From Michael Caine in Get Carter to Craig Fairbrass in Rise of the Footsoldier 3, British film gangsters have a certain swagger and panache, an unwritten code of honour, and a lingo all of their own, that sets them apart from the rest.
Here’s a ten point guide on the dos and don’t of British gangster etiquette – how to dress, how to act, and what to do if some berk starts giving it some while you’re trying to enjoy a night out at a fashionable nightclub. Proper geezers read on, wastes of space can do one…
First things first, a gangster has look smart – he has to look the business. Bespoke suits, the latest fashionable cut, shirt and tie, camel hair coat if you must, you get the picture. Have a look at the first appearance of Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) in the 1979 gangster masterpiece The Long Good Friday. He looks a million dollars, which is planning to make, and more, from some US investors, by the end of the film.
As a gangster, you’ve got to make sure that when you enter a room, everybody in the room knows it, and gets the measure of you. Shrinking violets need not apply. Here’s Jack Carter (Michael Caine) showing how it’s done in 1971’s Get Carter, when he arrives in Newcastle with some very serious business to attend to.
Richard Burton is brilliantly menacing as gangland boss Vic Dakin in the London-set 1971 thriller Villain (1971). In this clip, Dakin lays down the law to someone who has been ‘talking too much’. There’s no nonsense, no polite chitchat – after all, a gangster must be ruthless and lead by example. As the tagline to the film said, ‘By the time he’s ready to kill you, it’s an act of mercy’.
As part of the criminal fraternity, sometimes you’ll have to convince others to do things they might not want to do. Things that are a bit dangerous, and might cause them to spend a bit of time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. In 2000’s gangster classic Sexy Beast, a fella by the name of Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) has to try and get Gal (Ray Winstone) to come out of retirement for a bank job. It is a masterclass in not so subtle persuasion.
So there you are, giving it loads on the dancefloor to an Eighties disco hit, trying to impress the ladies, when some geezer comes up and starts in on you. What’s a bloke to do? Apologise to your dance partner and suggest to the gentleman you have a quiet discussion at the bar. Nah. Have a butchers at how Bex, head of the West Ham United football gang in 2009’s The Firm, handles the situation.
A properly crafty criminal has to have a decent set of wheels – the car you drive says it all – it suggests you are a fast, slick, expensive operator with impeccable taste. Take Mickey Steel in the 2010 gangster film Bonded By Blood. He’s driving a beautiful Porsche, and he has someone beautiful in the passenger seat to keep him company. Word of warning – if you are driving said very fast car, and you get, how shall we put this, distracted by your driving companion, for God’s sake keep your eyes on the road.
Any hard man worth his salt has to have the patter, the lingo, the jargon, do you know what I mean? It separates the wheat from the chaff, or rather, the heaps of coke from the ice cream freezers. Have a gander at Wilson (Terence Stamp) giving it right royal rabbit in the 1999 thriller The Limey. If you don’t clock what’s he’s yapping about, you best move along sharpish.
Whatever you do, don’t insult a gangster’s family. Not his mum, not his dad, not his second cousin twice removed – or you’ll get something removed and it won’t half hurt! As a gangster, family, and your loyalty to family, is number one. Take Ronnie and Reggie Kray – devoted to their mum they were, and the rest of the klan. In The Krays, the 1991 biopic about the East End gangsters, a certain slag by the name of George Cornell speaks ill of the feared brothers’ deceased aunt. Big mistake George. Colossal mistake.
If you’re a gangster, you want to show off the spoils of your success (in moderation, at least). You want to be seen at the right places, enjoying expensive plonk and not worrying about the cost. In this clip from the 2007 British gangster hit Rise of the Footsoldier, Tony Tucker (played by Terry Stone) gives a quick rundown on how he enjoys good grub, good drink, flash clubs and lovely ladies. Have some of that!
A word of warning – being a gangster is a rough old game, and you’ve got to keep on your toes. Your enemies want you dead, others want a piece of you, and betrayal lurks round every corner. Take a leaf out of Pat Tate’s book, as portrayed by Craig Fairbrass in Rise of the Footsoldier 3: The Pat Tate Story. Tate’s nobody’s fool, he’s got eyes in the back of his head, and when it comes to argy bargy he’s handy with his fists and even tastier with a shotgun.
Rise of the Footsoldier 3: The Pat Tate Story (18) is released in selected cinemas and on Digital HD on 3 November 2017 from Signature Entertainment