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Monday, 28 August, 2000, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Last of an infamous trio
The Krays: Enduring icons of the 60s
As the last surviving member of the Kray crime dynasty is released from prison to "die in dignity", the great British obsession with geezer chic shows no sign of waning.

In the 1960s, one family's name conjured up the cruelty and the glamour of a life of crime.

Reggie Kray, and his late brothers Ronnie and Charlie, dominated the London underworld and courted the darlings of the entertainment world as friends.

The Krays wearing smart suits
The besuited twins were Britain's best-known gangsters
Snapped by photographer David Bailey in their heyday, the sharp-suited, hard-faced Krays became an enduring image of the 1960s.

Today, the Kray name remains synonymous with gangster chic.

Yet the Krays' grip on the East End crime world loosened more than 30 years ago, when an Old Bailey judge sent down Reggie and Ronnie Kray for murdering two of their gangland rivals.

Reggie Kray, 66, who is dying of cancer, was released from jail on Saturday by the Home Secretary Jack Straw on compassionate grounds.

His twin, Ronnie, died of a heart attack in 1995, and older brother Charlie passed away earlier this year. His funeral brought the East End to a standstill.

Loveable rogues

Popular mythology has long since glossed over the brothers' brutal legacy of protection rackets and murder, instead elevating the Krays to the status of loveable rogues.

Fraser
Frankie Fraser: 'Everyone in the East End loved the Krays'
After all, goes the argument, the Krays only ever harmed their own.

The surviving Kray has become the poster boy of "laddism" - not only has Reggie written columns for lad mag Front, in which he campaigned for his release, he has penned lyrics for the aptly-named US band, Fun Lovin' Criminals.

"Everyone in the East End loved the Krays," former Kray associate, "Mad" Frankie Fraser, told the Independent newspaper over the weekend.

"No woman got mugged, and no children were tampered with."

Mr Fraser himself has cashed in on the public appetite for gangster chic, running a tour retracing the Krays' steps for camera-toting globetrotters on the scent of decades-old blood.

Among the stops is the Blind Beggar, the pub where Ronnie Kray shot gangland rival George Cornell for allegedly calling him a "poof".

Popular support

The brothers' supporters have long pedalled the somewhat romanticised view that the East End was a safe haven for ordinary hard-working Londoners under the Krays' watch.

Lad mags
Popular heroes: Lad mags idolised the Krays
In sentencing the twins to a minimum of 30 years in 1969, Justice Melford Stevenson said: "In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities."

Yet a couple of decades on, society started to clamour for their return. In 1993, several hundred people marched on Downing St to present a 10,000-signature petition calling for the Krays' release.

Supporters included Barbara Windsor, of the BBC soap EastEnders, The Who's Roger Daltrey, and the actress Patsy Kensit.

Young Patsy lays claim to geezer credentials herself - her uncle knocked about with the Krays, and her brother is Reggie's godson.

Lock, Stock and scrapping the barrel

When the celluloid biography The Krays hit the silver screen in 1990, British gangster flicks were few and far between.

Guy Ritchie with Brad Pitt, star of the latest East End installment
Brad Pitt plays a bare-knuckle fighter in Guy Ritichie's Snatch
Yet that all changed in the late 90s, due in large part to writer-director Guy Ritchie's first feature, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Snatch, Ritchie's second ode to hoodlums on the make, opens across the UK on 1 September. However, according to a survey by film website Empire Online, Ritchie should ditch the gangster genre in his next outing.

Not only did a clutch of filmmakers seek to cash in on Lock, Stock's box office bonanza, publishers rushed out stacks of books penned by reformed crooks

The autobiographical Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off, by Kray sidekick "Dodgy" Dave Courtney, has sold respectable numbers, as has The Guv'nor, by the bare-knuckle fighter and gangland legend Lenny McLean.

Convicted felons or no, the antics of those prepared to cut up rough for the readies have proved endlessly fascinating - when viewed from a safe distance, of course.

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See also:

26 Aug 00 | UK
Reggie Kray freed
04 Apr 00 | UK
Gangster Charlie Kray dies
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