London History Bulletin – February 5

On trial (together with his twin Ronnie) for the murder of Jack McVitie, Reginald Kray brought the Old Bailey proceedings to a momentary standstill with some spectacular misbehaviour on February 5th, 1969. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Yup. Hand on heart. I missed one yesterday. I mean Colonel Dyott and the similarities between 1830 and 2023 was ok… but the one I missed was a showstopper. A Tudor showstopper. Am I going to walk behind the parade and clean up the mess today? Put up the London story I should have put up yesterday. No, I’m not. It’s going to have to wait. Have to wait 364 days. But what that does mean is there’ll be at least one London Walks London History Bulletin in 2024. Because the one I missed is going straight into the oven – straight into the diary – ready to be rolled out next year. 

Now for today’s London History Bulletin – February 5th – they say that if you want to know what a man thinks when he’s 70 – where he’s coming from, what his weltanschauung (great German word, means world view) what his Weltanschauung is when he’s 70 just find out what was going on in the world when he was 20. The great 19th-century politician Lord Palmerston, foreign minister and twice prime minister, is the classic instance of this. When Palmerston was 20 years old the English army numbered 30,000 men, Napoleon had an army of 345,000 men. The population of England was 13 million. The population of France was 39 million. Palmerston and his fellow Britons who worried about these matters must have felt something akin to what the Poles were feeling vis-a-vis Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Those bare statistics – a French army commanded by military genius that was 11 and a half times bigger than the British army at the time, that shaped and coloured Palmerston’s outlook for the rest of his life. It’s part of the reason he was, when he was foreign secretary, the key international player in the creation of Belgium. Let the continental superpower have control of that northwestern coast of Europe, just over the way from us, are you out of your mind?

And for me personally, well, when I was 20 years old the Vietnam War was in full rage. And I readily admit it shaped my worldview. Shaped it then. Still colours it now.

And that brings us to February 5th, 1969. What was going on in 1969 on the world stage. Nixon – that criminal in the White House – had just extended the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Which of course was catastrophic for that country. And it didn’t do the U.S. any favours. I well remember being horrified. And just so aware that I was the citizen-son of a superpower that had it within its capability to do something like that. To “project power” halfway round the world, with devastating consequences for the people on the receiving end of that power.

And what was going on here? In the U.K.? Well, Prime Minister Harold Wilson, bless his heart, had managed to do what Tony Blair didn’t manage to do – Wilson had managed to resist the blandishments of LBJ and the White House and keep Britain out of that war.

It did mean that Britain probably didn’t feel like much of a player on the world stage? But is that a bad thing? I’ll leave you to weigh that one up and answer it for yourselves.

So while on the other side of the Atlantic our fare was traumatising events of world-historical importance, here in Briton what was exercising the Brits was a couple of lowlife East End gangsters. Pound-shop English Al Capones. Yes, the Kray twins. And that’s our bulletin for February 5th, 1969. A national newspaper, the Daily Mail, reported that “Reginald Kray, on trial with his brother Ronald at the Old Bailey for the murder of Jack McVitie in 1967, interrupted the trial to call the Crown Counsel a ‘fat slob’ and the police ‘animals and fat slobs.’” Those two porkers calling somebody a “fat slob” – well, that’s pot calling the kettle black in its purest form. And from a distance of half a century, it’s amazing that the Daily Mail managed to restrain itself, and dignify those two with their full names Reginald and Ronald rather than Reggie and Ronnie. And for good measure, calling Jack McVitie Jack McVitie instead of Jack the Hat. And as for those two calling anybody animals, well, I ask you.

And I’m going to let that apart from putting in a plug for Adam’s The Krays in London Walking Tour. The next one is on March 12th. 

And what a potent brew that is – Adam Scott – whom many say is the most gifted guide in London – on the trail of the Kray twins. It’s a juxtaposition of an individual who represents the epitome of civilisation and a couple of lowlifes who represent the epitome of barbarism. Or, you want to put it another way, o’erweening, dazzling intelligence over against world-class stupidity tempered ever so slightly by low cunning.

It’s a great walk.

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for February 5th. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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