Photo: The Wire ‘Funeral Flowers’
The funeral this week of Charlie Richardson, the London crime boss jailed for 25 years at the end of 1967’s so-called “torture trial”, stayed true to the traditions of gangland farewells. Not only was My Way, sung by Frank Sinatra, part of the chosen music, but there was a dark humour to one of the floral tributes: a display with the legend “240 DC”, seen as a sly reference to the fact that Richardson was accused of subjecting people who had crossed him to a high level of voltage to their genitals.The presence of “Mad” Frankie Fraser, now 88 and walking with a cane, was a reminder of his role in the Richardson gang. Fraser joining the Richardsons, recalled one fellow villain of the era, “was like China getting the atom bomb”. Others from the fraternity included Richardson’s estranged brother, Eddie.
Many criminal funerals say it with flowers. When Shirley Pitts, the “Queen of the Shoplifters”, was buried in a south London cemetery in 1992, one 6ft-long display read “Gone Shopping”. There was also a floral Harrods bag, a reference to one of Shirley’s happy hunting grounds. She was buried in a £5,000 Zandra Rhodes dress that possibly did not have a receipt, while a trumpeter played the “heaven, I’m in heaven” lines from Cheek to Cheek.
Ronnie Kray’s funeral in 1995 was a grand affair. The procession from St Matthew’s in Bethnal Green to Chingford cemetery was led by six black-plumed horses followed by 25 limos. He was also sung away by Sinatra’s My Way and given a reading of WE Henley’s poem “I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.” His twin, Reg, was allowed out of jail for the event, handcuffed to a prison officer. Gangland figures lined up to kiss Reg on both cheeks, a development at gangland funerals that arrived in the wake of the Godfather films. The coffin was lowered into the grave by four gangland figures from different patches of London, as a “symbol of peace”, as the order of service had it. Ron’s other farewell song was Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You; Richardson this week had Ben E King’s Stand By Me.
The fact that today’s criminals eschew the high profiles of the Richardson-Kray era is likely to mean that such funerals will become rarer. Bad news for London florists and whoever owns the rights to My Way.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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