HOW WE MET: FRANKIE FRASER AND MARILYN WISBEY
Sunday 02 August 1998
FRANKIE FRASER: When I first met Marilyn she was a young girl. It was at Leicester security wing, around the end of 1967 or 1968. There's more prison officers than prisoners on that wing. But the visits then wasn't too bad, in fairness. You could have a pot of tea on the visit, and a prisoner would make it and come in with it, a fellow prisoner, to make sure that the officers hadn't poisoned it. So Tom, the Great Train Robber, Tom Wisbey, said would I make his tea, and I said "Course I will, who's coming up, Tom?" And he said, "My wife and two daughters." So in I come, put the tray down, and said to the two daughters, "Your dad is the best dad in the whole world." And Marilyn said, "You don't have to tell us that. We know!" I've never forgotten that.
Then I didn't see her again for many years, until a night in my nephew's wine bar, Tin Pan Alley, in Denmark Street off Charing Cross Road, in 1991. She was in there as a singer, and she sung that gorgeous song, Patsy Cline's number, "Crazy". Well, having been certified insane three times, I thought, "Is she taking it out of me?" I went up to her afterwards and said, "I thought you was having a knock at me," and she collapsed with laughter.
Then we got chatting and she said she was going to see her dad, and I said could I come along and see him - he's a lovely man. So we made a date, arranged to meet at Waterloo Station, and it was great. We had a lovely visit. And afterwards we went out for a drink and a meal and it took off from there, I'm happy to say - best thing that ever happened to me. We've been together now eight years and I've never been back to prison. It's the longest I've ever been out and that's definitely down to Marilyn.
She saved my life when I got shot in the head in 1991. She'd only known me three months then. We went out for a drink at eight in the evening and it was about 4am when we came out of the club. I was really legless - not drunk falling over, but if a sledgehammer had hit me it wouldn't have made no difference. When the first shot hit me in the head, I went for where the flash come from. Marilyn, more sensible, slung her arm round me head, pulled me back and the next shot flew by because she pulled my head out of the way. She was terrific, no question but she saved my life. The next morning she said to me, "That was a powerful shot of vodka we had last night. What proof was it?"
My first book, I owe it all to Marilyn and her hard work. She got me to get in touch with the publisher. I owe the show to Marilyn too. She's a tremendous worker, and when it come along Marilyn said "Yes, we'll do it". We were invited over to Dublin recently to be on Gay Byrne's television show; I told the story about that young boy whose appeal's on now - Derek Bentley. I punched the hangman on the day he got hung. I told this story live on the show, and Marilyn then sung that wonderful song, "Someone To Watch Over Me"; no one's ever sung it as good, she was brilliant. It was magnificent, everyone went mad clapping.
How it come about, the film, Hard Men, again it was down to Marilyn. I was out walking Marilyn's dog, Danny the dog, lovely little dog. And this little man, only as big as me, casually dressed, comes up and says, "Frank Fraser?" I says, "Yes." He says, "If I had your book with me, would you sign it?" I says, "Yes." He says, "I'm a film director and film producer." I humoured him, I said, "Oh good." He says, "I'm going to make a film, I'd like you to be in it." I said, "Yes, certainly." He gives me his phone number, I give him mine and all. Came home, told Marilyn - we both collapsed with laughter. I says, "He's most probably out from Broadmoor." But Marilyn said, "He may be genuine, wait and see." She always keeps her options open. And he was genuine. A few months later, he phoned me up. And that's how it came about.
In Hard Men, she was playing a blonde floozie, and the scene was in a Soho nightclub when a fight breaks out. I wasn't in this scene, I'm in another room having a cup of tea, and all of a sudden she comes flying in. She looked really frightened - she's a terrific actress. I rushed in: "What's happening? Who's had a go at her?" The director said, "Cut! We're just filming a scene, Frank. And, Marilyn, no need to run out in that scene." But I said, "She's doing it right, as a matter of fact. Is she related to anybody in this scene, boyfriend, husband, dad, brother, whatever?" And he said, "No." And I said, "Any woman in a nightclub, a floozie, if she's not involved with anyone there and there's a fight, she'll run out. I tell you that straight."
