THEY LOVE harking back to the old days in the East End of London - the Blitz, the Queen Mum and that rosy era when the Kray twins bestrode their territory like benevolent giants.
There's nothing like a traditional East End funeral to bring on a collective rush of nostalgia, and yesterday, when they gathered to pay final respects to Lenny McLean, was no exception.
Lenny was the type of man usually referred to by polite society as a "colourful character". Cockney blood coursed through every vein of his 6ft 3in, 20-stone body. He was a bare-knuckle prize-fighter, a nightclub bouncer, a convicted criminal and, most recently, an actor and author.
He was also, naturally, a "diamond geezer". For it is part of local custom to eulogise these hard men of the East End posthumously, regardless of their rough edges. (Lenny spent a fair bit of his life behind bars, including an 18-month spell for grievous bodily harm in 1992).
"Larger than life, a real gent," sighed Maureen Flanigan, a former model and page three girl, surveying the floral tributes outside the funeral parlour in Hoxton High Street.
"He was a devoted family man," added Ms Flanigan, looking every inch the part, in skintight black dress, black stilettos, long peroxide blonde hair and black alligator-skin handbag.
Lenny was already a legend before he died of cancer last week, aged 49. Unbeaten in 3,000 unlicensed bouts, he was once flown out to New York to take on the Mafia's leading fighter, John McCormack. The Mafia man lasted less than three minutes.
Like many successful East Enders, Lenny had moved out to more agreeable environs, in his case suburban Bexleyheath, in Kent. But his final journey, to the City of London Crematorium, began in Hoxton, in the heart of the East End, where he was born and bred.
Just up the road is Hoxton Square - once seedy, now transformed by the developers, full of loft apartments and bars so trendy it hurts. The high street, though, is still vintage East End, scruffy, faded, bustling.
Yesterday, a crowd of shoppers and passers-by watched as the cortege drew up, headed by 13 stretch limos, a Rolls and a Bentley. Curious locals hung out of windows; lunchtime drinkers in the Bacchus pub spilled out on to the pavement.
The air was heavy with the sickly sweet smell of flowers, from the dozens of wreaths laid outside Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop, the East End landmark next door to the funeral parlour. "Len, love you always, your Val," read a tribute in white chrysanthemums from Lenny's wife.
Soon after 1pm, six burly men shouldered the oak coffin on to the hearse, a Victorian carriage drawn by four plumed horses. A woman with sunburnt arms dabbed her eyes as the procession set off on its five-mile journey.
Among the mourners was the obligatory scattering of sharp-suited men in dark glasses who could have walked straight off the set of The Godfather.
They stood around looking tough, and not a little self-conscious, arms folded across their barrel chests. The sun glinted off a razor scar on the cheek of one hard-faced man.
Some of them were not just playing the part. Tony Lambrianou, for instance, who served 15 years for his part in the murder of Jack "the Hat" McVitie. Silver-haired Lambrianou, holding court outside the Iceland supermarket, said: "Lenny was a lion in the ring and a lamb outside it."
Charlie Kray, older brother of the twins, is currently back in one of Her Majesty's institutions, but sent an emissary who said he was "devastated" about his friend's death.
The world of soccer was represented, appropriately enough, by "hard man" Vinnie Jones. Jones recalled the man nicknamed The Guv'nor with fondness. "His motto to me was `have respect for your opponents and have respect for the people you love'."
These are the rituals that punctuate East End life, but not for much longer. As Lambrianou pointed out, all the old lags are dying off. "There are not many of us left," he lamented. "And our children are not going into the family business; that's the tragedy of it."
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