What prompted the confrontation is not clear but it wouldn’t take much to provoke a bit of pushing and shoving between two such characters.
After all, the bad blood dates back decades to the days when Foreman was a heavy for the Kray twins and Richardson was a rival gang boss in south London. Perhaps Foreman had been riled by an interview Richardson gave 18 months ago in which he dissed the Krays.
“The Krays had watched too many US gangster films,” he said.
“They wanted to be like Al Capone… They just wanted to play at being gangsters… They didn’t dare take us on until we were under lock and key – then they started taking liberties.”
Anyone who crossed them would be subjected to a kangaroo court, with Charlie presiding – sometimes in the robes of a judge – and then handed over to Mad Frankie for punishment.
He pulled out teeth with pliers and nailed people to the floor using six-inch spikes but his piece-de-resistance was torture by electrocution of the genitals using a crank-handled ex-army field telephone to generate the power.
AS LONG as the Richardsons stuck to their manor of south London and the Krays concentrated on the East End there was no need for confl ict but on March 7, 1966, there was a brawl at Mr Smith’s club in Catford, south London.
Both Richardson brothers were badly hurt but Kray associate Richard Hart was found dead nearby, shot in the face. The Krays’ retribution was swift.
Less than 24 hours later the Richardsons’ lieutenant George Cornell was in the Blind Beggar pub in the heart of Kray territory on the Mile End Road when he was approached by Ronnie Kray toting a 9mm Mauser and shot in the forehead.
Kray was arrested but no eyewitnesses were prepared to testify so he was released. His south London rivals were less fortunate. The police rounded up the Richardson gang four months later on the same day England won the World Cup.
When their case came to court in 1967, it was dubbed the “Torture Trial” after the court heard the grisly details of Mad Frankie’s methods. He was sentenced to five years for affray connected to the events at Mr Smith’s and a further 10 years for his involvement in torture.
Charlie Richardson got 25 years and Eddie 10 years on top of a five-year sentence for affray. In Leicester Prison’s security wing Fraser met Tommy Wisbey, who was doing time for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
At the time, prisoners roped in a trusted fellow inmate to make the tea to be poured during visiting hours in order to ensure that it would not be doctored by prison officers. Wisbey asked Mad Frankie to be mother.
As he put the tray down, Fraser met Wisbey’s then 12-year-old daughter Marilyn for the fi rst time. A quarter of a century later, he and Marilyn embarked on a relationship. Meanwhile, the Krays were living on borrowed time.
Ronnie may have got away with the assassination of Cornell but after Reggie murdered Jack “The Hat” McVitie in 1967 the police arrested them for both murders and they were sentenced to life two years later.
Freddie Foreman, who got his nickname of “Brown Bread Fred” – brown bread being Cockney rhyming slang for dead – after disposing of McVitie’s body, was put away for 10 years. Shortly after leaving prison he took part in the Shoreditch Security Express robbery of 1983 and was sentenced to nine years for that.
While many gangsters of the era found it hard to go straight, at least some of their progeny have enjoyed respectable careers. Foreman’s son Jamie became an actor, appearing in many feature films and 144 episodes of EastEnders as hard man Derek Branning.
Two of Fraser’s grandsons became footballers, with Tommy playing for League Two side Port Vale and James enjoying a brief spell at Bristol Rovers. Exactly what sparked this week’s altercation between Foreman and Richardson we’ll probably never know as no old lag wants to be seen as a grass.
It’s an approach epitomised by the late Mad Frankie’s reaction when police questioned him after a botched attempt on his life outside a London nightclub in 1991. Asked to give his name, Fraser replied: “Tutankhamun” – slang for “keeping schtum” – and asked “What incident?”
This article was written by Dominic Midgley and published in The Express on Friday 3rd February 2017.