On Reg’s release from prison the three brothers’ business empire was soon flourishing and expanding.
Society was changing as a whole during this time. After the war years and a long period after of austerity people started to have a few quid in their pocket again and they weren’t afraid to spend it!
The American skiffle music from the fifties had grown into rock ‘n’ roll and the ‘swinging sixties’ in London were in full effect!
The Betting and Gaming Act in 1961 had meant legitimate betting shops opened at a rate of 100 a week.
About 1,000 casinos were opened in the first five years after the act and gambling was big business.
But loopholes in the law allowed almost anyone to open a casino and as a result, many of the them became a cover for criminal activity.
The authorities were becoming increasingly worried about the rise of gangsterism in London and were beginning to crack down on the activities of the Krays, as well as many other criminal gangs.
But the Krays weren’t put off by this.
In 1961 they moved into the West End and bought into Esmereldas Barn in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge.
There are several stories how they actually came to own it but the truth was that when the present owner, Stefan de Faye, was offered £1,000 by the Krays he decided it was an offer he shouldn’t refuse.
Managed by the brothers’ Uncle Alf, guests were welcomed by Lord Effingham, the sixth Earl of Effingham as they entered the club.
The club operated over three floors with the gaming upstairs. The middle floor was a piano bar, which was managed by Laurie O’Leary and the basement was a lesbian club.
Regular visitors to Esmereldas included the artists Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.
The club also became a useful front for the Kray’s criminal activities.
The gaming tables were making them £1,600 a week but customers often ran up large debts.
One such customer, David Litvinoff, accumulated debts of £3,000, which Ronnie Kray agreed to waive in return for what was left of the lease on Litvinoff’s flat at Ashburn Gardens. He also took over Litvnoff’s lover Bobby Buckley, who became a croupier at the club.
In the summer of 1962 they opened The Kentucky in Mile End Road, Stepney.
Never ones to shun a PR opportunity they welcomed a film crew into the club the following year for some scenes in the hit film ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’, starring Barbara Windsor & James Booth.
The aftershow party following the premiere was also held there.
However, The Kentucky was closed down in 1964 after the police objected to its licence.
By the end of the same year Esmereldas had ran into huge debts from customers and received a large tax demand from the Inland Revenue, which they could not meet. The Barn went out of business.
Following its closure the Krays passed on the lease to Micky Fawcett who reopened it for a while without the Krays involvement.
Today the site of Esmereldas Barn is The Berkeley, a five-star hotel.
Around this time the Krays lost over £40,000 in a building project in Enugu Nigeria.
Ernest Shinwell, the son of labour peer Manny Shinwell interested them in the deal and put them in touch with Lord Boothby who might be prepared to invest a good sum of money.
The weekend after the initial meeting the Sunday Mirror published a headline story titled ‘The Peer And The Gangster’.
Lord Boothby sued the paper and received £40,000 compensation, despite much of the details within the story being true.
1965 was a major turning point in the story of the Krays.
At the beginning of the year the twins had been accused of threatening Hew McCowan, the owner of The Hideaway Club in Gerrard Street, Soho and demanding money with menaces.
An original trial had failed to reach a verdict, but the retrial found them innocent and they were released on 6th April.
Within a month they had taken control of the Soho club and had changed its name to El Morocco.