The Chigwell pensioner who became the Kray twins’ PR man
- Credit: Archant
It’s been five decades since the Kray twins’ rise to celebrity – and infamy.
Encompassing the glamour and danger of Swinging Sixties’ London, the gangster brothers are synonymous with the cool edgy East End of nostalgia.
The public’s fascination with them continued even after they were locked up for murder – both being handed life sentences in 1968.
But few people will be aware that one of their first business ideas when they tried to go legitimate was to invent... an egg slicer.
James Campbell, from Chigwell, was asked to come on board as the pair’s PR manager years after they were sent to jail and promote their business interests from inside.
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“The first time I went to see them I got a little bit tipsy the night before,” said Scottish-born James, who is now manager of Woodford Green-based band Everafter.
“I was in the music industry and I knew a reporter who was friendly with the Krays. I got asked to go and see them, to look at the business things. I couldn’t believe it when Reggie started writing to me.
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“I couldn’t read the letters because they were censored – but I cracked the code.” The 65-year-old travelled to HMP Lewes in East Sussex to meet Reggie.
“I remember I went up the stairs at the prison and thought maybe I would recognise him, then he came up and just said ‘pleased to see you, James’.
“I could see the other visitors and the prisoners going ‘look, there’s Reggie Kray – who’s that sitting next to him?’ I felt so powerful.”
Despite their past in illegal protection rackets, Reggie’s first idea to make money from behind bars was to make a gadget to take the tops off boiled eggs.
“I said that’s a great idea – that’s great,” said James. “Reggie was very 100mph. Ronnie was totally different – laid back.”
Needless to say, it didn’t come off but before long, the brothers were reaping their rewards from book and film deals and writing columns from behind bars.
“They made tons of money,” said James. “But they were a bit like Robin Hood. They gave a lot of money away.”
Despite their terrifying past, James said he always told them the truth about their business suggestions.
“I used to tell them ‘no, don’t do that’,” he said.
“They would look you in the eye, and if you looked away, you would be finished.
“I disagreed with them quite a bit – if I wasn’t happy about something, I would say. They trusted me and they respected me.”