Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Kempton Bunton and the Great Goya Heist at the National Gallery

Friday, May 9th, 2014
Kempton Bunton in 1965

Kempton Bunton in 1965

On Thursday December 5, 1963 the Daily Express reported that on the previous evening twenty-four distinguished men had sat down for a traditional English dinner at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. It was to celebrate the opening of ‘The Great Goya Exhibition’ and masterpieces from the Spanish master had come from all over Europe. Most importantly, and carefully concealed in a tomato train, eleven paintings had from come Franco’s Spain and had arrived in London the previous week.

The great and the good of the art world were present that night, except one – Dr. Consuelo Sanz Pastor – Inspector of Museums for Spain. Dr Pastor, who had actually accompanied the Prado pictures to Britain and had also played a major part in arranging the exhibition, was absent because she was a woman and, as the Daily Express stated rather casually, the Royal Academy ‘never breaks with its all-male tradition’.

Cover of the 1963 Royal Academy Exhibition book.

Cover of the 1963 Royal Academy Exhibition book.

One person who was at the dinner was Gerald Wellesley the 78 year old 7th Duke of Wellington. His famous predecessor the 1st Duke, while on service in the Peninsular war in 1812, had had his portrait painted by Goya. In 1963, to the general public in Britain at least, it was possibly Goya’s most famous painting. It wasn’t part of the prestigious exhibition, however, because it had been stolen.

On 21 August 1961, in the middle of the night and seemingly under the noses of five security guards, Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington had been taken from the National Gallery. It was initially assumed to have been removed by the gallery authorities as there was no sign of break-in or forced entry and it was several hours before the painting was reported missing. When the important men of the art world sat down for the Royal Academy dinner two and a half years later, and despite a £5000 reward, there was still no clue to the painting’s whereabouts.

Goya's portrait of the 1st Duke of Wellington, then a mere Earl.

The Portrait of the British general Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya was painted during the latter’s service in the Peninsular War. One of three portraits Goya painted of Wellington, it was begun in 1812, after the Wellington’s entry into Madrid, showing him as an earl in red uniform and wearing the Peninsular Medal. The artist then modified it in 1814 to show him in full dress black uniform with gold braid and to add the Order of the Golden Fleece and Military Gold Cross with three clasps (both of which Wellington had been awarded in the interim).

£5000 reward notice

£5000 reward notice

The disappearance of the Goya shocked the National Gallery. It was their first ever theft and the painting had been taken not three weeks after it had first been put on display. The director offered his resignation and the robbery led to an official inquiry into security at Britain’s national galleries and museums. Initially it was thought as some outrageous copycat stunt as it was, coincidentally, exactly fifty years after, to the day, that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from the Louvre in 1911.

A few months before the Goya’s appropriation, the New York oil magnate, collector and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum, Charles Wrightsman had bought the painting, originally owned by the Duke of Leeds, through an auction at Sotheby’s for £140,000 (over £2,500,000 today). There was widespread protest and questions were asked in parliament about how such a prestigious and patriotic work of art could possibly leave the country.

Wrightsman, generously, offered it to the National Gallery for the price he had paid. A charitable organisation called the Wolfson Foundation offered £100,000 which embarrassed the government to provide a further Treasury grant of £40,000. With almost indecent haste on 2 August 1961 the painting was put on display in a proud, prominent position at the top of the National Gallery’s central stairs.

The stairway at the National Gallery. At the top of which Goya's Wellington portrait was exhibited in 1961.

The stairway at the National Gallery. At the top of which Goya’s Wellington portrait was exhibited in 1961.

At about an hour into the first James Bond film released in October 1962, Dr Julius No shows 007 around his lair. At one point Bond does a double-take as he realises it’s Goya’s Duke of Wellington portrait perched on an easel by some stairs.

At about an hour into the first James Bond film released in October 1962, Dr Julius No shows 007 around his lair. At one point Bond does a double-take as he realises it’s Goya’s Duke of Wellington portrait perched on an easel by some stairs.

A year before the theft and almost three hundred miles away in Newcastle a 61 year-old retired lorry-driver called Kempton Bunton was fined £2 for not having a TV licence. He was given seven days to pay. Two Post Office inquiry officers told the magistrate’s court that when they had visited Bunton’s house he had said to them:

My set is fixed for ITV only. Their picture is supplied for free. Why should I pay money to the BBC?

Only available in London, initially, Independent television had been introduced to Britain in September 1955. The North East was the last of the English regions to get its own television transmitter and the contract for the region was awarded on 12 December 1957 to a consortium that was led by film producer Sydney Box and the News Chronicle executives George and Alfred Black.

Tyne Tees Television went on air at 5 pm on 15 January 1959 and Harold Macmillan, a local MP but of course Prime Minister at the time was interviewed on the first night. This was followed by a programme called The Big Show which was notable, despite its name, for being broadcast from a particularly small studio.

