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Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson
London 2000

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From the outside, it is easy to say that the convict Charles Bronson is an intimidating thug with doubtful sanity. After reading this ghost-written autobiography, I would say this statement barely scratches the surface. Robin Ackroyd, the ghost-writer, has visited Bronson in jail for several years and has built up a picture of the man, although the book is written as if Bronson were directly addressing the reader, which makes it rather uncomfortable.

It is difficult to present the story of notorious criminals. The sleeve boasts that Bronson has “great warmth and humour,” moreover he hasn’t actually killed anyone (and his humour consists of describing sex acts he would like). Explanations of his criminal behaviour are limited to concluding that he was a little messed up at the time, and whilst he had a stable upbringing he used to break bottles over his head as a boy when he couldn’t find people to attack. It appears this man is not a product of the system.

There is a trend for publishers to cash in on the public’s fascination with villains. These stories are usually rather predictable and well stocked with clichés – them and us, my mum is wonderful and things was better in them days. These men are largely parasitic vampires who terrorised their “own,” stole with both hands and hid behind a dubious veneer of charitable works (revealed, in the Krays’ case, as being another scam, as they kept all the money raised for good works). There is an odd mentality in these books which may appeal to readers who are weak in the head. In his book Mad Frank, Frankie Fraser even refers to criminals as being on the straight and narrow, while members of his family with honest jobs have ‘gone wrong.’

This book is only different in that Bronson was not part of a gang and hurt comparatively few people before he was jailed (initially for seven years for armed robbery, which was extended to over 20 years for various violent crimes inside), but it is a mistake to claim he is a victim. He could not serve his time without taking hostages, starting riots or maiming people. He proudly mentions that he has taken a dozen blows for every time he has punched a warder – it doesn’t take a genius to see why he is penned in and not allowed anything solid which may be used as a weapon (his cell furniture is made of compressed cardboard). That he is escorted by up to 12 prison guards in riot gear when exercising, and is only allowed to do so in a tight pen topped with razor wire, shows how dangerous this man is.

This is a frightening book. Typically, Reg Kray has written the foreword, explaining how violent criminals like himself should be released so they may help the community, raise money for sick children, nurse ill puppies etc. The ghostwriter – who also pens a chapter about his visits – presents Bronson with a certain amount of awe-inspired respect. I feel this is mistaken. While he holds the prison record for doing press-ups (1,700 in an hour) and comes across as being a complete predator, he represents something entirely base in the human character – the man capable of great evil who starts holding grudges if he isn’t allowed to get away with it.

Reviewed by Chris Wood


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