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Authors: Roy Archibald Hall

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L
iving the life that I led on my short breaks in London provided its own opportunities. On one occasion, after coming out of the Turkish baths in Jermyn Steet, I stood on the steps and hailed a taxi. A well-dressed man a few years older than myself appeared next to me just as my cab drew up. He asked me where I was going, and whether he might share the taxi? His destination was Belgrave Mews, mine Knightsbridge. I agreed, and we both climbed in. On the journey I could feel his eyes on me, I could now recognize a gay ‘come on’ at twenty feet. As he got out of the car, he asked me whether I’d like to come inside for drinks – I accepted. We drank and chatted for a while. The window to his neighbours’ flat was opposite his own bedroom window, with a gap of only a few feet in between. I steered the conversation on to the close proximity of the two homes. Eager to please
me, he told me all about his neighbours, rich people, very quiet, no trouble at all. They were keen theatre-goers, and he was to be their guest at the opening night of a forthcoming West End show.

As the drinks went down, the eye contact and his real intentions became more evident. He went through to the bedroom and after a minute, he called me. He was lying naked, face down on the bed. In his hand was a bushel of twigs, not unlike a witch’s broom. He asked me to beat him with them. Lifting my arm, I started to thrash him. Sado-masochism does nothing for me, I find it crazy. The man on the bed obviously didn’t – he kept screaming ‘Harder, harder’. I beat him until my arm was tired, quickly had sex with him, then left. On the way out I noted the types of locks on his door.

When ‘the man who liked to be spanked with twigs’ was attending the opening night of London’s latest musical, I entered his flat. Exiting through his bedroom window I climbed along the roof, crossed from his building to the neighbours via a parapet on the adjoining wall. I entered his neighbours house through a bedroom window, and robbed them – a most satisfactory evening.

On my return to Glasgow I pondered new ways to make a living. The estate agents scam had run its course and was now too dangerous. I had a bit of capital and, after some deliberation, decided to open a second-hand shop. I found suitable premises in Ibrox. My mother was keen on my suggestion that she become manageress, and I set about visiting markets and auctions buying cheap stock.

At one auction, I made the acquaintance of a small,
dapper, middle-aged woman. I could see by her clothes and jewellery that she had class. Her name was Esther Henry. I had heard of her before, she was rumoured to be friends with Edward the VII’s mother, old Queen Mary, and she owned Edinburgh’s most prestigious antique shop. We chatted for a while and I flirted and flattered her. I knew she was rich. I gave my name as Roy Salvernon, and hinted that my family were involved in shipping. As I had hoped, she gave me her card and invited me to visit her shop. I smiled at her and told her I most definitely would pay her a visit. I didn’t know on that first meeting that our association would go on for many years. Robbing Esther would eventually give me my first taste of notoriety.

Soon the shop in Ibrox was up and running, all clothes were laundered, ironed, and hung on rails. The bric-à-brac was cleaned, polished and nicely displayed. Trade flourished immediately. Within a few months I had acquired the lease of the empty shop next door, which gave me two windows to display my wares and trade increased again. Because of long-nurtured criminal contacts, goods that would not be taken to most shops would end up on my counter, with young thieves asking for a cheap price. I took full advantage of being on ‘the other side of the fence’, so to speak. By the time I celebrated my twenty-first birthday, I was a successful, legitimate businessman.

A young Jewish doctor came into the shop one day to sell me some odds and ends. We were of a similar type, and within days were socialising together. He would give me the names and addresses of former patients who had
recently died, and it was on his advice that I started visiting bereaved families. When people are in a state of grief their business acumen suffers considerably. I would make an astute offer for the deceased’s belongings. With the air of a professional mourner, I would urge their relatives to get rid of all sad memories. The money that I gave them could be spent on the living. Many useful acquisitions were gained in this way, and the stock of my shop continued to rise.

My sexual appetite has always been voracious. My doctor friend was homosexual and he introduced me to Benzedrine, an amphetamine that would keep me awake for hours on end. With seemingly endless energy I would make love to him all night long. Madame Vogely was a friend of the doctor’s and soon became a friend of mine. Even allowing for my sexual excesses, my association with the Vogely family still stands out in my memory. The Madame was in her fifties, her daughter twenty-one, and her son nineteen. In one twenty-four hour period, I ‘serviced’ the mother during the night. Then the next morning, after she had left the house to go shopping, her daughter, who brought me breakfast in bed, enquired whether or not I liked only older women. I told her to get in beside me and see. She did and by the time she got out she knew the answer. After her departure I showered and, wearing only a bathrobe, started to shave. The nineteen-year-old son then entered the room, and while I finished shaving he went on his knees and took me in his mouth. The Vogelys were very much a ‘family affair’.

