From Fringe to East End, Mad Frankie aims to be a hit
James Cusick hears why a notorious criminal has returned to his old `manor'
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Tuesday 26 September 1995
Mad Frank, now reformed and repackaged as Mild and Mannered Frank, is back in his old "manor" selling tickets to hear his life story.
The "dentist" of the notorious Richardson gang, which challenged the supremacy of the Kray Brothers in the Fifties and early Sixties, once used pliers - "gold-plated mind you" - to extract teeth from victims who owed money. Now 72 years old, and having spent 40 of those inside, Mad Frank is taking to the London stage after hit appearances at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Two October dates have been booked at the Brick Lane music hall in the East End. "Charlie Kray's reserved two tickets. All the old show biz people'll be there, Babs [Barbara Windsor], Danny, you know, la Rue," publicity man Patrick Newley said.
As Mad Frank performs with his pliers over Marilyn Wisbey, 30 years his junior and daughter of the Great Train robber, Tommy, Mr Newley shouts out and laughs: "Ere Frank, do you love her, do you share the same bed, what's Frank like in bed Marilyn?" Mr Newley admits there is no line he draws on matters of taste. "I used to work for the tabloids. A lot of it was made up. By the way, my own book's out next year, interested?"
Mad Frank: Memoirs of a Life of Crime was published last year, selling 6,000 in hardback, 30,000 in paperback. Where once New York hoods of the Twenties became lovable Harry the Horse or Bookie Bob at the hands of Damon Runyon, so too the real-life hardmen and thugs of London become "entertainers" at the hands of Friendly Frank. `Were you part of an attractive set?" Frank is asked. "Yes definitely," he recalls. "Stanley Baker, the actor, did come up to visit me at Brixton when I was nicked for murder."
Ten hours of taped memoirs have been condensed to a "show" of nearly two hours by Frank's agent, Michael Linden. Despite Frankie's 15 convictions and bouts of official insanity, Mr Linden nevertheless regards his client as a "lovely man, completely unlike your stereotypical idea of a gangster". Arguments settled by using broken bottles (glassing) or slashing buttocks with razors (striping) or even the use of guns, are passed over in favour of the showbiz side of crime. "He [Frank] enjoyed getting out and meeting people. Garland. Baker. He cracks jokes, you know," Mr Linden said.
"There's one comedian Frank knows. So Frank asks `What you up to then?' The comedian says `I'm doin' Hamlet.' Frank says `You have a rest I'll do him for you'."
With his smart suit and tie and a full head of dyed brown hair, Friendly Frank is looking forward to taking to the Brick Lane stage.
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