The gang­sters who ruled the East End

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNI FRAZER

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

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