Tyne Tees opening night on 15th January 1959

The Big Show

Mary Crozier of the Manchester Guardian and daughter of a former editor of that newspaper wrote about the Tyne Tees in 1960:

It makes no pretension whatever to meet highbrow tastes. Which must be in a great minority anyway…In light entertainment and comedy it has certainty and speed, and it was here that I saw some programmes fresher and saltier than some I see on the main network. I left Newcastle with the loud echoes of some “live” and many Ampexed programmes ringing in my ears and a new almost alarmed respect for the toughness of Tyneside television.

Kempton Bunton returned home from the magistrates court on the afternoon of Friday 29 April 1960 where he had been fined two pounds for the non-payment of his Television Licence. If he had turned on his television set, which of course was only tuned to Tyne Tees, he would have watched at 5.00pm The Roving Reasons – a new British 13-part children’s serial made by Associated-Rediffusion Television that featured the Reason family travelling the world with their father  -  a freelance reporter. Here is the Tyne Tees schedule for the rest of that night:

5.25pm Mickey Mouse Club

5.55pm News

6.06pm NE News

6.13 Sports Desk

6.30 Biggles Flies North: part 2

7.00pm Star Parade

7.30pm Emergency Ward 10

7.59 King George’s Jubilee Trust

8.15pm Take Your Pick – The first television game show on ITV and was the first show on British TV to offer monetary prizes. It was presented by Michael Miles.

8.40pm The Army Game

9.10pm Interpol Calling

9.40 News - ”The credit squeeze is back” was the big news of the day. Hire Purchase restrictions that were swept away two years before were back again. It was no longer be possible to get a car, a washing machine or a TV set without a deposit – and with four or five years to pay. From that morning, there had to be a downpayment of 4s. in the £1, and the “never never” period was restricted to two years. Britian’s HP debt in 1960 stood at nearly £900,000,000.

The other major story that day was about corruption in the world of football. Tom Finney was reported to have said the previous night:

I have been offered money to drop a match. It happened to me about 12 months ago. We were playing at home. I had just parked my car near the ground when a middle-aged man tapped me on the shoulder. He asked me if I was interested in making a some extra cash. I thought he was joking at first and told him that if he was really serious I would have to report the matter to the club. At the same time I told him what to do with his money. He was off like a shot.

9.52 Play: Bridge of Sighs

10.50 Have Gun, Will Travel

11.20 News: Epilogue: Close.

Kempton Bunton would not have cared in the slightest but on the other side, as you would have said in those days, the BBC transmitted an episode of Hancock’s Half-Hour called The East Cheam Centenary

Tyne Tees knew its audience and by 1960 it had 150,000 more viewers than the BBC in their region. Not an inconsiderable amount, although it might have had something to do with the two hours of prime-time viewing on a Friday night the BBC gave over to International swimming and amateur boxing. Meanwhile the Tyne Tees Television fan Kempton Bunton continued his fight with the authorities over the non-payment of his television licence and the affair had now caught the interest of the national newspapers.

On May 20 1961 it was reported that the magistrates gave Bunton a further 7 days to pay his £2 fine otherwise he would be imprisoned for 13 days by default. Bunton told the magistrates:

Since I started this argument I have treated the BBC levy with the contempt it deserves. I say that the old folk should have free viewing right away. They are sick of empty promises given by forgetful governments. I would suggest that the red tape be cut, precedent forgotten and a quick Act passed through the House of Commons allowing old folk to take for nothing that which is already offered free.

In September, as he had still not paid a penny towards a Television licence, Bunton gave himself up to the police to serve a further 56 day prison sentence. Bunton this time stated:

This is a matter of principle for me. I believe that the air should be free. Why should millions of people be deprived of the pleasures of TV? Four pounds for a licence is not a lot of money, but to some people it is a huge sum. The standard of programmes on television may at times be ridiculed but I still maintain that it is a grand time-killer and of a special benefit to our old folk. Tyne-Tees offer me a free programme and I take it. I shall go on refusing to pay this ridiculous tax.

The ‘ridiculous tax’ was first introduced in November 1922 and originally called the Broadcasting Receiving Licence. It cost 10 shillings (50p but about £25 today) and it covered the existing BBC radio broadcasts. Later it also included the BBC’s 405-line television service introduced in November 1936 before it was suspended at the beginning of World War 2 in September 1939.

The Television Licence was introduced after the war in June 1946 to coincide with the post-war resumption of the BBC TV service that same month and it cost anyone with a television set £2 (about £73 today). It was increased to £3 in 1954 and when Kempton Bunton refused to buy his licence in 1960 they were costing £4 (about £86 today).

An example of a Television licence from 1960.