In spite of the continued success of the shop, it began to feel like a millstone round my neck. The day-to-day
running of it was left more and more to my mother. Occasionally I would rob somewhere just to keep my hand in. Crime and sex made me feel alive. An ordinary job, even if it was my own business, just left me feeling trapped.

Every few weeks I would travel south, and enjoy London’s gay scene. I eventually got it together with Terence Rattigan. To have a man whom the Queen would eventually knight willingly go on his knees before you is a good feeling. I slept with the people society gossip columns wrote about. Today, sitting alone in my prison cell, it gives me pleasure to think about it. It is good to remember that my life hasn’t always been as empty as it is now.

It wasn’t often that customers came into the shop and invited me to rob them, but the Shorts stand out in my memory for doing just that. True, they didn’t actually invite me to steal their belongings but, to a man like myself, if someone fairly wealthy lets you know that they will have a room full of silver gifts, and they tell you where they will be at a certain time on a certain date, they might as well have asked me to take it. The Shorts were a well-known theatrical couple, the parents of Jimmy Logan, a well-known Scottish comedian of the time, and Annie Ross the jazz singer. They also had a daughter Ella, who had emigrated to America and become a Broadway star. Ella would send her parents fur coats and other luxurious items, which were easier to obtain in America than here. What Mrs Short had no use for, she would sell to me. She became a regular customer and, as her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary loomed, she told me and my mother what a grand affair it was going to be. She gave me the time and
place of the party, which was to be held in one of Glasgow’s finest hotels. On the evening of the celebration, I broke into their house and stole all the anniversary gifts. The twenty-fifth is traditionally ‘silver’, and I was quite sure that a couple like the Shorts would indeed be given only genuine silver gifts. One of the mementoes that I stole was a solid silver cigarette case given to them by Sir Harry Lauder, who gave the world the caricature of a Scotsman being a kiltwearing, drunken skinflint carrying a wobbly walking stick. The Shorts continued to patronise the shop, and I was never questioned or suspected of being the thief.

During the summer of 1945 the War ended. Everybody, myself included, was in high spirits. I decided to close the shop, and celebrated by going to Perth and robbing a large house. Among the items I stole that day were a jade and diamond necklace and earrings. Jade was unknown to me, I had never robbed it before. Guessing that these two pieces were valuable I decided to sell them in London. I bought my usual first-class rail ticket and headed south.

The two assistants in Benson & Co seemed unsure about what to do and the elder of the pair disappeared into the manager’s office. As the seconds ticked by I became more and more uneasy. My instincts were now on edge and I felt I should leave, but they had my jewels. I had come a long way to leave empty-handed. A well-dressed man wearing a bowler hat came in, and walked straight into the manager’s office. I had been a thief for six years and during that time I had learned not to panic and never to flap. But distinguishing between panic and following your intuition can be a fine line. My instincts said leave, cut your losses.
My experience said stay cool, don’t leave without the jewels or money. That day I paid the price for not listening to my inner voice – I would have twelve months in the hellhole that is Barlinie to rue that decision.

The bowler-hatted gent was the first to emerge from the office. He came straight over to me and told me he was a police officer from West End Central. He asked for ID and I tried to give him a story. He stared at me impassively. My one fear, the fear that dogs every criminal, was coming true right before my eyes. I was cornered by the police. There is an old saying ‘What goes around, comes around’. I knew that the circle of my early life was then complete.

My next seven days were spent in a prison cell in Wormwood Scrubs. My parents made the four
hundred-mile
journey to visit me. When I appeared at Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, the Prosecutor told the Judge that he was offering no evidence in this case, as two Scottish police officers were waiting to re-arrest me. At seven o’clock that evening the two plain clothes detectives ushered me into a reserved compartment of the London to Glasgow train leaving from Euston Station. This was my first ‘pinch’, I had no criminal record yet. The detectives viewed me as a young criminal unlikely to be trouble to them. Showing me the handcuffs, they asked me whether I was going to behave myself. I assured them I would. As a boy in Glasgow I had heard many frightening tales of Barlinie, and my brief taste of the Scrubs had done nothing to allay my fears. I had encountered a menacing and brutal atmosphere, previously unknown to me. With each mile my dread increased.

