My life with the Kray Twins – Maureen Flanagan interview
Ronald and Reginald Kray were two halves of the head of “The Firm”, the most feared criminal organisation in London’s underworld in the 1960s. One was a calculating murderer, the other was certifiably insane. Both were sons to a loving mother and considered siblings to a younger sister they never had: hairdresser and model-turned author Maureen Flanagan tells the story of her life with the Kray Twins.
Were you aware of their reputation before you knew the Krays?
Not too much because I’m not an East Ender and I’d never been to the East End in my life. I met Charlie Kray in Highbury, near where I lived in Islington. He said after five minutes of meeting me, “You must meet my Mum.” So I found number 17a, this little terraced house and there she was, this lovely lady: blonde, sparkling eyes, beautiful smile… she said, “Hello darling! Come on in.” She didn’t know me, I didn’t know her but within ten minutes you’d have thought you’d known her ten years. The second time I went there, I was sitting having a cup of tea with her when the door went and someone said, “Hullo mum.” Without looking around she said, “That’s Reggie.”
“When they walked into a place it went quiet. Everyone put down their drink and thought ‘Please God, [let Ronnie be] in a good mood tonight.”
When they walked into a place it went quiet. Everyone put down their drink and thought ‘Please God, [let Ronnie be] in a good mood tonight.’ You had that feeling. I’d look round and see these two guys at the bar who were laughing their heads off ten minutes before. They were ordering drinks, saying “Come on darling, have a drink!” Then the guy put his drink down and looked at Ronnie… I’ve never seen that look again. Ronnie had this air of menace and fear, but the minute he smiled – which wasn’t often and only a little half-smile – and then he bought Reggie, his mum and certain people drinks, the place relaxed. Ronnie wasn’t in one of his black moods that day.
They were practically celebrities – what was it like to be with them?
I went to the Astor one night with them, with Mrs Kray and Ronnie Bender driving – they didn’t get in the same car, they were in the car behind us driven by another driver. The guy on the door obviously knew they were coming but the way they treated the mother… it was as though the queen had come in! This was a little lady from a terraced house in Bethnal Green that all of a sudden, is meeting George Raft and Judy Garland – a woman who sings her favourite song. Then she meets the heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Lewis, they brought him over and took him round boxing clubs, then took him to nightclubs just to be seen with him.
Ronnie said, “Because he’s gay, he was mad like me and he’d fight anybody.” He’d read about this and thought, “Yeah. That’s me, with my troops.”
They spoke quiet. They only spoke loud when they were extremely angry and probably wanted to kill somebody. They didn’t need to – Ronnie just looked at you and you knew not to speak, not to laugh and to do whatever he tells you to do. Reggie was the one you could speak to more, more friendly and would laugh, would walk into a pub and have a drink with everybody. Friends of mine would say, “He’s alright, Reggie.” Then the door would open and there was a different atmosphere in the pub.
On the day of the trial, we looked up and there, in the gallery, was Charlton Heston! You think, “What’s Charlton Heston doing in the Old Bailey?” He was here making Anthony and Cleopatra and though, “It’s the twins. I’m going to see the trial.” It’s funny, because he’s the star of one of Ronnie’s favourite films, Gordon of Khartoum. When I asked [laughs] him why he likes the film and this character, Ronnie said, “Because he’s gay, he was mad like me and he’d fight anybody.” He’d read about this and thought, “Yeah. That’s me, with my troops.” In his head, that’s how he saw himself.
He looked at me and said, “Move… I don’t want you in the eyeline of that slag.”
Were they still influential inside prison?
They always supported my charities. Always gave me toys, a bottle of scotch. It was always delivered to me, ‘this is from Reggie’ or ‘this is from Ronnie’. I’d put them in as raffle or pub auction prizes… Then Ronnie did all these letters and phone calls – this is all from a hospital for the criminally insane, to tell people to go to the pub for me that night… I want to make the distinction of murderers, and there are different murderers. People can say they all killed somebody but the difference is, when I went to Broadmoor to visit, I was sitting at the table when Ronnie walked in. Then he looked to his right and saw Peter Sutcliffe [the ‘Yorkshire ripper’] sitting to his right. And he looked at me straight away and said, “Move.” And I said, “I’m alright here Ron, I’m comfortable. You’re late I’ve been waiting 15 minutes for you, now you want me to get up and move around the table. Why?” He said, “Because I don’t want you in the eyeline of that slag.”
Ronnie Kray’s funeral must have been quite an affair for you.
When I came to Parkhurst Reggie said, “I’ve got a special job for you.” I had to do all the seating and in the end, I could only let them in 12 at a time because there were 500 people trying to get into St Matthews. Then you’ve got people like Lenny McClane and Roy Shaw who walk down the aisle and plonk themselves wherever they want to. But of course, he was clever Reggie Kray. He knew that if a man had walked up to them and said, “Lenny, you can’t sit there,” he’d say, “Well I’m here now, and I’m sitting here.” But if a woman he knew said, “You can’t sit in the third row,” he’d say “Why, darling?” and I’d say, “Reggie’s got a special place for you.” I’d take him back to the sixth row and if he sees people like the Lambrianos sitting in front of him, that didn’t matter because Reggie wanted him there. I had to do the same with Roy Shaw, who walked down the aisle and didn’t want to sit on the same side as Lenny Mclean because they were enemies, who sits in the second row!
Were they hopeful of a potential release?
Reggie would want to know everything. “Did you go to Stringfellow’s Friday night? What are they wearing now, what music did they play?” But not for Ronnie. In the end he told me two or three years before he died, “Are you still doing the parole?” I said, “Yes, I still write to parole officer.” He said, “No, stop that. Don’t do it any more for me. I’m never coming out of here.” This is three or four years before he died. “I’m never being released from here. Continue for Reggie, ’cause Reggie should be released. He’s not in here – I can’t go anywhere without my medication.”
One of the Family: 40 Years with the Krays by Maureen Flanagan is available now in hardcover from Century.
‘Legend’ starring Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray is in the cinema now