An example of a Television licence from 1960.

Daily Express dated 22nd August 1961

Daily Express dated 23rd August 1961

When the Goya was taken from the National Gallery the press enjoyed the confusion of the authorities. The Daily Express headline on 23rd August 1961 was “No Goya – No Clue”, while the Daily Mirror joined in with:  “Who Stole it? Crook, Crank or Joker”. Ten days after it had been stolen, however, the Reuters news agency received an anonymous letter post-marked in Newcastle and dated 30 August 1961. It was optimistically addressed to: “Reuters News, London”. Written in capital letters it  read: ‘Query not, that I have the Goya’ and indeed included details of the back of the painting that enabled the authorities to know that they were dealing with the actual thief. The letter continued:

The act is an attempt to pick the pockets of those who love art more than charity . . . the picture is not, and will not be for sale – it is for ransom – £140,000 – to be given to charity.

Kempton Bunton letter

Kempton Bunton letter

In July 1963 another letter enclosed a label from the back of the painting and a fourth note encouraged the chairman of the National Gallery, Lord Robbins, to “assert thyself and get the damn thing on view again. I am offering three pennyworth of old Spanish firewood, in exchange for £140,000 of human happiness”.

In 1965 a letter was sent to the Daily Mirror suggesting that the portrait should be exhibited privately until £30,000 had been raised for charity. Then, and only then, would it be returned to the National Gallery. The Daily Mirror enthusiastically took up the challenge of organising such an exhibition and suggested that:

This great national art treasure should be taken immediately to the shop of any newsagent in the land.

The chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery, Lord Robbins also responded by describing what he thought he knew of the thief:

I feel I know him pretty well already…He is still probably fairly slim and physically fit, and the cunning which he carried out the raid suggest that he was probably a commando or something like that. A man without fear.

Daily Mirror March 18th 1965

Daily Mirror March 18th 1965

On Thursday May 27th one more letter, or ‘com’ as the writer called it, was sent and now he was starting to have some fun:

Goya. Extra Com. Lost – one sporting offer. Propriety has won – charity has lost. Indeed a black day for journalism. I wonder if he is worthy of £2500 reward or should be be drummed out. We took the Goya in sporting endeavour – your Mr. Editor pinched it back by a broken promise. You furthermore have the effrontery to pat yourself on the back in your triumph. Animal – vegetable – or idiot.

Although neither the police nor the National Gallery were in a position to offer immunity from prosecution, the Mirror became a communication route and in May a left-luggage ticket from Rack C2 at New Street station in Birmingham arrived at their offices. This quickly led to the recovery of the painting. It was in relatively good condition but missing its frame.

The painting was shown at a press conference on 24 May 1965, and then was quickly put back on display, almost four years after it had been reported stolen.

On the 20th July 1965 a large man, six feet tall, about sixteen stone and wearing a grey suit and hat stopped a policeman in central London and asked to be directed to the West End police station on Savile Row. When he arrived he told the desk sergeant:

My name is Kempton Bunton and I am turning myself in for the Goya.

When Bunton was asked whether he was saying that he had stolen it, he replied: “Of course, that is why I’m here”. He handed over a written statement that he had brought with him:

(1) My secret has leaked – I wouldn’t like a certain gentleman to benefit financially by speaking to the law.

(2) I am sick and tired of the whole affair.

(3) By surrendering in London I avoid the stigma of being brought here in ‘chains’.”

The next day at Bow Street magistrates court, Bunton was charged with the theft of the picture, demanding money from Lord Robbins with menaces, demanding money from the editor of the Daily Mirror with menaces and with ‘causing a nuisance to the public by the unlawful removal and wrongful detaining of a painting on display at the National Gallery’.

A relaxed Kempton Bunton, August 1965.

A relaxed Kempton Bunton, August 1965.

On 10 November 1965 Kempton Bunton pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ to all the charges at the Central Criminal Court. In evidence to his counsel, Mr Jeremy Hutchinson QC, Bunton said that he had never intended to deprive the National Gallery of the portrait permanently. Neither had he the intention of getting any money for himself by taking the portrait.

When he was asked how he had stolen the painting Bunton told the court that it was at 5.50 am and that the guards must have been playing cards. He had got in by using a ladder which had been left by builders against the outside wall. Bunton added that he had taken the painting because he had been incensed with the Government for not allowing free television licences to pensioners.

During his cross-examination of Bunton, Mr E.J.P. Cussen for the prosecution, asked: ”Are you not sure your object was to steal the portrait from the National Gallery in revenge for the way you had been treated by the authorities over your television licence”? Bunton replied ‘That is not correct’.

