A muted cheer for the late gangland villain ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser (1923-2014), who would have turned 100 on 13th December.
Fraser’s chosen career might be one of the few callings in life where being known as ‘mad’ is a positive asset. There are different accounts of how he earned the sobriquet.
The most popular version is that he came by it when, as a young man, he feigned insanity during a two-year stretch at Pentonville for smash-and-grab and as a result was transferred to a psychiatric hospital.
Another possibility is that it stemmed from his role as an enforcer for London’s notorious Richardson gang, and his practice of extracting his rivals’ teeth with a rusty pair of pliers.
Once dubbed ‘Britain’s most dangerous man’, Fraser enjoyed a virtual season ticket for the dock at the Old Bailey.
Towards the end of his life, he calculated that he had spent more than 40 years behind bars, and insisted he had loved every minute of it.
There was something peculiarly British about many of Fraser’s criminal enterprises. On one occasion, he managed to lock himself into a bank vault he was robbing on a Friday night, and had to await the staff’s return on Monday morning.
Years later, he and an accomplice were arrested when their getaway car ran out of petrol during a chase through the Rotherhithe Tunnel.
In 1991, Fraser survived being shot in the head outside a London nightclub, but refused to tell police who the gunman was. ‘If you play by the sword, you’ve got to expect the sword,’ he reasoned.
Advancing years failed to tame him. In June 2013, the 89-year-old Fraser was served with an ASBO, having assaulted a fellow resident at his care home after he found him sitting in his favourite chair.