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on 24 January 2017
Not the greatest writing, but all the same, a really good and enlightening read; I really enjoyed this. I bought this book as I like the TV series Peaky Blinders and many of the real life characters appear in this book e.g the Sabinis, Billy Kimber and the Solomons. The bulk of the book however is not so much about these high profile gangsters and his gangster uncle Wag, but more of his own biography and this gives real insight into post war London. This book is really a series of vignettes based around South London, Hollywood the USA and Canada. He describes tough street life and family life in a post war London strewn with bomb sites; he describes the games and general life of growing up in a tightly knit and protective community - you get the feeling that you didn't really have many options other than to become a skallywag or low level criminal.' There are quite a few scrapes and scraps, but nothing really alarming. I really loved reading about his uncle Wag's adventures in 1920/30s USA/Canada - beautifully written by Wag and very evocative (Wag's observations are excellent). At the end of the book, I felt that I'd learnt much about this society and post war Britain - he is very proud of his roots and The Elephant/Borough, and as a reader you empathise with him because so much has changed to the area that he once knew so well. As for the gangsters, they simply grew from tough little gangs of boys confided by gang boundaries to a few streets; they eventually grow up with a reputation and turf wars ensue, its then a case of big fish little fish and alliances - I imagine that it was the same in all UK cities and even in the pit villages across Britain post WW1; London simply had the advantage of having so much wealth and opportunity on its doorstep and therefore their gangs became richer and more notorious. Next time I go to Borough or Elephant and Castle, I'll spare a thought for the old streets where these tough kids grew up into hard working men and/or criminals/gangsters. It's a shame that Wag and his chums never made it into Peaky Blinders.
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on 16 August 2017
The cover was badly creased & there are pages missing . Very poor .
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on 25 September 2003
I bought this book over a year ago and only recently got around to reading it. I only wish I had read it earlier as it is a great book and gives you a good insight on how London was like to live in in the early part of the century. The story of the McDonald family is a fascinating one. This is a period of British history that has generally been forgotten about or overlooked in favour for the milked 60s stories of the Krays. Buy it!!!
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on 13 March 2013
A good alround book about the general underworld.Wag's diary was particularly interesting.Wish there was more of it.good stuff especially if you come from South London.
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on 5 March 2014
This is a really good book, not only for the history of the Elephant and Castle gang, but for a young man's life in 1940s - 1960s London. It is written from personal experience, not a journalist's take on the subject. This is true history and is well worth reading. He has also written 'Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants', a[ full-length history of the all-female gang of specialist shoplifters that terrorised London and other cities in the 1920s[ and 1930s. Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants : The Female Gang That Terrorised London
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on 15 June 2011
Makes a nice change from the over-milked stories of the Krays. This book concerns South London gangsters from the 1920s to the 1960s and their battles with gangs from other parts of London. Good stuff on the Elephant and Castle gang and their allies from Camden Town and Birmingham. Gangs from North London (Whites and Sabinis) and Bethnal Green (Dodger Mullins) are also featured. Wag McDonald, leader of the Elephant Gang was a prime player in the racecourse wars and later went to Los Angeles, where he protected Mafia boss Jack Dragna. Book is well written and worth a read as it is the only book to detail all of London's early gangsters. Also covers the Richardson gang. Followed up with 'Gangs of London'. Gangs of London
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on 18 June 2015
well worth a read
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on 14 October 2014
A big thanks ,,,
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on 16 May 2001
I so much wanted to enjoy this book ; the premise is so facinating . London during the roaring twenties , an english Cosa Nostra ! Brian Mcdonalds family were at the centre of the events described in this book which is largly based on their oral history and the diaries of one of the main protagonists,his uncle Charles 'Wag' Mcdonald. The book therefore represents a first hand account of Londons underworld from the turn of the century to the early days of the Krays. It is the early parts of this story which are the more interesting .Charles Mcdonald was a central figure in the London underworld who also travelled to Los Angeles to become a force in the Jack Dragna Family.His diaries which are quoted at length here , show him to have been an articulate observer of America ,its people and geography. Unfortunatly 'Wag' disappears from the story early on and what follows is rather messy and confused. Characters and events come tumbling from the page so quickly it is hard to keep track. Anecdotes are packed so tightly together that it is difficlt to tell when one ends and another begins.The problem is that many of these tales are actually quite interesting,but they are lost in an ocean of others that are frankly dull.There is no time for personalities to develope before they are quickly erased from the page to be replaced by others. And the thing is , its such a shame . This is a story thats largly untold about a facinating era . The book compares rather badly to Rich Cohens 'Tough Jews -Fathers Sons and Gangster Dreams' a similar oral history of Charles Mcdonalds contemparies in the USA .Cohens book grips you with its fully rounded characters. The hoods come to life. They have voices, families, backgrounds, even hobbies. The villains in Elephant Boys are only half glimpsed , across a very crowded room , and are barely discernable from each other . To be fair the style settles down toward the end of book and the last couple of chapters regarding Jack Spot and the rise of the Richardson Family are riviting. Finally characters become more rounded , storylines are allowed to develope . Those interested in first hand accounts of the underworld will certainly find items of interest here , but on the whole Im afraid this represents an opportunity missed .
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on 30 October 2014
Fantastic Service, Highly recommended
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