I asked to go to the toilet just as the train was pulling into Carlisle. The Scottish border country loomed. From inside the small loo I could see the shapes of bodies boarding the train. When you are in a stressful situation, your only solace is in stolen quiet moments when you pray for strength or release. I stood in the toilet and for a few minutes I breathed deeply and wished I could relive the last few days. I cursed myself for not running from that shop, I cursed myself for taking that fateful journey south a week ago.

When I stepped out of the toilet, Carlisle station was receding into the distance and the train pushed forward into the black northern night. My two captors were standing further down the corridor, we were separated by busy luggage-laden passengers anxious for seating and rest. I must have been in a daze, because it wasn’t until I saw the panic in the eyes of the detectives at our enforced separation that the possible significance of the moment hit me. My attention and theirs was on the two middle-aged women who stood between us. Their suitcases prevented me from stepping towards them, or them towards me. To this day I cannot remember having a clear thought that I would jump. But that is what I did. I felt the cold night air and the fear of the unknown as I threw open the door and leapt into the freezing void. The thrust propelled me forward and down, the ground was soft and wet. I lay face down on the earth, my heart was beating so loudly it was difficult to hear the train. I was listening for the screech of brakes and the shouting voices that would mean the chase. I lifted my head to separate the pounding of my heart from
the rhythmic thunder of the train wheels. I dared not stand. I fought to control my breathing. In what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was just seconds I realised the roll of metal on metal was becoming more distant. The train continued its journey. I was free.

A
fter climbing up an embankment and over an advertisement hoarding, I found myself penniless on a deserted street in the Carlisle suburbs. I have a good sense of direction and, facing north, I started up a slow jog. There were ninety-six miles between my home city and the ground that my feet were pounding. Now I was really on the run. I ran on in the dark for hour after hour. Exhausted, I slept briefly in the doorway of a village church. The bitter cold and hunger made any further rest impossible, so I continued to run.

As daybreak dawned, the loneliness of that long bitter night receded. With the relief of daylight came the danger of recognition. I wanted to get myself off the open road as quickly as possible. There was little traffic, but each vehicle that passed filled me with a sense of dread. Would this one be a police car? South of Glasgow are the coal-mining
fields of Lanarkshire. Workers from all over the border regions were picked up by pit buses and transported to the fields to start their early morning shifts. It was such a bus that rattled down the northern road on which I was walking. Waving frantically, I stopped it. The driver was a gnarled old man, who had probably once earned his wages underground in the same way as his passengers.

A well-dressed, if bedraggled young man must have seemed a strange sight in the early morning light. I told him that my car had been stolen north of Carlisle, that I had walked for most of the night and was desperate to get to Glasgow to report the theft. All of my money had been in the car. With a terse generosity he motioned his head to one side, a non-verbal communication that allowed me to board the lumbering but warm bus.

Knowing that my parents' house was out of bounds, I headed for the home of a criminal friend. I lay low to contemplate my situation. I knew that my mother must be anxious, so I sent a message through my friend telling her that I was in good health and close by. Against my judgement, she was adamant that she must see me. After a few days I reluctantly agreed. We organised a journey involving buses, trams and the subway. If she became suspicious of anyone or anything, she was to abandon the meeting and return home. I waited in a shop doorway some yards from where the bus dropped her off. I scanned the faces and people around her. All seemed well. As my mother approached, I stepped out of the doorway. Together we started the short walk to my refuge. I noticed the strangers immediately standing almost opposite my
safe house. One was considerably older than the other, an odd pairing to a criminal that could mean police. Still walking casually, my arm linked with my mother's, I kept my eyes on the strangers. The young one crossed the road and walked swiftly in our direction. I saw, in the quick glance he threw us, that he had observed both our faces. His quick stride took him past us, I listened for some change in his footsteps. Apart from distancing, none came. For the briefest moment I felt that we were safe. Then, the older man slowly crossed the road. I felt my mother's grip on my arm tighten. Gradually we approached each other. I knew in my heart that with my mother beside me I could not run. If I did she would be arrested, taken to the station, questioned and maybe held. The professionally dressed, middle-aged man was now almost upon us. Without staring I sensed his movements. The first thing I knew about the man behind me was his hand on my shoulder. In the same instant, the older man in front of us grasped my mother's arm and identified himself and his colleague as police.

