Billy Frost, The Krays’ Driver
After my conversation with Lenny Hamilton, the jewel thief, I went back on another afternoon to the Carpenters Arms in Cheshire St (the pub that once belonged to the Kray twins) to meet Billy Frost who was Ronnie and Reggie Kray’s driver. I recognised him at once by his pinstripe suit, which must be the preferred uniform for senior reprobates and, sure enough, he asked for a double Corvoisier and lemonade too, exactly as Lenny had done.
Already, Billy had discovered through the grapevine that I had been consorting with Lenny, so he went straight for the jugular, challenging me,“You’ve been talking with Lenny, haven’t you? “ I could not deny it, so Billy put me straight, “Lenny’s very prejudiced, just because Ronnie burnt him a bit with a poker, but the twins, they could be very kind to a lot of people – like old people and kids – and they did a lot of charitable work.” Then Billy clarified his statement, for the sake of a balanced argument, “Obviously, they could be very nasty too, if you got on the wrong side of them.”
Vividly outlining the full extent of his experience, “I knew them over a period of twenty years from when they were very young boxers, and Ronnie hit the referee and quit the boxing club.” Billy said, including an inconsequential detail that appeared entirely characteristic of his former employer, before setting out a lively account of his own conscientiously thorough apprenticeship in crime.
“When I was young I used to go to a dance hall in Tottenham called the Royal and that’s where I first met Ronnie and Reggie. Everyone used to go there each weekend. That’s when Ronnie got his first conviction – he beat up a fellow with a chain off a machine for manufacturing furniture (there were a lot of furniture factories in Bethnal Green at the time). When I met him I was on the run from the army. Saturday night at the Royal was the top night, people came from all over and we used to hang around the dance floor.
Then I lost touch with them because I had to go back to the army and I deserted again and I got caught stealing a truck load of metal and I got sent to borstal and from borstal I went back to the army and then I was arrested for stealing a car. I was on a licence from borstal and after I done my prison sentence they revoked my licence from borstal and I done a further eleven months.
When I come out, I was in the 181 Club in Gerrard St in the West End where I met Charlie Kray by chance. I asked him how Ronnie and Reggie were, and he said they were working with Jack Scott and Billy Hill. Later, I met the twins in the West End and they told me they didn’t want to be used by Jack and Billy any more and they were going out on their own. And that’s what they did.
I used to be with them. And I got arrested for something I actually never did! I was trying to help someone out, selling a bit of gear – cigarettes which came from Lee Green in South London. And then, mysteriously, the police found the same red glass substance in my trouser turn-ups from the rear of a Wolsey car that was used to ram the shop the cigarettes came from. It was a fellow called Terry Barnes who pleaded guilty to it, but I was found guilty and I got two years. When I came out, I caught up with Ronnie and Reggie again, by then they were involved in the race tracks, protection rackets and all that.”
Once he had dictated thus far, I had acquired a good sense of the general picture and was in awe of Billy’s ability to spin a sentence too. Though occasionally, to my alarm, he became a little impatient when I didn’t quite follow his drift. There was an attractive young couple at the next table who were curious of my charismatic guest speaking in such animated fashion. When they went out to the garden to have a smoke, leaving all their valuables, the young woman leaned across sweetly, asking Billy “Would you mind watching our things?” I was dumbstruck at the irony, thinking, “If only you knew…”
But now that Billy had declared himself to me, fair and square, it was time for me to get him another Corvoisier and lemonade before he settled down to recount the story of the murder of Georgie Cornell – whom Lenny Hamilton described to me as “the hardest man on the cobbles.”
“The argument was over a fellow named Nicky Morris. Georgie Cornell told Nicky’s mum, May, that Ronnie was after Nicky and ‘You know he’s a fat pouf,’ and this got back to Ronnie and Ronnie was furious. He had word with Georgie about it, but then Georgie started telling other people, ignoring Ronnie.
