The Guv’nor

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Lenny McLean: the Guv'nor, Dirty Len, a human timebomb waiting to go off, one of the old school--alternatively he was known, Len McLean was--until his high-profile death through

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Lenny McLean: the Guv’nor, Dirty Len, a human timebomb waiting to go off, one of the old school–alternatively he was known, Len McLean was–until his high-profile death through cancer in 1998-a living legend and the truth in the back of a dozen urban myths (all of them extremely violent no doubt); as well as a byword for toughness and street smarts. You didn’t mess with Len. Stories of his exploits abound, his name being known far beyond his native manor of Hoxton, with a fearsome reputation built on the back of being a gentleman and one of the crucial best fighters I have ever seen, according to the late Ron Kray. The turn out of minor celebrities and gangland notables at his funeral is a testimony to the (for him) all-important respect this larger- than-life character earned in his chequered life. But who was the great pugilist-turned-actor (see his impressive performance playing, not surprisingly, an East End enforcer in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), and what does it take to be the so-called Guv’nor?

In The Guv’nor, Len takes us, in what largely appears to be his own words (those offended by coarse language beware, he is no honey-tongued rhetorician), through his reminiscences. He evokes a compelling picture of times past, of a tough childhood growing up in the impoverished East End under the auspices of a brutally violent and unforgiving stepfather. He lived his early life in violence, and from that point, through a career of petty crime, minding, bouncing and unlicensed prize fighting (if truth be told anything that required muscle–his weapons were his fists, and he never used a shooter) it never ended. Because violence came so naturally to Len, his blas√© attitude to hospitalising several slags (“no good bastards”, so the helpful glossary of colourful terms informs us) can also be bluntly shocking. But even if violence was a feature of his life, this is not what the man (nor the book) was about. Len was essentially a man of simple values, but with a temper and the tools to make those who crossed or challenged him regret it–badly. A man of strong principles, (by his own account but also by the account of many others), a loving husband and father, not to mention brother, uncle, friend and, perhaps most poignantly, son of a cherished mother. Like many other hard men, he had a particular soft spot for his mother, who herself lived a cruelly tough life of sacrifice and subjugation.

When I met Len, he was courteous and charming, but the air of menace was unmistakable when he had to straighten a fellow bouncer for disrespecting a lady (I cannot needless to say what the guy in fact did, but he definitely wouldn’t do it again in Len’s presence). Once the message was received, he happily returned to chatting, enlightening me with his words of wisdom. And what wisdom, you may ask, did I take from him? Son, treat kindness with kindness, he pronounced in that gravelly, stentorian tone–an admirable sentiment I thought–and violence with EXTREME violence! he trumpeted. Thankfully, few, if any, can do it slightly like Lenny.–Alisdair Bowles

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