British justice stinks! My mother was a forty-four-year-old woman with a young child to care for, she had never been in trouble with the police in her life and her only crime was maternal protectiveness. The presiding judge sentenced her to twenty-eight days in ‘Duke Street', Glasgow's Women's Prison. I was sentenced to eighteen months. I won't say that I didn't mind being sentenced, because I did, but I could accept that this was the natural course of things. I was a criminal. My mother was not.

Barlinie was one of Britain's toughest prisons and the
worst that Glasgow had to offer was behind its bars. The warders were brutal. Groups of them would dish out beatings for the smallest contravention of any one of the many rules. I was young and vulnerable. I kept my head down, kept myself to myself and I learned the lessons of prison life. I served that first sentence unobtrusively and quietly. I don't make moves unless I'm sure of my ground. It is part of my nature and inherent in most survivors. After serving two-thirds of my sentence I was released, but not rehabilitated. The twelve months spent inside the walls of Barlinie had been my second schooling.

Glasgow no longer suited my tastes, the pickings in London were that much richer. The day after my release I caught the night train south. I drank in Soho, a fascinating area. The bars and cafés were frequented by socialites, theatre people, artists, thieves and gangsters. It was uniquely Bohemian and that was to my taste!

I tried calling Vic Oliver a few times, but he had moved on. Que sera! I visited some old haunts. At one in Belgravia, I bumped into Terence Rattigan. It must have been two years since I'd last seen him. He was still writing hit plays. It was nice to see him and, from the way he acted, it was obvious he was pleased to see me. We chatted and had a couple of shots of brandy. He lived close by, and had only popped out to replenish drinks. He told me that he was giving a dinner party. I jokingly suggested he should have hired me to ‘wait' on his table. I told him of my time at the Glenburn Hotel, that I was very good at such things and had natural talent.

The tone of the conversation changed. He became
serious, whispering his comments. Would I accompany him home? He wanted me to do something special. Would I serve his guests? He would make it worth my while. The thing was, he wanted me to serve after-dinner port with a difference. He wanted me to do it in the nude. I was to approach the dining table with everything hanging out. He wanted me to titillate his friends.

I have few inhibitions. I would make money and useful contacts. Later I might rob them, who knew what might happen? Before the end of the evening, I was sure my ball bag would be empty. I agreed.

After swallowing our brandies, we walked the short distance back to his flat. It was spacious and luxurious. God knows how much he was earning. He had a small kitchen staff of two waiters and a cook. I was told to wait in the kitchen until the appointed time. I had undressed and was wearing only a bathrobe. While I waited, I drank brandy at the kitchen table.

When my cue came, the cook slid the bathrobe from my shoulders and placed a tray with a decanter full of port in my hands. I entered. For a naked body the temperature was not warm, and my penis was not at its most glorious. In fact, because of the chill and my nerves, it was limp and bloodless, a shadow of its usual self. I approached the table and as I poured the first glass, I felt a hand cup my balls and give them a loving squeeze. With each glass that I filled, different hands caressed me. The blood streamed into my cock – you could have hung your hat on it. Rattigan's dining-room was mirrored wall to wall. The men who weren't looking at me directly were staring into the
mirror. Hands slid up and down my body. The fingers of the rich and privileged probed my arse and I smiled and served. This beat leaning up against a bar daydreaming. As they touched me, I wondered who I'd be able to rob, and who I wouldn't.

I was open to everything and, in time, everything would happen to me. This was just another day.

I took a flat in central London and, as the many commuters travelled into the city to work, I travelled to the suburbs that they had just emptied and robbed them. I had been leading the city life for just under a year, when I was arrested on a burglary charge. I asked for fifty other offences to be taken into consideration, and was sentenced to two years. I was taken to HMP Wandsworth, in South West London. In Wandsworth, I met many people who would remain lifelong friends. In Wandsworth I met John Wooton.

In 1948 prison time was hard time. You were not allowed to speak to a warder unless he addressed you first. You had one bath a week in five inches of tepid water, you dried yourself with a piece of coarse canvas cloth. At night you sat in your cold, dank cell sewing mailbags. The bags secreted a black, sticky resin, which would eventually cover your hands.

It was no place for the faint-hearted. All my life I had abhorred violence. Although no victim, I was not a natural fighter. Words were my weapons. During exercise one day, my Scottish accent attracted the attention of a big English con. Taller, heavier and older than me, he decided he wanted to fight me – his reason being that he didn't like
the way I spoke. In prison, if you can avoid using your slop-out pot, you do. As the exercise period was finishing, I took my chance to use the toilet. The English con followed me. His intent was clear and, barging into me, he raised his fists. The voice of John Wooton prevented that first punch being thrown. He said, ‘Why don't you try me? I'm more your size.' Aged 34, Wooton was ten years my senior. He was tall with dark hair and an athletic build. In his youth he had done some boxing and he ‘shaped up' to the would-be bully. This man had wanted a soft target, someone to beat, someone to take his anger out on. He left the toilet without saying a word. He never bothered me again. For John and myself, it was the start of a friendship that would shape both our lives. Years later, this most trusted friend would marry my mother, making him my official stepfather.

