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The name Kray is a surname synonymous with fear and criminality, but it also holds a certain allure equal to that of glamorous icons of stage and screen. The Kray twins have certainly reached legendary status, as the name of the 2015 biographical film ‘Legend’ starring Tom Hardy suggests. But are they really legends? Or is the label of villain more appropriate considering their gruesome career history? When Reginald and Ronald Kray were born just minutes apart on a cold October night in the East End of London in 1933, their mum Violet could have no comprehension of the notoriety her boys would gain. Little did the world know, these babes would grow up to become leaders of one the greatest criminal enterprises the UK has ever known, heading a gang based around extortion, protection, torture and eventually murder on the tough streets around Whitechapel. During the 50s and 60s, their forceful presence demanded respect. They incited both fear and admiration in all that knew them and, during their lifetime they gained the status of cultural icons who still fascinate us today.

How did they do it?

As businessmen who owned a number of nightclubs in the desirable West End, they managed to woo a whole host of celebrities, politicians and other prominent public figures such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Joan Collins and Diana Dors. Their charm was electrifying, their charisma, colossal. The undercurrent of danger when around them was mesmeric. But they were fierce allies who, at their heart, believed in respect and honour. They had principles, albeit their own version of morality. They were a heady mix of contradictions, and this all served to make them mysterious and magnetic. There is no doubt, their brutality was extreme, frequent and vicious. They stabbed their enemies in cold blood, Ronnie shot a rival gang member in the head, and Reggie had a deadly signature punch that could break a man’s jaw in a single blow. But they were also mummy’s boys. The love and admiration they had for their mother was extremely important to them, they cherished her dearly and spent much time enjoying her tea and cake. And there was most definitely a brotherly bond that transcended throughout their troubled lives. Documentaries and film adaptations about the Krays, of which there have been a few, each highlight their own aspects of the brothers’ story which means it can be difficult to really get under the skin of Ronald and Reginald Kray and understand the truth. Perhaps we are fascinated by their story because it is so close to home, and so recent? They survived into many of our lifetimes. Ronnie’s death in prison in 1995 made headlines, as did the last surviving brother, Reggie’s, who lived until the year 2000. The Kray twins represent a distinctly British corruption story, captivating and compelling, where criminals and socialites merge.

So, what do you think? Are they truly legends, or villains? Their outrageously scandalous lives would seem to blur the lines. Can they be both?

We delve deeper into the story of the Kray twins on a themed tour as part of an ‘infamous criminals of London’ weekend. Walk the same streets, visit their local haunts and hear more of the truth behind the fiction. When in possession of all the facts, perhaps then you can decide for yourselves. Call 0333 006 8800 for more information on our themed tours.