The gangsters who ruled the East End
BEFORE THE Kray twins and other notorious East End villains, there were — inevitably — Jewish gangsters.
And the king of the super-villains, the architect of organised crime in the UK — a dubious honour — was Jacob Colmore, aka Jack Comer, but more usually known as Jack Spot.
Now Jack Spot’s violent story and that of his gang, including Billy Hill and Moisha Bluebell, is coming to the big screen.
A new feature, Once Upon A Time In London, made by Gateway Films, is currently shooting in the East End of London and stars Terry Stone as Spot himself.
Mr Stone, who is also co-writer and producer on the project, has a remarkable story of his own. He was once known to thousands of ravers in clubland as Terry Turbo, who rose inexorably from a £60-a-week job selling TVs and videos in the Allders department store in Croydon to be the kingpin of the rave scene, publishing a successful magazine and presenting sold-out dance events under the banner of “One Nation”.
After clubland began to turn violent, Mr Stone wanted out and aged 30 — he is now 46 — went into acting, taking parts in The Bill and EastEnders.
But his main ambition was to get into films, both as an actor and producer. In 2005 he took part in Rollin’ With the Nines, a film about black-on-black crime, which won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival that year and a nomination for its director at the Bafta awards.
Two years later Mr Stone starred in another crime film, Rise of the Footsoldier, which, he says, “sold one million DVDs”, despite having a very small production budget.
“I wanted to replicate the success of Footsoldier”, he says. “I’d known about Jack Spot for years. I come from a ‘cocktail’ background, my mother’s side is Italian and my father’s side is Jewish and French.
“My father used to talk to me about Jack Spot when I was 15 or 16 and said there was some sort of family connection, but I didn’t really take much notice. Then we [in Gateway Films] were talking about our next project and we realised that this is a story which hasn’t really been told.”
Jack Spot, who Mr Stone describes wryly as “having creative ways of making a pound note”, was born in the East End, the youngest of four children of immigrant Polish Jews.
His nickname came from a large birthmark on one side of his face — but by the end of his life, when his violent past caught up with him, the gangster was disfigured by a huge knife wound, spots being the least of his problems.
Mr Stone insists that the film does not glamourise Spot, and in fact describes his story as “tragic”.
Spot was the first in London’s gangland between the 1930s and 1950s to become “the face of organised crime”, pulling together the different gangs and territories and parcelling out power.
He is said to have joined his first gang at the age of just seven when boys from the Jewish side of his Whitechapel street fought their Catholic counterparts from across the road.
Reports of Spot during his glory days have him variously claiming to have fought off fascists during the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 — a claim much disputed by historians — and describing himself as “the Robin Hood of the East End”, who would travel to Leeds, Manchester or Glasgow to beat up villains who threatened Jewish businesses. He even claimed that rabbis would advise their frightened congregants to call for his services.
He was also said to have put financial muscle behind the funding of the 43 Group, a Jewish gang which took on fascists and far-right groups.
But, according to Mr Stone, who has co-written the film with Simon Rumley and Will Gilbey, “Spot stayed in too long.
“He thought of himself as the Einstein of crime but he ended up getting almost murdered and finished his life as a penniless greengrocer in north London, dying without his wife and kids.”
Billy Hill, Spot’s deputy in his gang, did rather better, getting out of crime and retiring to Tangier.
In 1955 Jack Spot encountered Albert Dimes, born Dimeo, outside Bar Italia in Frith Street, Soho.
The two fought tooth and nail, inflicting serious injuries on each other, until facing the ultimate deterrent — a furious large Jewish woman, greengrocer’s wife Sophie Hyams, who beat the pair of them about the head with a large metal scoop.
Neither man was prepared to bear witness against the other when the attack came to court and Spot himself was defended by the rising young Jewish barrister Rose Heilbron, who became an admired High Court judge.
But Spot’s final confrontation — when a gang of 12 men, led by the notorious “Mad Frankie” Fraser, set on Spot and his wife, Rita — nearly killed him.
“He thought he was untouchable,” says Mr Stone, “but eventually Rita had had enough and went to the police. She was the voice of reason but he never wanted to listen.”
Once Upon A Time In London is due in cinemas in early 2018. Mr Stone says: “This is a fantastic and long overdue story about the founders of organised crime in Britain.
“We have an incredible cast and the film promises to be a must-see for all true crime fans.”
Jack Spot thought he was untouchable’
Terry Stone (third from right) and the cast of Once Upon A Time In London
Jack “Spot” Comer, following a Frankie Fraser attack in 1956