I worked a lot in Birmingham nightclubs during the 1990s and 2000s. I thought I would investigate the history of clubs in the UK’s second city and Eddie Fewtrell, who began in the nightclub industry during the 1950s, has clearly been the most influential businessman in this sector. From humble working class roots in the city, Eddie, accompanied by his large family, and through dedicated hard work, set up an independent empire of world class venues that had the respect of the very best global artistes as well as the backing of the public, who loved the safety and entertainment value of Fewtrell nightclubs. Eddie was a very feared man, who seemed to thrive on his reputation. Back in the early days, the Krays headed up to Birmingham from London in an attempt to expand their protection racket crime empire. In one of Eddie’s clubs they were just another set of punters and when they tried to get heavy with him they were given short shrift and sent packing. The same also happened allegedly with the Richardsons. Eddie could pack a punch and could be a formidable fighter if called upon. Yet, he was a businessman and not a criminal. He set up venues where ladies were prized assets and protected by his gentlemanly values. His nightclubs were safe environments and due to his reputation only fools would create trouble in his clubs. He had gambling and cabaret entertainment – the very best comedians and music acts. He pushed for changes to licensing laws and always gave back to the communities through charity work. Fewtrell formed lasting friendships with celebrities and star acts. He was very good friends with comedian Bernard Manning, Jazz musician, Bev Bevan, and counted the likes of Tom Jones, Sonny Liston and Shirley Bassey among his friends. The book is full of celebrity anecdotes and endorsements of Eddie’s wide ranging venues. Eddie created a family for his workers and was a loyal man who could always offer a helping hand – although he never tolerated fools gladly. He was a dedicated family man – a very conscientious father figure for his children. He was above all a shrewd businessman whose hard work paved the way for his lasting success. Sometimes the writing in the book is a bit simple and poorly structured, but the invigorating content makes up for this lapse. As a student of clubland history I found the Eddie Fewtrell story to be very inspiring and it is clear that he provided the foundations for the city of Birmingham to flourish in later years.
Charlie Richardson was an important figure in the London Underworld during the 1960s. The Krays often overshadow The Richardsons in terms of their notoriety as London gangsters but, as is clear from the revelations in this book, The Richardson family were certainly equally as important in the capital’s underworld. Whereas the Kray twins had fame and used to use a lot of violence, the Richardsons tended to be more business-orientated. The two families met each other and were interlinked, sometimes having nasty fallouts during their periods as rivals. Charlie Richardson begins his book back in his youth, remembering the harsh days of World War 2 and what growing up during the blitz and subsequent years of suffering under rationing etc meant to his character formation. He had an early acumen for business and started off as a scrap metal dealer, something that he built his whole operations around. His reputation as a South London hard man led him to brush shoulders with the rich and famous and very powerful. What struck me was not so much the run of the mill criminal tales but the way he was used by high society politicians and espionage networks. Ultimately, his trumped up 25 year jail sentence in 1966 due to allegedly torturing some of his debtors using an electroshocking ‘black box’ – a crime he still refutes – was probably so severe due to his involvement in a South African spy plot to bug Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Downing Street telephones. The chapter when he dodged out of his military draft ending up in his first big prison spell was interesting. Charlie Richardson was certainly a ladies man and could charm the women, moving through several before finally settling with his final partner, Reggie, on his release from jail. The businessman shows in his overseas mining ventures and it was clear that he can not be regarded as just a tough typical cockney criminal. He was a thinking man and his university studies whilst serving his jail sentence showed how he was certainly of a high intellectual ability. What strikes the reader about Charlie Richardson, in his honest and straightforward autobiographical account, is that, aside from his illicit activities and tough reputation, he was above all a family man with values. It is certain, in particular from the character testimonies bequeathed after his death, that Richardson was held in very high esteem with the respect of ordinary decent folk as well as having clearly earned his stripes as perhaps the ‘Last Gangster’ of a forgotten age. Still to this day Richardson’s name in London is held in awe and through reading this book, it is clear to me, why this should be.
David Tomkins has led an interesting life, to say the least. Our swashbuckling protagonist begins his autobiography as a tough safe-cracker, self-trained in explosives. His early adventures lead him to prison life where he swaps tales and picks up skills, leading to further crimes. Moving away from his gangster life, Tomkins utilises his explosive skills to full effect by becoming a mercenary. His military adventures take him across Africa, from Angola to Togo and into Rhodesia. Constantly under suspicion at airports from Special Branch and security services, Tomkins becomes a darling of the Press, a true life mercenary who engages in politics at the highest level. Merging his mercenary work with business interests he becomes an arms dealer, strutting around the world, negotiating some stranger-than-fiction deals with some rather salubrious characters. Eventually his mercenary work comes back tot he fore when he is recruited to fight out in Colombia, first arranging an international special forces brigade to attack the FARC and then later, employed by the Calí drug cartel he is delivered a project to assassinate the head of the rival Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. Ultimately both the Colombian adventures do not achieve their mission goals and later end our hero up in US custody where he returns to the prison system, detailing the flaws of the US Justice system and ending the tale whiling out his time in jail before luckily being returned to his wife and family in the UK. The book is well written and is truly compelling. David Tomkins’ life is surely a worthy tale to be told and I can’t think of many more varied real life adventure stories out there.
A doctor conversing with one of his elderly patients in Japan, reveals this amazingly quaint story of a Yakuza gang leader. Set in the heart of Tokyo in the early twentieth century, our hero comes from an ordinary background and works his way into a veritable life in the underworld, as a professional gambler, running dice games, which is the heart of the Yakuza’s business. The story has tales of romance from whores and geisha women, to running away and eloping only to cut off his own finger in a ritual apology. There are several visits to jail where he abides by Yakuza rules and etiquette, gaining much respect. He has a stint in the military abroad in North Korea and spends much of World War 2 dodging bombs in Tokyo and continuing to run gambling dens. There is an antiquity to the tales which describe the character is the most personal way. One feels attached to the gangster and one can learn a great deal about the structure of organised crime and what life actually was like to be part of it only last century. One thing that resounded was the deep respect for bosses and between members of the same organisation and indeed rival gangs. I really loved the story and read the book rather quickly. It’s a shame the final part was glossed over and we didn’t get to continue the story up until the death of the Yakuza man
My journey through Hemingway’s works continues and ‘Men Without Women’ was no let down. The testosterone is flowing in this collection of short stories and the author’s narrative is constantly catching the macho emotions amid the standard Hemingway vivid scene description. We move from bullfighters, to gangsters, to boxers, to road trippers. Often the stories are based in the romance of continental Europe, a place for which, it is clear, Hemingway has a special affinity. very often we leave the story abruptly with a typical open-ended cliffhanger, allowing us to ponder the future development of the characters. Each of the stories could quite easily become a novel in themselves and in that sense ‘Men Without Women’ leaves us thirsty for more.