A new book reminds Peter Gruner how an Islington drinking club became embroiled in East End gang warfare
02 April, 2021 — By Peter Gruner
Ronnie and Reggie Kray
IT is the “swinging” 1960s and a smartly dressed and but tough-looking bloke called Ronnie has turned up at the Teale family’s popular drinking club at the Angel, Islington.
The nightmare in Upper Street, opposite Camden Passage, was about to begin, as David Teale explains in his engrossing new book, Surviving the Krays.
Ronnie, nickname the Colonel, and his brother Reggie were, of course, the notorious gangster Kray twins, from nearby Stepney.
Ronnie, later imprisoned for murder, had a twisted sense of humour.
“Oi, bollock-chops, what’s the time?” he’d ask a complete stranger. He was also known for shooting someone in the foot at the club for saying the wrong thing.
The twins ran a reign of terror in the East End, culminating in Ronnie shooting dead George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub on March 10, 1966.
When I interviewed author Teale, now 79, he described how in the early years the Krays turned Islington into their fiefdom.
“We were living in the flat above the Tudor, the club, in Upper Street close to Chapel Market. These were already tough times. There were seven kids to feed. And my mum Ellen and dad Alfred also had to look after the club downstairs. Then the Krays turned up.”
With a mixture of pizzazz and malevolence the Krays would eventually muscle into the Teale’s club.
They were the so-called “stars of Cockneyland” with friends in high places, including high-ranking politicians and criminals.
Three storeys high, the Tudor club sat above the Sandy Scott clothes shop, and with half-timbered oak beams was regarded as quite posh. It attracted everyone from locals, shopkeepers and stallholders to villains and police.
At first it was happy days. Ronnie – who was gay – was a bit of a charmer as well as having a violent side. He adored Teale’s mum Ellen.
“He came to really love her, I think,” Teale writes. “And she, at least at first, could only think of him as a ‘lovely boy.’ Often we would come home from a night out to find Ron having tea and sandwiches in the kitchen with Mum, with his gun in the fridge.”
Teale remembers the premiere of the film Sparrows Can’t Sing, a cockney love story directed by Joan Littlewood. Guests at the event at another club, in Bow, included Lord Snowden and the film’s star, Barbara Windsor. Teale was ordered by Ronnie to collect blind singer Lennie Peters (later of Peters and Lee fame) who lived in a flat in Seven Sisters Road.
The singer told Teale to tell Ronnie that he didn’t want to come because he didn’t feel well.
So Teale explained it all to Ronnie, who directed him to go back again to Peters and tell him he had to come.
“I felt really bad for Peters,” Teale writes.
Obviously, if you knew what was good for you, you didn’t say no to the Krays.
They brought big spenders to the Teales’ club but later “borrowed” lots of money from Teale’s dad and never repaid it.
As the Krays began to slowly spread their influence, worried club members began to fall away.
A few years later the venue had changed its name to Club 66 after the popular song Route 66, originally recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946 and later the Rolling Stones.
Ronnie was now making all the rules.
“Dad was too old to make much of a fight about it,” Teale writes. “Mum was heartbroken. She loved the business.”
The club finally closed in 1962 after the Krays found a new home in nearby Finsbury Park. They set up a new club and operations at the Glenrae hotel, a big Victorian house in Seven Sisters Road.
Teale, who attended St Joseph’s RC school in Covent Garden, writes how he was just 17 when he first met the Krays. He’d taken up flypitching (illegally selling goods on the street without a licence) and had moved into a tiny bedsit on Caledonian Road.
Working part-time in the club, along with his older brothers, Alfie and Bobby, he reluctantly ended up doing odd jobs like driving for the Krays, although none of the Teales ever became a member of the twins’ infamous crime gang, called The Firm.
Then in January 1965 the twins were arrested at the Glenrae club, taken to Highbury police station and accused of demanding money with menaces. Although they were kept in custody for a short while, a High Court judge later found them not guilty. It seems they were untouchable.
The shooting of Cornell in The Blind Beggar is described by Teale, who had been out driving at the time. “Ronnie had gone into the bar of the Beggar brandishing a 9mm Luger. Cornell sat on a barstool sipping a light ale. One of the Kray associates fired two shots in the air. Everyone dived for cover. And Ronnie calmly put a single bullet into George Cornell’s forehead.”
Teale, who gave evidence against the Krays, ended up in prison for three years, along with his brothers, for what he claims was a miscarriage of justice. This is being investigated.
“I was used and abused by the Krays, and accused by the police. I wish from the bottom of my heart that it happened differently,” he said.
Bobby had also given vital evidence against the Krays and after release disappeared to Canada in 1970. He seemed to have gone to ground for almost 40 years, and it was assumed he had died.
Then one day in 2010, Teale, who had just learnt how to use the internet, discovered him by chance. He was living in the mountainous region of Utah in the USA. That story appeared in a previous book published in 2012 by Bobby Teale, Bringing Down The Krays.
- Surviving The Krays. By David Teale, Ebury Press, £16.99.