British Gangsters and their Curious Contribution to Literature
Just last month the Daily Mirror ran the story that convicted criminal Ronnie Biggs, who for years evaded justice for his role in the notorious Great Train Robbery, was to be given a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to crime, yes crime!, at a £50-a ticket gala dinner at a venue in Slough. The event, which was publicised as ‘To Rio and Back’, took place on August 29th. But, on the website of self-proclaimed gangster and celebrity author Dave Courtney there is a post dated August 27th in which Courtney rants about how the Home Office had decreed that if Biggs attended the event, alongside an assortment of well-known gangsters and ex-convicts, he would have his license revoked and be returned to prison immediately. I can find no reviews of ‘To Rio and Back’ on the internet, so I assume it went ahead without Biggs’ presence.
I support the release of prisoners on compassionate grounds, including Biggs who was released from prison over a year ago after being informed that he had only weeks to live, but it stands to reason that this policy is to allow them to spend the very end of their life with their family, and not to be applauded on stage by a rabble of fellow gangsters talking about how ‘ard they are. Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of grossly offensive gangster memoirs clogging up the shelves in the True Crime section of bookshops. Courtney himself has authored such literary classics as Stop the Ride I Want to Get Off (1999), Raving Lunacy (2000), Dodgy Dave’s Little Black Book (2001), The Ride’s Back On (2003), F**k the Ride (2005) and Heroes and Villains (2006). There is a silver lining to this dark literary cloud; Britain has never experienced gangsters as wealthy and powerful as those seen in Italy and the United States. American Gangsters like Al Capone, Sam Giancana and John Gotti never had the time to write books or organise gala dinners, although to be fair all these examples met their demise due to their love of the limelight. As we live in a country relatively unplagued by organised crime, perhaps we should be grateful that the worst we have to endure is the literary equivalent of celebrity gangsters parading their life around like your average exhibitionist Big Brother contestant.