Charlie Kray was a gentleman, a true gentleman, anyone in east London yesterday would have told you so.
And had there been any doubt as the eldest of the notorious Kray brothers was buried, the word was physically spelt out in a wreath fixed to his hearse.
This may be the way history works, the way that memory can conveniently play tricks. Never mind that Charlie Kray was part of the most brutal and feared criminal clan of the 60s, forget that he was jailed for 10 years for disposing of the body of his brother's victim Jack "The Hat" McVitie, and forget that he was jailed three years ago for masterminding a £39m cocaine ring.
Yesterday most of the people who gathered in Bethnal Green to say goodbye preferred to remember other things: a family type, respectful, charming, a gentleman.
One huge wreath, atop one of the 18 limousines, was typical. "Only met you once Charlie. You were the perfect gentleman. Love always, Frances."
Presumably for Charlie's benefit - since he had only met her once - Frances had added in brackets: "Lena's friend".
This is not to say the emotion on display yesterday was not genuine sadness at the passing of Charlie Kray, who died in prison two weeks ago at the age of 73, and affection for his brother Reggie, 66, now in his 33rd year in jail for the murder of McVitie.
When he arrived at the funeral parlour from prison yesterday morning, a small gaunt man handcuffed to a female prison officer, there was a cheer from the crowd.
"It was much safer around here when the Krays were here," said Ellie Martin, 53, whose husband, Les, said he ran Charlie's fan club. "What good is it keeping him inside now?" It was just a short drive to St Matthew's church for the funeral service and the cortege passed along Vallance Road, once home to the Krays, but now redeveloped, another part of east London's history inextricably altered.
Outside the church the mourners mingled: C-list celebrities, old villains such as "mad" Frankie Fraser and Charlie Richardson, actors with familiar faces but forgettable names. There was an overwhelming sense of faded grandeur, an attempt to relive a way of life gone by.
The service itself was a hotchpotch affair of pop songs and hymns - Celine Dion and "Abide With Me". There was also a recording Reggie had made for his own funeral of him reading a poem in a faint gravelly voice. "Do not stand at my grave and weep," it went. "I am not there, I do not sleep."
And then it was back into the limousines and up to the family plot at Chingford Mount Cemetery, passing crowds of onlookers who gathered to watch the cars sweep passed.
At the graveside where Ronnie's tomb bears the word legend, a mob of self-important skinheads in black coats kept back the crowd of 200 or 300 as close family and friends gathered round the deeply dug hole. Charlie's girlfriend, Diana Buffini, was supported by friends, Reggie by his girlfriend, Roberta Jones, and by the prison officer from whom he was forced to be inseparable.
And amid all the hubbub and fuss, all the clatter of photographers' shutters, there was one moment that summed up the day. Reggie, his face red and puffy, looked down into the grave and then up again. It was as though he realised that unless he ever got parole the next time he would be there would be for his own funeral - when he too would be consigned to the workings of history.Reuse content