Life in the East End was certainly colourful!

  Posted: 01.04.21 at 15:56 by Francesca Evans

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Nub News editor Philip Evans continues his series looking back over his 55-year career in journalism, many years of which have been spent covering East Devon.

Although I was managing a group of local newspapers having moved to London, my new patch was one of the most newsy areas in the capital. We were never short of a dramatic story, many of which were also covered by the nationals.

In speeches I used to joke that every day there were cases of arson, incest and grievous bodily harm – and that was just in the office! In poor taste really but it always got a laugh.

Our most successful paper was the East London Advertiser on which many crime reporters who went on to work in Fleet Street cut their teeth. The ELA covered the traditional East End where the infamous Kray brothers ruled supreme.

Ronnie and Reggie had been banged up in Broadmoor long before I arrived in London to take responsibility for their local paper, in which they appeared frequently in the past, as you might imagine.

But it surprised me how much they were still admired, especially in the Bethnal Green area where we had an office.

In fact, both Krays sent regular letters to the paper from their cells. Neither of them could write well but the editor always published them, which was understandable given the reverence with which two of the most violent prisoners were held in by the criminal fraternity.

One of the first things I did when taking the job in London was to provide the East London Advertiser’s editorial staff with new offices. They were accommodated in very cramped conditions in a basement in Paradise Row (as in Danny La Rue’s ‘Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’).

I moved them into larger premises in Bethnal Green Road, just around the corner from Vallance Road, where the Krays were brought up and where their beloved mother Violet was still living.

Not long after the new offices were opened, a scruffy character came into the office asking to take out a death notice. The receptionist showed him the obituaries page and pointed to the usual advertisement which was about the size of a credit card.

But the customer insisted in a very aggressive manner that he wanted to book the whole page. The receptionist called for her manager and a deal was done for a substantial amount.

The guy who was placing the ad said he would return the following day with the wording and to pay for the whole page. There was some doubt among the office staff that they would see him again. But, true to his word, in he came the next day and paid with crisp £50 notes.

The death announcement was for Ronnie Kray, who died of a heart attack in Broadmoor, and the guy who placed the ad was instructed to do so by Reggie, who was allowed to attend the funeral under tight security.

After a few months in the job we bought a flat in Docklands alongside The Thames with a gymnasium, swimming pool and sauna just ten steps from my front door.

I was working flat out in my new job and did not to spend too many weekends at home in Lyme Regis. So my wife Jackie and our two young daughters used to spend many weekends and most of their school holidays in London.

Our son Darren was finishing his schooling at the Woodroffe in Lyme and secured a place at St Mary and Westfield University in Mile End and came to live with me in the flat. Good company for me and he didn’t have to slum it for his three-year economics degree as many of his fellow graduates had to.

To start with, I was a bit hesitant about living in the East End but I got friendly with a couple of coppers who were stationed at Plaistow, who assured me street crime was not as prevalent on the Isle of Dogs as in other parts of London, and that was a legacy of the Krays who policed their manor and dealt with those who stepped out of line. I didn’t enquire how they dealt with them!

Coincidentally, my great friend and colleague at Star Newspapers, Martin Butler, had moved to London to work for a telemarketing agency. He also rented a flat on the Isle of Dogs and we both got to know the best and safest places to drink on the Isle of Dogs.

However, we did have one minor scare. We had agreed to meet up for a swift pint or three on the way home from work and decided to meet at a pub on the notorious Ballantine Estate.

As soon as we walked through the door, both suited and booted, there was a deathly hush. It was clear they thought we were the Old Bill and Martin, a great practical joker, went along with it until he whispered in my ear: “Ev’s, I think we should drink up and disappear smartish.” I didn’t argue.

On another occasion, I had booked a box at the Albert Hall to see Eric Clapton to entertain advertising agency executives with a promise to take them to a real East End pub, The Eagle Tavern, afterwards where we had arranged for the landlord to have a lock-in.

The landlord was Alfie Cutmore, who claimed he knew the Kray boys well. It was well past midnight, the champagne was flowing and Alfie was well into his stride with Kray stories when suddenly the doors burst open and in came several police officers intent on breaking up the gathering.

Alfie didn’t seem too concerned but ensured we made a swift quick exit out the back door and make our escape before the police started taking the names of all present.

I’m never quite sure whether Alfie arranged for the coppers to stage a mock-raid just to enhance his reputation before a group of media types, but it did us no harm in establishing an ongoing relation with the advertising boys who lapped up the whole experience.

Life in the East End was certainly colourful.

In the next part of my 55 years in newspaper, I write about how I got to spend every Saturday afternoon entertaining clients in an executive box at three London football clubs - West Ham, Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal.

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