Marilyn's Marilyn, take me as you find me. If she wants to say something, she'll say it. She's a rebel, and that's why I love her. She'd fight a lion if she had to. I wish I'd met her many years earlier. She's a very bubbly character, she's funny and all, comes out with some terrific one- liners. The difference in our ages did bother me, because she's a terrific- looking girl and I thought, "My God, I shall have to put handcuffs on here," but it hasn't been a problem because she's such a good character. We'll definitely get married, otherwise it wouldn't be fair. We're very contented, very happy. If it can carry on like this I'm well pleased.
MARILYN WISBEY: I did meet Frank in Leicester Prison when I was just a little girl, 11 or 12. But I only have a faint recollection of that. I met him again years later, in the Tin Pan Alley wine bar which his nephew owned and where I had a spot singing. I'd just done that famous Patsy Cline number, "Crazy", and all of a sudden he came over and said, "Was that meant for me? You know I've been certified three times, you taking the piss out of me?" And I said, "Naah. You know who I am, don't you?" And he said, "Oh, yes." And we got talking and I asked him if he wanted to come and visit me dad down in Parkhurst. And Frank said, "Yeah, all right."
I met him at Waterloo Station the following week, and we went down to Parkhurst. I'd forgot to tell him about the visiting order, and the young prison officer wasn't going to let him in, but there was an older man there as well who said, "I know who he is. Go on through, Mr Fraser." He remembered him from years ago. I took a bottle of champagne and sandwiches from Marks and Spencers, made a picnic of it, a day out. And we went out for a meal when we got back to Waterloo. Then when Frank came home that evening to drop me off; well, he didn't drop me off, did he, he stayed with me!
We had a bit of a problem because though Frank wasn't with his wife Doreen, he was still with his girlfriend Val and he was backwards and forwards between the two of us. And I said, "It's either her or me, I can't put up with this." And he said, "I think I'll go back to Val, she seems more sensible than you." I started crying, waaaah! Anyway, we got to Waterloo, and we were sat there waiting for his train, and he said, "Oh, sod it, I'm going to stay with you."
I don't really notice the age difference between us. Frank pointed it out, and I said, "We'll worry about that bridge when we come to it." We haven't come to it yet. We'll maybe get married when Frank's divorce comes through. Having said that, he did say, "Bigamy won't matter with my record." Frank says I was born too late. Instead of 1954 I should have been born in 1924. He said I would have gone down well in them days.
Thing is, I've been out with nine-to- five people, electricians, turf accountants, accountants, you name it. Once they find out whose daughter I am, they don't like that sort of thing. So I feel more comfortable with guys who've been out of prison, they understand me. There's always been a stigma attached to children like me. I grew up with it; people think if that's how your parents are, you're like it. It's a shame really but that's life. So one thing we do have in common is background - I understand prison because of going to see my father for all those years.
When Frank was filming Hard Men, he played a gangster cameo role, and I was in it as an extra. One day I wasn't needed on the set and this journalist rang up and said was Frank there, and I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, he's out shooting." It made a nice change for me to be able to say it was on a film set.
We used to talk a lot about the old days but now we talk about what we're going to do tomorrow. I do all the bookings for the show when people ring. I sing songs in the show from the Thirties through to the Sixties, we've put them together according to the era. And we do interviews and radio together. My ambition is to help Frank make his new film, but we'll have to wait and see.
Apart from that we've got the same sense of humour. And he does keep me tranquil. I love his integrity, and he's got a great sense of humour, he takes everything in his stride. He's very kind, and he's always cool, calm and collected. He don't let nothing bother him. I wouldn't change anything about him, nothing at all.
! A second volume of memoirs, `Mad Frank and Friends', is published by Little Brown at pounds 16.99
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
A victory for gender equality on the high seas
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove