Billy Hill - Godfather of London

Billy Hill - Godfather of London

Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

December 28th, 2009, 12:46 am #1

Billy Hill (William Charles Hill) (1911 1984) was a famous UK gangster and criminal mastermind from the 1920s through to the 1960s.


Hill was born in London to an Irish criminal family and began as a house burglar in the late 1920s, then specialized in "smash-and-grab" raids targeting furriers and jewelers in the 1930s. During World War II, he moved into the black market, specializing in foods and petrol. He also supplied forged documents for deserting servicemen. He was involved in [[West Ewas charged with burgling a warehouse and fled to South Africa. Following an arrest there for assault, he was extradited to Britain, where he was convicted for the warehouse robbery and served time in prison. This was Billy's last jail term. After his release he met Gypsy Riley, better known as Gyp, who became his common-law wife.

In 1952, he planned the Eastcastle St. postal van robbery netting more than £250,000, and in 1954 he organised a £40,000 bullion heist. No one was ever convicted for these robberies. He also ran smuggling operations from Morocco during this period.

In the 1960s Billy was busy fleecing aristocrats at card tables and he was also involved in property development. He bought for Gyp the biggest nightclub in Tangier, Churchills, which she ran from 1966 until the mid-1970s. Billy retired from crime in the 1970s and died peacefully on January 1, 1984. Billy was the mentor to Ronnie and Reggie Kray, advising them in their early criminal careers.

In 1963 Mickey Spillane was playing Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters in London where he met Hill and showed him around the set. When the prop department couldn't find Spillane a real M1911 pistol, Hill brought the producers several real pistols to use in the film.[1]

In 1955 Billy wrote his memoir Boss of Britain's Underworld. Billy's only child Justin Hill has now republished this book in December 2008 with a modern introduction and never-before-seen photographs.


Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

December 28th, 2009, 12:54 am #2

When crime grabbed the limelightWhile current gang leaders steer well clear of publicity, villains of the past loved notoriety. A new Billy Hill biography remembers one of Britain's best known gangsters

Duncan Campbell The Guardian, Wednesday 30 July 2008 Article history

Billy Hill liked to be known as the Bandit King.

Fifty years ago, there was a very British comedy film called Carlton-Browne of the F.O., which starred Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas. In one scene, a character is ejected from a nightclub, despite a staff member pointing out that he is a member of the royal family. "I don't care if he's Billy Hill!" says the manager of the club.

Hill was one of Britain's best-known gangsters. His ghosted autobiography, Boss of Britain's Underworld, had already appeared, and he also liked to be known as the Bandit King. He was thrilled to be mentioned in the film and never tired of talking about it. This month, a new biography, Billy Hill: Godfather of London, by journalist Wensley Clarkson, is published. It describes just how much he relished his notoriety.

"I guess I looked like a gangster," he said. "They say Humphrey Bogart could go for my twin brother, and he looks like what a gangster's supposed to look like." Hill died in 1984 and the book is an epitaph, in a way, for an era when criminals actually courted the limelight.

"Organised crime has changed beyond recognition since the days of the Krays," said Gordon Brown in last month's speech on liberty and security. And how. Where once professional criminals were tickled to be recognised and known as a "face", now they tick the box marked "No publicity". A modern-day professional criminal would reach for his lawyer or his passport if he found his name featured so casually in a comedy film.

Hill, born in London almost 100 years ago, was already cutting a swath, almost literally, through the capital in his 30s. Here is how he recalled an altercation in a pub, when someone foolishly shoved a glass into his face: "It stuck there like a dart in a dartboard. I pulled the glass out of my face with one hand and my chiv out of my pocket with the other. Then I got to work doing a bit of hacking and carving. I don't know how many blokes I cut that night. I didn't care ... "

Hill liked to carve a "V for victory" sign on his victims' faces, but insisted that the chivving was only used as a last resort. "I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don't cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder."

The Krays also sought publicity, amazingly allowing journalist John Pearson into their lives so that he could write the excellent biography The Profession of Violence. They loved to be photographed rubbing shoulders with singers and actors. During his trial for murder, Ronnie Kray offhandedly informed the judge that if he hadn't been in court he would have been "having tea with Judy Garland".

Loonyology, the autobiography of Charles Bronson, reputedly "the most violent prisoner in Britain", was published last month. Coming shortly is Blaggers Inc, by Terry Smith, a well-known former bank robber, and a film about "Mad" Frankie Fraser is in the pipeline.

All of this publicity would be anathema to the new breed of professional criminal. But in the days of Hill and others, notoriety was a useful part of the portfolio: it meant that you were feared and your demands were more easily met. But it eventually made you a target for the authorities. The higher the profile, as the Krays eventually discovered, the heavier the fall.

