'Undertakers to the underworld' do Reggie proud

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The Independent Online

In the end, there were six pall-bearers rather than four. Not that it mattered. By the time Reggie Kray, 66, died two weeks ago, the cancer that killed him had wasted down his impressive physique to just five stones. Had they wanted, a couple of them could have managed the coffin by themselves.

In the end, there were six pall-bearers rather than four. Not that it mattered. By the time Reggie Kray, 66, died two weeks ago, the cancer that killed him had wasted down his impressive physique to just five stones. Had they wanted, a couple of them could have managed the coffin by themselves.

But of course that would not have been respectful. This, after all, was the East End of London and while Kray's body may have been eaten away, the legend, myth and fabrication that surrounds his family still linger large.

And so Bethnal Green was yesterday treated to something that at times fell little short of pantomime - right down to the cast, the lines and the clapping from the crowds as Kray's coffin appeared. The performance began on Bethnal Green Road outside the premises of W English and Son, which, having also overseen the funerals of Reggie's brothers, Charlie and Ronnie, can claim the title of undertakers to the underworld.

In the road, six black horses stood in front of the hearse that would be Reggie's last ride. Making up the cortÿge were at least 18 black limousines, laden down with flowers, D-list celebrities and former gangsters. Eventually the coffin was carried out and the cortÿge - with Kray's widow, Roberta, in the first car - set off for St Matthew's Church. On the way the procession passed the church where Kray married his first wife, Frances Shea, in 1965, and the spot on Vallance Road where he and his brothers were brought up by their beloved mother, Violet.

This part of the Kray legend no longer remains. Violet died in 1982 and the house they lived in at 178 has been knocked down. But at St Matthew's there were plenty of others making sure the legend lived on. Among them was Dr Ken Stallard, an evangelist minister who read the address.

He claimed that in the months before his death Kray became a Christian, but did not want his conversion made public. "Because I was his spiritual adviser I can say there was a depth of spiritual feeling to Reggie Kray that the world never saw and he never had a chance to express," he said.

The service began with the tune "Amapola", taken from the soundtrack of the gangster movie Once Upon a Time in America. At the end, Kray's coffin was carried out to "My Way", sung by Frank Sinatra.

And then, as it had been in 1995 for Ronnie and last April for Charlie, it was time for the 12-mile journey to the family plot at Chingford Mount in Essex. One onlooker, Albert Wilkins, 56, explained why he had come: "This is the East End saying goodbye to one of their own. They were villains, but they only did villains."

Even as they prepared to lower Kray into the ground, it became clear that while these notorious brothers were dead, their story was far from over.

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