Mr Cussen continued “When you walked out of the National Gallery carrying the portrait were you saying to yourself: I always intend to return it?” To which Bunton replied: “It was no good to me otherwise. I would not have hung it in my kitchen!” Asked if he had ever told his wife that he had been holding the Goya for nearly four years, Bunton replied: “No, the world would have known if I had done so.”

Kempton Bunton 1965

Kempton Bunton 1965

Bunton was acquitted on four of the charges but convicted of stealing the frame and sentenced to just three months’ imprisonment. The judge in his summing up expressed what was generally the view, especially by the National Gallery, and one presumes all the museums and galleries around the country, that there cannot be people creeping into art galleries and removing paintings only to say later they were intending to bring them back. Three years later the Kempton Bunton case led to an important clause being inserted into the Theft Act of 1968, making it illegal to “remove without authority any object displayed or kept for display to the public in a building to which the public have access”.

The judge also pronounced, and again he couldn’t have been alone with his opinion, that the theft was a “remarkable feat” for the large, 17-stone, rather unfit Bunton who had long retired from driving because of a previous injury.

Everyone involved in the case must have thought that was absolutely that. However, less than three years later on June 22 1969 a small article appeared in the Observer.  The journalist Barrie Stuart-Penrose reported that the police now believed it was someone else and not Kempton Bunton that had stolen the Goya portrait. Rather oddly, considering the acres of newsprint used up when covering the original heist and the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Kempton Bunton, the story disappeared without trace. Indeed, considering he was responsible for one of the great British art heists of the twentieth century, when Kempton Bunton died in Newcastle in 1976 it went largely unreported and there were no obituaries in the major newspapers.

Sir Norman Skelhorn KBE QC (1909 – 1988) was the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales from 1964 to 1977.

Sir Norman Skelhorn KBE QC (1909 – 1988) was the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales from 1964 to 1977.

In November 2012 a confidential Director of Public Prosecutions file was released at the National Archives. It identified the “thief” of the Goya Duke of Wellington portrait as the 20-year-old son of a retired Newcastle bus driver. His name was John Bunton and he was, of course, the son of Kempton Bunton.

On 30th May, 1969 John Bunton, aged 28 had been arrested and charged at Leeds Police Station for stealing a car. While at the station he made it known that he wanted to get an offence of some magnitude cleared up. He went on to admit stealing the Goya painting.

The police went to visit Kempton at 12 Yewcroft Avenue in Newcastle. He was now 65 and an old age pensioner and he admitted that it was his son John who had stolen the painting. He also admitted that he had committed perjury at his trail at the Central Criminal Court in 1965. After reading his son’s statement he agreed that it was what actually happened.

Kempton Bunton's council house at 12 Yewcroft Avenue in Newcastle.

Kempton Bunton’s council house at 12 Yewcroft Avenue in Newcastle.

In August 1961 John Bunton was living at the Arlington Lodging House in Camden Town and on the 21st he stole a green Wolsley 1500 from a small lock-up in Old Street. He drove back to his lodgings where he remained until 4.00am and then drove to St Martins Street and parked along side the National Gallery. He scaled the wall of the Gallery in Orange Street by standing on a convenient parking meter.

There was some construction going on behind the wall and a wooden ladder about 2o ft long had been left lying around. John Bunton put the ladder up to an unlocked window which was about fifteen feet from the ground and without much trouble climbed though into a gents toilet.

The Gents in the National Gallery as they were in 1961.

The Gents in the National Gallery as they were in 1961.

Outside the Gents in the National Gallery, 1961.

Outside the Gents in the National Gallery, 1961.

Scotland Yard detectives inside the Gents at the National Gallery, 1961.

Scotland Yard detectives inside the Gents at the National Gallery, 1961.

John Bunton then made his way to the gallery which was at the top of the main steps. The Goya painting of the Duke of Wellington was there in a roped off enclosure and standing on an easel. He picked it up, it’s not a particularly large painting, and walked back to the gents toilet. He retraced his steps out of the gallery, this time helped by a lower wall which led up to the higher outer wall inside the premises.

John then gave the painting over to his father who had travelled down from Newcastle but who eventually took it back home with him. Four years later in May 1965 Kempton reqeusted that his son came and visited him in Newcastle. He gave John the Goya painting and asked him to take it to Birmingham and leave it at the Left Luggage at New Street station. Following Kempton’s instructions, it was John who actually sent the letter to the Daily Mirror on the 20th May 1965.

When John was asked by the police why he hadn’t come forward when his father was charged with the offence of stealing it, he said:

He told us not to. Ordered us. It was his wish.

Orange Street behind the National Gallery in 2014.

Orange Street behind the National Gallery in 2014.

Sir Norman Skelhorn, the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the police that John Bunton’s admission of guilt was almost certainly not sufficient to prosecute him. As for his father, Skelhorn ruled that it would be difficult to prosecute him for perjury as they would have to rely on the evidence of the son, who was clearly an unreliable witness. No further action was ever taken.