Wooton and myself were cut from the same cloth. Neither of us was typical of our backgrounds. We both moved easily in middle- and upper-class circles. John was no more a typical Londoner than I was a typical Glaswegian. We would work together, but in 1948 our time had not yet come. Before Wooton would come Johnny Collins. Collins was an East End thief, two years older than myself. Now he was a typical cockney – he loved going to the dogs, gambling, womanising, and boozing. On his right cheek he bore a scar, which he said was inflicted by Jack Spot, the so-called King of the Underworld who preceded the Kray twins as possibly the most feared man in London. Collins release date was some months before mine and close to Christmas. Before he left he made a promise to see
me alright for 25 December. Although difficult to escape from, the prisons of post-war Britain were nothing like the security-conscious places they are today. There was no barbed wire on top of the walls, nothing was alarmed, there were no perimeter fences. If you could somehow scale the walls, you could quite feasibly get to the exterior doors and windows of the prison itself. There was a glassless, but barred, window to the tailoring shop. Stacked next to the bars were rolls of cheap cloth, which were used for prison uniforms. On the day before his release, Johnny pulled me to one side and told me of his proposal. On one of the days leading up to Christmas Eve, he would scale the walls, cross the wasteground and, reaching inside the bars of the tailor shop window, he would leave me some Christmas cheer to share with our mutual friends.

As the time approached I would deftly slip my hands in between the rolls of material to see whether he had been as good as his word. There was nothing on the twenty-first, nothing on the twenty-second or twenty-third. As Christmas Eve dawned, my hopes were fading fast. Many men make promises on the inside only to regain their liberty and adopt an ‘out of sight, out of mind' policy. I considered Johnny's to be just one more empty promise. But at 11.30 that morning, as I slipped my hand between the rolls of cloth, my fingers touched a package. The last hand that touched that package had been Johnny Collins'. He had come through. His word was good.

Later he would tell me how he and a friend had borrowed a builder's open-backed van. They had an extended ladder, blankets and torches. Together they
scaled the wall, flipping the heavy wooden ladder over from one side to the other. The friend stayed with the ladder and carried a torch to guide Collins back to him. Taking the bag of presents Johnny crossed the wasteland, then sticking close to the wall, made his way to the tailoring shop window.

That night in our cell, a small group of us sat around the open package. He had left us cigarettes, tins of fruit, salmon, biscuits and two bottles of the finest Scotch whisky. Jack Spot had allegedly seen fit to put a razor to Collins' face, but that Christmas Eve five smiling cons raised their tin mugs to the East End villain, who was probably the world's most unlikely Santa Claus.

I have many memories of that first Wandsworth sentence. Chirpy Downes was another Eastender, his cousin Terry Downes was a famous boxer of the time. We were in the prison chapel one Sunday morning when the Chaplain delivering his sermon said: ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, and acted as a child.' With his head bowed, Chirpy said: ‘You still are a child.' It wasn't said in a loud voice, it was just a disgruntled con letting slip a sarcastic remark. As we filed out of the chapel at the end of the service, a screw stopped Chirpy in his tracks. He told him he was putting him on punishment for insolence. Chirpy grabbed hold of him and a fight ensued. Later that evening a group of warders with batons entered Chirpy's cell and beat him badly. He was taken to the punishment block where he was put in solitary on rations of bread and water. After a few days, he was taken to the prison laundry. There waiting for him were twelve warders and the prison
doctor. He was forced to take off his shirt and, after having a wide leather belt fastened around his waist to protect his kidneys, he was strapped to a large timber triangle. Out of his vision, one of the warders was handed the ‘cat o' nine tails'. Chirpy would never know which prison officer beat him. The ‘cat' is a barbaric flogging implement. It has a short handle from which hang nine strips of knotted leather. After each lash, the prison doctor would check the prisoner's heartbeat. The ‘Cat' would strip the skin from a man's back. On top of the beating, flogging, solitary, bread and water and loss of wages, Chirpy lost remission time, increasing the length of his sentence.

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