.

“They were my family,” Rita tells you. “I still love them, no matter what, because they were like brothers to me and I do miss them.”

Her daughter Kim tells the family story of how her dad was “vetted” by the Krays before he was allowed into the family circle.

She said: “The twins checked all mum’s boyfriends. Dad told me he’d only been out with her twice when he was walking past the billiards hall in Mile End.

“All of a sudden, a hand came out and pulled him in and put him on the chair and Ronnie asked him what his intentions were towards his cousin. Ronnie warned him that he’d better ‘treat her right’.

“Nice blokes often wouldn’t have anything to do with mum because they’d been warned off.”

Kim has a family photo on the mantelpiece of being of held as a bay by Reggie’s wife Frances, a poignant snapshot in the family’s history before Frances was tragically to take her life—which is a main theme of Helgeland’s movie when it hits the Big Screen next year.

But the family are worried after reading interviews in the press about the film portraying Reggie’s marriage to Frances as a”sham”.

Rita, who had a set-to with a film-researcher in Pellicci’s café, revealed: “I spoke to the man when he came into the café when they were filming in Ravenscroft Street and said ‘I hope you ain’t doing rubbish about them’.

“I’m worried they’re saying Ronnie gave Frances the pills that killed her—but he didn’t. It’s all a load of lies, but some people will believe it.”

Former gangland figures interviewed by Helgeland have also been been spilling the beans that Reggie was gay like his twin brother and never consummated his marriage to Frances, some claiming her death was “no accident.”


Kray family fury over ‘gay’ jibe for Helgeland’s Hollywood movie of the East End gangsters

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