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    The Krays Were London's Most Notorious Gangsters — Here Are 15 Wild Facts About Them

    Judy Garland once sang for the Kray's mother!

    BritBox just released its documentary Secrets of the Krays last week. The three episode series details the lives of the notorious East End gangsters and twin brothers who "ran" London during the 1960s.

    BritBox/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis / Via Getty Images

    Besides that which I learned by watching the 2015 film Legend – in which Tom Hardy plays both Reggie and Ronnie Kray – I didn't know much about the Kray twins until I saw this fascinating documentary.


    Here are 15 things that came up in episode one of Secrets of the Krays – "Chapter One: Rise" – which I thought were super interesting!

    TW: this post contains details of domestic abuse.

    1. Ronnie Kray nearly died of diphtheria as an infant.

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    Both Ronnie and Reggie contracted diphtheria when they were very young, but Reggie recovered well. Ronnie, however, became very ill and was close to dying. His mother, Violet Kray, thought doctors weren't looking after him, so she discharged Ronnie herself and took him home where he slowly got better.

    2. Reggie Kray could have been a professional boxer.

    Evening Standard/Hulton Archive / Via Getty Images

    Many contributors to Secrets of the Krays attest to the idea that Reggie could have been a professional boxer like his grandfather, Jimmy "Cannonball" Lee. Both of the Kray twins enjoyed boxing, but Reggie in particular was noted for his skill in the ring.

    3. Ronnie was openly queer.

    Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis / Via Getty Images

    According to his barrister Nemone Lethbridge, "[Ronnie] talked openly about [his sexuality] ... He was fearless ... he really wasn’t frightened of anybody or ashamed." Though many contributors in Secrets of the Krays identify Ronnie as homosexual, he actually wrote in his autobiography My Story that he was bisexual. Before he was incarcerated, he planned on marrying his girlfriend Monica, who he described as the "the most beautiful woman he had ever seen."

    4. The twins were heavily influenced by Hollywood gangster movies, in particular those starring George Raft.

    Lippert Pictures/FineArt America / Via IMDB

    Both of the twins enjoyed gangster movies like Scarface and Some Like It Hot, which both star George. They would dress like the actors in the movies and imitate their speech and style. Ronnie even used to have an Italian barber come to his house every week to shave him just like Al Calpone had done. They later became friends with George, who would frequent the Krays' nightclubs.

    5. Reggie Kray kept a scrapbook of all the times he appeared in the press.


    The Krays' names first appeared in the papers in March 1950, when they were involved in a fight in Hackney aged just sixteen. The paper reported that a youth had been beaten up by gang, and a magistrate is quoted saying "this boy has been beaten by beasts." Foremost Kray expert, Ray Rose, reveals that Reggie Kray kept these kind of newspaper clippings in a scrapbook over a fifteen year period. "Even at an early age", says Ray, "Reggie wanted to be famous".

    6. And they didn't just fight other people, the twins would regularly get into vicious fights with one another!

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    Although they operated in partnership with one another, many members of "The Firm" (the Krays' gang) attest that Reggie and Ronnie fought daily. "They were like a bad husband and wife", describes Gerry Parker, "people would say don't interfere with them or they'll turn you." Family friend Maureen Flanagan adds that "the twins used to have the most terrible scraps... they really fought each other as though they wanted to kill each other."

    7. Reggie and Ronnie's father, Charlie, was extremely abusive of his wife.

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    The Krays' cousin, Kim Peat, gives an idea of the abuse that Violet Kray suffered at the hands of her husband. She describes an incident when Reggie and Ronnie were older, and their father came home in a drunken state. Not knowing that Ronnie was in bed upstairs, Charlie struck his wife. Ronnie came down when he heard the commotion and hit his father, telling him that if he touched Violet again, he would kill him. Charlie never beat his wife again.

    8. In 1956, Ronnie went to prison for three years for assaulting a man in The Britannia pub.

    Frederick Wilfred / Via Getty Images

    Armed with a bayonet, Ronnie assaulted rival gang member Terrence Martin in the Stepney pub. Even though Reggie was also present, it was only Ronnie and one his associates who were eventually charged with grievous bodily harm with intent. Ronnie was sentenced to three years in Wandsworth Prison.

    9. Ronnie was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and moved to a mental institution.

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    During his internment for GBH, Ronnie's mental health seriously deteriorated, partly due to the death of his Aunt Rose. He became increasingly agitated, and could not recognise Reggie or his mother when they visited him. In 1958, Ronnie was transferred to Long Grove Mental Hospital in Surrey where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and certified insane. He was treated with stemetil, a sedative drug which he would take on-and-off for the rest of his life.

    10. Ronnie escaped Long Grove Mental Hospital by swapping places with Reggie.

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    Although Ronnie's condition improved while at Long Grove, he soon realised his stay at the institution did not count towards his jail time. So he and Reggie came up with an ingenious plan to break him out! The twins organised to wear identical suits during a visit, and on the day Reggie gave his brother his coat, which allowed Ronnie to slip out of the hospital undetected. Once he had had enough time to flee, Reggie revealed who he really was and left after a brief period of questioning.

    Though he remained at large for a while, Ronnie was eventually returned to Wandsworth Prison where he served the remaining six months of his sentence.

    11. The twins once barged onto a movie set because no one had asked their permission to film in the East End.

    Keystone/Hulton Archive / Via Getty Images

    The movie in question was Sparrows Can't Sing starring iconic British actor and Cockney pin-up girl, Barbara Windsor. Assistant director Peter Mendak recalls that on the first day of shooting in the East End of London, several black cars drove into the middle of the set. Five or six guys dressed in dark suits emerged from the cars and began asking who was in charge. When people started to point to Peter, it was Reggie and Ronnie who went up to him and said, "who gave you permission to shoot here? Nobody asked us."

    Though Peter told the twins they had permission from the police to film, Reggie and Ronnie forced their "protection" onto them. In the end, Sparrows Can't Sing ended up shooting in the Kray's headquarters, the Kentucky Club, and two of the gang's enforcers even made a cameo in the film. The Kray twins spent a lot of time on set and were very friendly to the entire crew, treating them like their "guests".

    12. Judy Garland once sang "Somewhere over the Rainbow" for the Kray's mother.

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    Hollywood celebrities and British entertainers like Barbara Windsor, Joan Collins, and George Raft would often hang out in the Kray's many clubs. On one occasion when Judy Garland stopped by, the Kray's asked her to come back to their childhood home on Vallance Road where their mother, Violet, lived. Whilst enjoying a cup of tea with The Wizard of Oz star, Ronnie told Judy that "Somewhere over the Rainbow" was his mother's favourite song and asked her to sing it for Violet, which she did!

    13. Ronnie used to listen to Winston Churchill speeches on record because he admired him so much.

    Evening Standard/Hulton Archive / Via Getty Images

    It's revealed in the documentary that Ronnie was particularly fond of Winston Churchill, but he never managed to get a photograph with the former Prime Minister. Later in life, after he fell in with Conservative politician Lord Boothby, Ronnie had a photograph taken with him, which he kept on his mantelpiece. Ray Rose shares that for Ronnie, that was the next best thing to having a picture with Churchill.

    14. The murder trial of the Krays is the longest and most expensive ever heard at the Old Bailey.

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    The famous criminal court in Central London was the setting of Reggie and Ronnie Kray's 1969 trial, which saw them both receive life imprisonment – at the time the longest ever sentences passed at the Old Bailey for murder. The jury deliberated for seven hours, and delivered unanimous verdicts of guilt against the Krays and seven of their accomplices, including their older brother Charlie Kray Jnr.

    15. The episode ends by talking about Ronnie's "gangster fantasies", which involved extreme violence and murder.

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    Author Fred Dinenage shares that the Krays "really thought they were untouchable, and in a way they were, they just pushed it a little bit too far." Ronnie, in particular, was obsessed with living out what gangsters did on screen, and to do that "someone had to die", adds Dick Hobbs, Professor of Criminology. But to find out who and how, you'll have to watch the next episodes!

    Secrets of the Krays is now streaming exclusively on BritBox UK. You can check out the series trailer below.

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