One night, I drove Ronnie & Reggie to The Stork Club in Swallow St. When they got inside , Georgie Cornell was sitting at a table on his own. Reggie went over and spoke to Georgie, but Ronnie wouldn’t go and sit with him (I never knew what it was really about at the time). Me and Ronnie sat at another table opposite and we got a couple of drinks. Ronnie was mumbling but he was incoherent and I couldn’t hear a word he said. Then we left The Stork Club after thirty minutes and went back to The Grave Maurice in Whitechapel. As we were driving back, they never said a word to each other, Ronnie and Reggie, and when we got into The Grave Maurice, they sat on their own and had a private conversation.
The day that Ronnie shot Georgie I had a day off. It was about a week later, when Ronnie and Scotch Jack were driving round to the widow’s pub in Bethnal Green, Ronnie saw Georgie Cornell’s car parked outside The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel High St. And he told Scotch Jack to turn round and go to the Green Dragon where someone was keeping a gun for him. Then Ronnie walked into The Blind Beggar and shot Georgie Cornell in the head.
Afterwards, I was present when Ronnie said ‘Has anyone got Nicky Morris’ phone number? Will you tell him to come over, I want to give him a nightcap?’ Nicky came over and I personally poured him out a gin and tonic. The next thing I knew, Ronnie punched Nicky in the face. And Nicky said, ‘I thought you was my friend, Ronnie?’ Reggie got hold of him and I expected he was going to let him go, but instead Reggie pushed Nicky into a storeroom. Then Ronnie got Nicky in a headlock and Reggie pulled out a big hunting knife and pushed it straight through Nicky’s arm. Ronnie said to Reggie, ‘Do it properly, stick it up his fucking guts!‘ Nicky howled when the knife went through his arm.
I said to Reggie, ‘Look, there’s people on the balcony opposite looking over and there’s people in the bar who can hear, they’re wondering what’s going on.’ I wanted to save the guy, I liked him, he was a nice boy. I said, ‘Come into the bathroom, Nicky, and I’ll do you up in some towels,’ but he was scared because he was bleeding buckets. I couldn’t take him to the London Hospital myself, in case the police got involved, because I had a warrant out for my arrest. Another member took him to the hospital.
A couple of days later, I was driving along the Lea Bridge Rd and Ronnie asked me to stop at Nicky Morris’ house and he said to Nicky, ‘Next time, it’ll be done properly.’”
Strangely, Billy appeared not to comprehend Nicky Morris’ reluctance to enter the bathroom. I thought of asking Billy if, in retrospect, he thought his logic for not taking Nicky Morris to the London Hospital was admirable but it was a redundant question, so instead I asked Billy if he was ever scared of Ronnie and Reggie.“Once I stayed the night at their house in Vallance Rd and I fell asleep on Reggie’s bed, and I woke to find him standing over me with a big Wilkinson’s sword that he had.” he replied, enacting the fierce gesture of raising the sword with the practised conviction of a Shakespearean actor.
As someone with an aversion to violence, I barely knew how to react to Billy’s stories and I think he could read it in my face at that moment, because he admitted quietly with a gentle smile, “They were good times, though personally I didn’t like all the violence, but if you’re going to do protection and be a villain then it comes naturally.” – as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Billy was on his third Corvoisier and lemonade, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He was polite and he was personable, and it was decent of him to grant me an interview but, considering what he had told me, I could not but wonder what there was that did not bear telling. I respect Billy greatly for his nerve – having the guts to survive the viper’s nest – living through so much brutality to reach this current point of benign equilibrium. Equally, I can never know whether those experiences induced in Billy a certain degree of acceptance of the long pitiful catalogue of cruelty that was inflicted by his employers, the psychopathic twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. It is a private question for Billy to reconcile with his conscience and we shall not be party to it.
I left Billy Frost in conversation with the young couple from the next table who were captivated by his charms. Running back in the dusk, through the rainy streets, thankful to arrive at the safety of my house in Spitalfields, the afternoon’s experience grew strangely familiar in my mind. It touched a chord of familiar unease, and I realised that I could now better appreciate Pip’s mixed emotions when he met the enigmatically fearsome convict Abel Magwitch in those brilliant early terrifying chapters of Great Expectations.