WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE GROWING UP WITH A REAL EAST END CRIMINAL FOR A FATHER
AS a kid, Ryan Simms knew his father was a criminal – he had no choice, his dad spent much of his life in and out of prison.
But it was only as he got older that Ryan realised just how deeply involved his old man was with life on the wrong side of the law. Shockingly, he was to learn that his dad was in fact a MASS KILLER. Now Ryan has written, and is starring in, a play about his father – Danny ‘ Skinny Danny’ O’Halloran – a proper East End villain who plied his trade during the time of The Krays in a brutal world of crime and violence.
In the play – Prairie Flower – Ryan stars as his dad and recounts the terrifying tales he heard while growing up.
And as a taster, Ryan has agreed to reveal some of the more shocking secrets to Sunday Sport.
He said: “When I was really young, Dad would hide what he was.
“I remember going to visit him for the first time inside.
“It’s one of my earliest memories. He said to me, ‘ See that wall over there,’ pointing at the prison wall, ‘ We’re all in here building that’.
“Later, my mum would say he’d go away for work. But when I was older Dad sat me down and told me what he was all about.
“I still wasn’t clear how much of a big name he was until I got older.
“Then I started going to pubs. I would walk in and people would be saying, ‘ Get that boy a drink’. And tell me my dad was ‘ a proper man’.
“They treated me like a prince because they wanted to get on my dad’s good side.
“They didn’t mean any of it. They just didn’t want a bullet in the head.
“They knew he was a villain and didn’t want to upset him.”
But Skinny Danny had no truck with arse lickers. He was an old- fashioned gentleman who thought you should be nice to everyone – unless they crossed you.
Ryan added: “Dad always drummed it into me, ‘ Manners don’t cost a thing, boy’. He wasn’t interested in showing off or being a big man.
“He was nice and polite to everyone. He was a gent.
“The whole point of being a criminal like him was to stay hidden.
“He was around at the same time as The Krays but he believed that being so public and famous as them was just crazy.
“He was trying to provide for his family the best way he knew how. And that meant being a villain who wasn’t on the police radar.”
But despite all the violence and killings, Ryan’s dad was no indiscriminate thug.
He followed a strict code that he would never, ever break – even if that meant spending time in jail.
Ryan revealed: “When my dad stole money he wasn’t stealing from people in the street.
“He was a bank robber. He didn’t hurt the little man.
“When he knocked off a bank he’d say, ‘ Everyone still gets their wages. There’s no- one getting hurt’. That was the code he lived by. He called people who weren’t in the life ‘ straightgoers’ and they were totally safe.
“The code meant they were left alone. He would never hurt or kill a straightgoer.
“But the code had a dark side, too.
“Dad put it before everything – including his family.
“Because it meant that no matter what, you never grassed on anyone. So if he ended up getting arrested and questioned he’d rather die than grass on someone.
“That was why he spent more than half the time I was growing up in prison. He had to stand by the code.
“He ended up with 14 convictions, including armed robbery, but he never said a word.
“Going to jail was just part of the job.
“It wasn’t easy. The family would go from him earning Premier League wages to nothing.
“Other villains would help us out but it was pretty hard.
“The code also meant that when someone broke it and did grass they had to be dealt with.
“Dad killed people. But to him, murder was a necessity.
“He didn’t kill because he was evil – he did it for a reason.
“In his head, every time he killed, it was for a good reason.
“When I was in my early 20s I asked him, ‘ How many have you done, Dad?
“He held up his hand and the thumb on his other hand. Six.’
“‘ It’s only the first that’s the hard one,’ he said. ‘ After that it becomes easier’.
“He said it didn’t bother him but I think it was in his head. He
Ryan said: “He was a dad first, villain after, and he knew it was no life for us to follow.
“He made sure we stayed in school and got straight jobs.”
But after years of being miserable doing office jobs and when his dad died in 2005 he decided on a complete change of direction – and signed up for acting school.
It was while he was there Ryan decided to write a play about his father’s life.
And the result of that is Prairie Flower, which starts on September 12 at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, north London, N6 4BD.