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Arm-wrestle champ Les Clayden reveals his East End life at Whitechapel authors’ festival

PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 November 2018

'Gentleman' Les Claydon giving talk at Whitechapel Ideas Store on his book about growing up in London's East End. Picture: Archant London

'Gentleman' Les Claydon giving talk at Whitechapel Ideas Store on his book about growing up in London's East End. Picture: Archant London

Archant

Former arm-wrestling champ and Whitechapel stallholder Les Clayden is going back to his cockney ‘daisy roots’ to talk about ‘Swimming with Stingrays’.

Third generation Whitechapel stallholder Les Clayden in his heyday as 'king of the East End barrow boys'. Picture: Frank PittalThird generation Whitechapel stallholder Les Clayden in his heyday as 'king of the East End barrow boys'. Picture: Frank Pittal

His autobiography about growing up in London’s East End reveals how he turned his hand when he left school to be a Soho dance-hall bouncer and special bobby on the beat, before ending up as a third-generation market trader.

The Mile End-born 67-year-old, who won the UK and Commonwealth arm-wrestling belts, now retired to the leafy suburbs, returns to take part in Sunday’s Writeidea programme of authors discussing their works at the Idea Store in Whitechapel Road.

“I’m a true cockney,” he insists. “I could never understand how anyone south of the Thames could pretend to be cockney, when you were supposed to be born ‘within the sound of Bow Bells’—they must have Superman’s hearing!”

Even TV's Noel Edmunds tried taking on Les  in an arm wrestle in 1989, refereed by mnarket trader Frank Pittal (centre). Picture: East London AdvertiserEven TV's Noel Edmunds tried taking on Les in an arm wrestle in 1989, refereed by mnarket trader Frank Pittal (centre). Picture: East London Advertiser

‘Gentleman Les’ was a bruiser who brushed with the likes of Ronnie Kray and Frank Bruno who swapped muscle for the pen for his 2018 autobiography.

He was helping out on dad’s fruit stall as a teenager in the 1960s when he recalls a tough guy asking how much for a bunch of bananas and is offered them at ‘no charge’. The man was Ronnie Kray who ran East End protection rackets, later jailed for life for the gangland murder of George Cornell.

Other authors appearing from 1pm include:

- New Statesman editor Jason Cowley on his ‘Reaching for Utopia’ about political changes from Blair to Corbyn, Garth Cartwright on ‘Going For A Song’ about the rise and fall of the record shop that shaped musical culture,

- David Stubbs with ‘Mars by 1980’ on the evolution of electronic music, Marxist historian Neil Faulkner on ‘Radical History of the World’ from hunter-gatherers and ancient empires to the Russian Revolution and the 2008 financial crash,

- Eric Levene on his ‘Feinstein’s Theory of Relatives and Other Hessel Street Stories’ of the Jewish East End in the 1940s and 50s,

- John Boughton on ‘Municipal Dreams and the Rise and Fall of Council Housing’ and

- Diane Atkinson on her ‘Rise Up Women’ marking the centenary of female suffrage which had its campaign roots in Whitechapel.

There is also a ‘lesbian fiction’ panel discussion with three authors of crime, psychological drama and romance—former lawyer-turned-writer Veronica Fearon and feminist authors Clare Lydon and Sam Skyborne.

Also being shown at Sunday’s Writeidea festival are two short films by Ruhul Amin about the murder of 25-year-old textile worker Altab Ali in 1978 which provoked mass protest in the Bengali community.

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