John Bunton, with the help of his father, managed to get away with one of the 20th-century’s greatest art heists.

Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington on display in the National Gallery in 2014.

Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington on display in the National Gallery in 2014.

Jennie Lee in 1965 by Michael Peto.

Jennie Lee in 1965 by Michael Peto.

In 1967 the Royal Academy invited Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, to their annual dinner to be held on the 27th May. Wilson said “I’d love to come, but with Jennie Lee”. For the first time since 1769 a woman (Jennie Lee was the Arts Minister at the time) was present at a Royal Academy dinner. It was decided to invite some other eminent women as guests and the Times diary reported that Lady Gaitskell looked ‘striking in a dress of wild silk in a pleasing shade of yellow, and as for Miss Gertrude Hermes, A.R.A., she was seen smoking a thoroughly masculine cigar after dinner’.

Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith (1887 - 1969) addresses members of the Royal Academy of Arts, during their annual dinner in London, 27th April 1967. This is the first time that women have been allowed to attend the occasion.

Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith (1887 – 1969) addresses members of the Royal Academy of Arts, during their annual dinner in London, 27th April 1967. She was the first woman to do so and said that it marked the “end of purdah for this great monastic fellowship”.  Peggy Ashcroft and Dame Barbara Hepworth were also present.

While the Prime Minister and other prestigious guests were enjoying dinner at the Royal Academy, Kempton Bunton was presumably watching Tyne Tees television in his Newcastle council house. He may have enjoyed the 1955 Humphrey Bogart film We’re No Angels which was broadcast at 7.00pm and if he stayed up later he may have watched a precursor of Monty Python – At Last the 1948 Show which featured a sketch entitled Thief in the Library



Warren Street and the Murder of Stan ‘The Spiv’ Setty by Brian Donald Hume in 1949

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Stan ‘The Spiv’ Setty in 1949. 

On March 8 2013 Camden Council permanently closed Warren Street to cars. The road had long been used, presumably for decades, as a rat-run for drivers hoping to avoid the congestion that would often build up at the junction between Tottenham Court Road and the Euston Road.

Closing a road to traffic in central London is hardly unusual these days but in this case there was a certain irony. For much of the 20th century Warren Street had been the centre of the used-car trade in London and was the oldest street car market anywhere in Britain.

“It’s a nice little runner” – Two car dealers on Warren Street in November 1949.

It all started in 1902 when Charles Friswell, an ex-racing cyclist and successful engineer,  astutely hopped on the running board of the new burgeoning car industry and opened Friswell’s Automobile Palace at 1 Albany Street on the corner of the Euston Road. It was a five-storey building that could accommodate hundreds of vehicles in garage and showroom spaces, with repair and paint shops, accessory sales and auction facilities. It was known as ‘The House of Friswell’ and ‘The Motor-World’s Tattersalls’ and was a huge success.

Friswell’s Great Motor Repository at Albany Street.

Friswell’s in Albany Street by the Euston Road.

Smaller car dealers started to open along the Euston Road but as the traffic got busier it became harder and harder to park cars outside their main showrooms. Many of the premises, however, had entrances or exits that opened up on the parallel Warren Street (the road was actually built in the 18th century as an access road for the newly built properties on Euston Road).

By the start of the First World War most of the car sales were actually now taking place in Warren Street. The main dealerships were soon joined by ‘small-fry’ or ‘pavement dealers’ – men who bought and sold cars of questionable provenance on street corners, cafes, milk-bars and pubs. Frankie Fraser described Warren Street in his book Mad Frank’s London:

They’d have cars in showrooms and parked on the pavement. There could be up to fifty cars and then again some people would just stand on the pavement and pass on the info that there was a car to sell. Warren Street was mostly for mug punters. Chaps wouldn’t buy one. People would come down from as far away as Scotland to buy a car. All polished and shiny with the clock turned back and the insides hanging out. And if you bought a car and it fell to bits who was you going to complain to?

Car dealers on Warren Street in November 1949.

Warren Street March 2013. Photograph by Lucy King.

Dodgy car-dealer spivs outside 54 Warren Street in 1949.


54 Warren Street today. Photograph by Lucy King.

In December 1949 the magazine Picture Post published an article about the used-car market in Warren Street. They described the road as the northern-most boundary of Soho (Fitzrovia is actually a relatively recent construct and only really been used since the fifties) and explained that was the reason why, “ it attracts a fair amount of gutter garbage from the hinterland.” The reporters feigned shock at the numerous cash-deals that were going on;

Bundles of dirty notes were going across without counting…there is nothing illegal about a cash sale unless, of course, the Income Tax authorities can catch them – which they cannot – or thieves fall out and pick each other’s pockets – or unless, of course, someone gets killed.

And someone did get killed. His name was Stanley Setty, a shady Warren Street car-dealer, with a lock-up round the corner in Cambridge Terrace Mews . He hadn’t been seen since 4 October when he had sold a Wolseley Twelve saloon to a man in Watford for which he received 200 five pound notes. The next day Setty’s brother-in-law called at Albany Street Police station to report him missing but it also didn’t take long before Setty’s fellow traders and black-marketeers noticed his absence from his usual patch outside the Fitzroy Cafe on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Warren Street.

Car dealers loiter outside the Fitzroy Cafe on the corner of Warren Street and Fitzroy Street in London, 19th November 1949. Stan Setty used the cafe as his personal office.

The former stamping ground of Stanley Setty on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Warren Street today. Photograph by Lucy King.

Stanley Setty’s Citroen parked outside his garage in Cambridge Terrace Mews just north of the Euston Road and west of Albany Street.

Stanley Setty had been born in Baghdad of Jewish parents and arrived in England at the age of four in 1908. Twenty years later he received an eighteen month prison sentence, after pleading guilty to twenty-three offences against the Debtors’ and Bankruptcy Acts. In 1949 he was still an undischarged bankrupt and thus unable to open a bank account. Despite this, or more likely because, Setty dealt in large amounts of cash and he was what was called a ‘kerbside banker’.

It was widely known that, on his person, he never carried anything less than a thousand pounds, and, if he was given a couple of hours notice, he could produce up to five times that amount. His real name was Sulman Seti but to many he was known as ‘Stan the Spiv’.

A spiv in 1945 with a Voigtlander camera for sale on the blackmarket in London. The brooches on his lapels are also for sale.

Spiv is a word that’s almost non-existent today and a couple of years ago there were more than a few blank faces when Vince Cable showed his age when describing the City’s much-maligned bankers as ’spivs and gamblers’. After the Second War, however, the word was almost ubiquitous. It was used to describe the smartly-dressed black-marketeers that in a time of controls and restrictions lived by their wits buying and selling ration coupons and sought after luxuries.

When the war had come to an end in the summer of 1945 it was estimated that there were over 20,000 deserters in the country and 10,000 in London alone. These deserters, all without proper identity cards or ration books, had only one choice to make (if they didn’t give themselves up and receive a certain prison sentence) and that was to be part of the huge and growing black market underground.

The word ‘spiv’ had been used by London’s criminal fraternity at least since the nineteenth century and meant a small time crook, con-man or fence rather than a full-time and dangerous villain. The exact origin is lost in the London smog of thieves’ cant, and is etymologically as obscure as the derivation of the goods the spivs were trying to sell. In The Cassell Dictionary of Slang, Jonathon Green suggests the word originally came from the Romany spiv, which meant a sparrow, used by gypsies as a derogatory reference to those who existed by picking up the leavings of their betters, criminal or legitimate.

In 1909, the writer Thomas Burke, in a short story featured in the Idler magazine entitled ‘Young Love in Bermondsey’ mentions ‘Spiv’ Bagster, the ‘Westminster Blood’ who can ‘do things when his dander’s up’. Henry’ Spiv’ Bagster actually existed and was a newspaper seller and petty-thief. His many court appearances for selling counterfeit goods and illegal street-trading were occasionally mentioned in the national press between 1903 and 1906.

Thomas Burke wrote about characters from and around Bermondsey including Barney Grierson who was ‘always handy in a scrum’; Hunky Bottles, ‘captain of the Walworth Whangers’, Battlng Bert, Jumbo Flanagan, Greaser Doodles as well as ‘Spiv’ Bagster.

Another theory about the word ‘spiv’ is that it could well have come from the slang term ’spiff’ meaning a well-dressed man. This turned into ’spiffy’ meaning spruced-up and if you were ‘spiffed up’ you were dressed smartly.

Over time the two meanings of ‘spiv’ seemed to have mysteriously combined and in 1945 Bill Naughton, the playwright and author brought up in Bolton but best known for his London play and subsequent film – Alfie, used the word in the title of an article he wrote in September 1945. Written for the News Chronicle, just a few weeks after the end of World War Two, Meet the Spiv began:

 Londoners and other city dwellers will recognize him, so will many city magistrates – the slick, flashy, nimble-witted tough, talking sharp slang from the corner of the mouth. He is a sinister by-product of big-city civilisation.

James Agate in the Daily Express reviewing Naughton’s article described the spiv as:

That odd member of society… a London type. Which would be a Chicago gangster if he had the guts.

The word ’spiv’ caught the imagination of the public of all classes. People who would have normally described themselves as law-abiding, appreciated, albeit grudgingly, what the spivs had to offer. During the war many people would have felt that without the black market it was almost impossible to have any quality of life at all and the spivs offered an escape from the over-whelming and suffocating strictures of austerity, rationing and self-denial. The sympathetic acceptance of the men with the flashy suits with the wide lapels and narrow waists only increased when the war came to an end. The wartime restrictions were now just restrictions, and the diarist Anthony Heap summed up the mood of much the country at the end of 1945:

Housing, food, clothing, fuel, beer, tobacco – all the ordinary comforts of life that we’d taken for granted before the war and naturally expected to become more plentiful again when it ended, became instead more and more scarce and difficult to come by.

By 1946 the archetypal spiv character was more well known, the columnist Warwick Charlton in the Daily Express wrote in November of that year:

The spivs’ shoulders are better upholstered than they have ever been before. Their voices are more knowing, winks more cunning, rolls (of bank-notes) fatter, patent shoes more shiny. The spivs are the “bright boys” who live on their wits. They have only one law: Thou shalt not do an honest day’s work. They have never been known to break this law.

When war came they dodged the call-up; bribed sick men to attend their medicals; bought false identity cards, and, if they were eventually roped in, they deserted. War was their opportunity and they took it and waxed fat, sleek and rich. They organised the black market of war time Britain. Peace had them worried but only for a moment. Shortages are still with us, and the spivs are the peace-time profiteers.

Seventeen days after Stan ‘the Spiv’ Setty went missing, on the 21 October 1949, a farm labourer named Sidney Tiffin was out shooting ducks on the Dengie mud flats about fifteen miles from Southend when he came across a large package wrapped up in carpet felt. He opened it up with his knife to reveal a body still dressed in a silk cream shirt and pale blue silk shorts. The hands were tied behind the back but the head and legs had been hacked roughly away.

It was estimated that the truncated body had been immersed in the sea for over two weeks and without the head it was thought almost impossible to identify. But the celebrated, not least by himself, Superintendent Fred Cherrill of Scotland Yard’s fingerprint department managed to remove the wrinkled skin from Setty’s fingertips which he then stretched over his own fingers to produce some prints. Prints that turned out to be a match for those of Setty’s.

Within a few days the police found more evidence after they had instructed bookmakers around London to look out for the five pound notes they knew Setty had on his person the day he went missing. Five pounds was a lot of money in 1949 (worth over £150 today) and at that time any five pound note withdrawn from a bank would have had its number noted by the clerk along with the name of the withdrawer.

On the 26th October one of the Setty fivers was found at Romford Greyhound Stadium and on the next day five more were traced back to a dog track at Southend. The police were closing in and on 28 October a man was arrested and taken to Albany Street. Not long after a flat was searched at 620B Finchley Road near Golders Green tube station.

Brian Donald Hume with his wife Cynthia. At the time of his arrest in October 1949 they had a three month old son. She was a former night-club hostess and went on to marry the crime reporter Duncan Webb.

The man arrested was Brian Donald Hume who had originally met the physically imposing Stanley Setty two years previously at the Hollywood Club near Marble Arch. Hume had been impressed with Setty’s expensive-looking suit with the flamboyant tie and his general overall wealthy appearance: “He had a voice like broken bottles and pockets stuffed with cash,” Hume later recalled.

Setty realised that Hume could be useful for his illegal operations and they became ‘business’ partners dealing with classic ‘spiv’ goods such as black market nylons and forged petrol coupons but also trading in stolen cars which Hume stole for Setty to sell on after a quick re-spray. Hume was also useful as he had qualified for a civilian’s pilot’s licence after the war and had been getting a name for himself within London’s underworld as ’the Flying Smuggler’.

Hume was born illegitimately in 1919 to a schoolmistress who gave her son to a local orphanage to bring up. He was retrieved after a few years and brought up by a woman he knew as ‘Aunt Doodie’ but who actually turned out to be his natural mother. According to Hume she never properly accepted him as she did her other children and he would later comment: “I was born with a chip on my shoulder as big as an elephant.”

In 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as a pilot but left in 1940 after getting cerebrospinal meningitis. An RAF medical report at the time, however, described him as having ‘a degree of organically determined psychopathy’.

Hume as RAF Officer c.1943

During the war he bought an RAF officer’s uniform and used his knowledge to masquerade as Flying Officer Dan Hume, DFM. Hume passed off forged cheques at RAF stations around the country (“it was a great thrill to have everyone saluting a a bastard like me”) but he was soon caught and in 1942 he was bound over for two years.

On 1st October 1949, Setty and Hume’s thin veneer of friendship was stripped away during an argument at Hume’s Finchley Road flat. Setty had recently upset Hume by kicking out at his beloved pet terrier when it had brushed up against a freshly re-sprayed car and the confrontation soon became physical. Hume, not a person who particularly found it easy to control his temper, was now in a violent rage and reached over and grabbed a German SS dagger that was hanging on the wall as decoration. He later told a reporter:

I was wielding the dagger just like our savage ancestors wielded their weapons 20,000 years ago . . . We rolled over and over and my sweating hand plunged the weapon frenziedly and repeatedly into his chest and legs . . . I plunged the blade into his ribs. I know; I heard them crack.

Hume stabbed Setty five times after which he lay back and watched his victim’s last breaths. He wrote later: “I watched the life run from him like water down a drain”.

Hume dragged Setty’s hefty thirteen stone into the kitchen and hid the body in the coal cupboard. The next day, while his wife was out, he started to dismember the body with a linoleum knife and hacksaw, eventually wrapping the body parts in carpet felt adding some brick rubble for additional weight.  The following morning Hume arranged to have his front room redecorated, and had the carpet professionally cleaned and dyed to get rid of any stray blood stains. What upset him most was having to burn £900 worth of bloodstained five pound notes.

Later that day Hume took the carpet felt parcels to Elstree airport and hired an Auster light aircraft to dump Setty’s remains over the English Channel. It took several attempts, and broke the plane’s window in the process, before Hume was successful in getting the parcels to slide out of the small side-door. As it was now getting dark Hume decided to land at the closer Southend airport and had to hire a car home for which he paid, of course, with one of Setty’s left-over fivers.

The actual Auster light aircraft used by Brian Hume to dispose of Setty’s body.

Brian Donald Hume, 1949.

A week after his arrest on 5t November Hume appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court charged that he:

Did, between 4th and 5th October, 1949, murder Stanley Setty, aged 46 years. Against the Peace.

By now there was so much evidence collected by the police including fingerprints, identified torsos, blood-stains found in the flat of the accused, hire cars paid by the victim’s proven money and so on that anyone involved in the case thought that realistically there could only be one verdict.

The trial at the Old Bailey started on the 18 January 1950 and Hume’s defence was based around a story that he had originally contrived for the police. Essentially, it was that he had been paid £150 to dump some heavy parcels over the English Channel by three former associates of Setty called Max, Greenie and The Boy. Hume’s descriptions of the three men seemed so accurate and detailed that the story sounded credible to many in the courtroom.

The defence also called on Cyril Lee – a former army officer who lived within earshot of Setty’s lock-up for three years. He was no friend of Setty’s and admitted that he disliked the sort of men that had been habituating the garage at Cambridge Terrace Mews. He told the court that although that they weren’t ‘the sort of people I would like to see round my doorstep,’ he had heard two people that were called ‘Max’ and ‘The Boy’ and also acknowledged that he had seen a man who looked like Hume’s description of ‘Greenie’.

Queues for Brian Hume’s trial at the Old Bailey, 18th January 1950.

Police officers carry bloodstained carpet and floorboards from the home of Brian Hume into the Old Bailey at his trial, London, 18th January 1950. A week later, Hume was convicted as an accessory to the murder of his business associate Stanley Setty.

The Judge, Mr Justice Sellers, spoke to the jury about the inferences and assumptions they had to make but also told them that if there was any doubt about what had happened then they were compelled to return a verdict of not guilty.

The jury were ready in less than three hours to return their verdict and to most people’s surprise, it was that they had failed to agree on one. Hume was retried, and on the 26th January 1950, and after the judge had instructed the new jury to return a not-guilty verdict for the charge of murder, he was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact.  Hume was sentenced to just twelve years in prison but he didn’t hide from the courtroom that he had expected less.

Three years before the case of Setty’s murder caught the imagination of the British public in 1946, George Orwell wrote the essay ‘Decline of the English Murder’. What he thought of the Setty murder case we will never know as on the very same morning that Brian Hume was taken to begin his sentence at Dartmoor Prison, Orwell’s funeral was taking place at Christ Church on Albany Street. The church was situated just round the corner from Stanley Setty’s lock up in Cambridge Terrace Mews and on the very same road where Friswell’s grand Automobile Palace once stood and where Hume was originally taken in for questioning at Albany Street Police Station.

Brian Hume was released from Dartmoor Prison on 1st February 1958. It was almost certainly the only time in Hume’s life that his behaviour was described as ‘good’ but it was for this reason he was released four years early. Because of the law of double jeopardy Hume was secure in the knowledge that he could no longer be retried for murder and he brazenly sold his story to the now defunct Sunday Pictorial. The front page splash began:

I, Donald Hume, do hereby confess to the Sunday Pictorial that on the night of October 4, 1949, I murdered Stanley Setty in my flat in Finchley-road, London. I stabbed him to death while we were fighting.

For the benefit of the Sunday Pictorial newspaper Brian Hume was photographed celebrating his release from prison with champagne. It didn’t go down well with the public.

Hume admitted in the article that he had murdered Setty alone and Max, