On 9 March 1966, Ronnie Kray and Ian Barrie walked into the Blind Beggar public house in East London and murdered George Cornell. Of the people in the pub on the night of the killing, one witness’s evidence was crucial – the barmaid’s.
Calling Time On The Krays is the extraordinary true story of the woman who braved the might of London’s most notorious criminal organisation when she agreed to give the evidence that secured the conviction of Ronnie Kray. After thirty years as a gangland target, Mrs X now vividly relives the hopes and fears of her life in hiding, when she was forced to protect her true identity and move from safe house to safe house in a desperate attempt to preserve herself and her three children from being silenced for good. A compelling insight into a life shaped by one terrifying experience, Calling Time On The Krays not only documents a dramatic criminal legacy but also poses the question: why are Ronnie and Reggie regarded as heroes in our society?
When somebody bought me this book for a Christmas present, I couldn’t wait to read it. I was born and brought up in the East End of London, and ran around the same streets as the Krays had done a generation earlier. As I started to read it, Mrs X reminded me of all the East End places I used to go to with my mother as a child; Bethnal Green Road, Barmy Park, York Hall Baths, Roman Road market, and Kelly’s Eel & Pie shop to name but a few.
Mrs X, the author who testified against Ronnie Kray in court , still has to keep her identity secret. She actually saw Ronnie shoot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub, as she was working there as a barmaid that same evening. Terrified that the Krays would harm her or her 3 children, she originally lied at the coroner’s court to knowing anything about the shooting. However, with police protection (even living with police in her house) she agreed to testify against the twins at their Old Bailey trial in 1969 where Ronnie and Reggie Kray (who had murdered Jack McVitie) were eventually jailed for life after the judge ruled that society had earned a rest from their activities.
Two months after the trial, police protection ceased and Mrs X had to move to a new area and start her life all over again. Divorced and now with no police to guard her, she was terrified and suffered a nervous breakdown. However, over time she overcame several episodes of bad luck and was able to get her life back on track.
The book is mostly written just how Mrs X speaks, and so that was the only thing that I wasn’t too keen on (and which stopped me from giving the book 5 stars), as I would have preferred for the editor to correct her Cockney vernacular, even though I’m an EastEnder myself. Nevertheless, it’s a true tale of times gone by, times that I also remember because everybody knew about the Krays in the area I grew up in. It was always wise to keep on the right side of them, but of course Mrs X didn’t, and so her identity must forever remain a secret.
Mrs X confirmed what I already knew – that the East End has now changed beyond all recognition. To me it’s not home anymore and I don’t want to go back, but the memories of living there with my vast extended family (now sadly all departed this life) throughout the 1960s decade will be forever etched into my brain.
A great 4 star read for anybody who remembers London’s East End in those heady days when we lived through the memories we remember now.