Professional criminals now choose to keep a low profile. In his recent book, McMafia, Misha Glenny describes the new protagonists: "They were criminals, organised and disorganised, but they were also good capitalists and entrepreneurs, intent on obeying the laws of supply and demand." And, like good capitalists, they saw no reason to court publicity.

That is why we continue to know more about Hill - who died almost a quarter of a century ago - than about the current gang leaders. Maxim Jakubowski, the owner of crime bookshop Murder One, in central London, says: "The modern criminal would rather stay in the shadows. A lot of them are still active, so what you mainly get [in published books] are the Krays' old associates. Soon it will be the Krays' hairdresser, I expect."

Paul Boon, who handles the True Crime imprint for Pennant books, publisher of Billy Hill: Godfather of London, agrees that the current book market is for criminals of the past rather than the present. "To be a criminal now, you have to be the unseen man," he says.

What must seem astonishing to modern multinational criminals, whether they make their money through drug trafficking or cyberfraud, is the desire of their predecessors to court publicity and to offer access to people who wanted to write about them.

As the new Hill biography shows, there will never be a shortage of panic in the headlines, fuelling an interest in the more comprehensible forms of crime. In 1945, at the end of the war, as Wensley Clarkson describes, the Daily Express was reporting, "Crime is on the march in Britain today, boldly and violently. It is double what it was in 1939 and the evil grows by 10,000 cases each month." One of the Express reporters noted that "within shouting distance of a spot where Eros may soon stand again, I have seen men pull out fistfuls of pound notes. Guns, revolvers and tommy guns sold well over the weekend. There are more guns at the moment than there is ammunition to fit them ... furtive clubs are springing up."

The tommy guns have gone, and these days the clubs are anything but furtive, but no one these days is aspiring to the title of Boss of Britain's Underworld.

· Billy Hill: Godfather of London, by Wensley Clarkson, is published by Pennant Books (£15.99). To order a copy for £14.99 with free UK p&p, go to

Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

December 28th, 2009, 1:00 am #3

Villains We Have Known
by Reg Kray


The Kray Twins

When I was in my early 20s, the man I most wanted to emulate was the former gang boss of London's underworld, Billy Hill. The prime reason for my admiration was that, apart from being very physical when necessary, Billy had a good quick-thinking brain. Ron and I were to become good friends with Billy over the years and I learned a lot from him.

One time Ron and myself, our brother Charlie and a mutual friend, Willie Malone, were at home in Vallance Road when the phone rang. Ron took the call and it was Billy Hill. He said, "Will you come over to my flat as soon as you can?" Thinking there was some kind of trouble, Ron said, "Let's get over there as quickly as possible." Shooters in hand, we jumped in the car sharpish and Charlie drove us to Bill's flat in Moscow Road, Bayswater.

Bill answered the door and invited us in. Ron said, "What's the trouble? We've brought some shooters." Bill laughed and gave us one of his smiles. "Hang on there a minute," he said, leaving us in the lounge for a moment and disappearing into the bedroom. When he reappeared he tossed £500 in brand new bank notes on to the table. "Take that few quid for your trouble and cut it up between you. I was only testing to see how fast you'd get over here, or whether you'd blank the emergency."

This is just one example of his great sense of humour and smart thinking. Another time, two fellas and myself went to the 21 Rooms in the West End where two doormen in tuxedos refused us. I punched one of them on the chin , and my two friends applied the same treatment to his partner, who joined him on the ground. I suddenly realised we might be arrested for grievous bodily harm , since one of the doormen could have recognised me. I also knew that Billy Hill procured a nice few quid out of the 21 Rooms for ensuring this sort of situation didn't occur.

Even though it was in the early hours, I decided the best thing to do was to confront Bill, confess all and explain the situation. He was home when we arrived, and let us in. I gave him my version of the affray and asked if he could find out if charges were imminent. To my surprise he wasn't the slightest bit perturbed that we'd floored the doormen at the club - in fact his reaction was just the opposite. He phoned the owner of the 21 Rooms and said, "This is Bill. I hear you've just had some trouble at the club? I'm ringing to let you know that I've taken care of it and you will not get any more trouble, just leave it to me." Very pleased with himself, Bill handed me £300, again in crisp new notes. "Take that few quid - it would have cost me more to arrange such a commotion to ensure my services are still necessary," he said with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye.

The next day he would probably receive five grand from the owners for preventing any further incidents from happening. This is another classic example of how sharp Bill was and his uncanny ability to weigh up a situation and turn what others might view as a disadvantage into an advantage. To me he was the epitome of what a professional criminal should be. He was a smart dresser, a good host and the best of spenders. In his last days he became pretty much a recluse. Having travelled the world three times, he had seen and done almost everything. He died a millionaire at the age of 73. As a postscript to this story, I would like to think that in some ways I have come close to emulating my old friend Bill but, to be honest, I acknowledge that he stands alone: there will never be another Billy Hill.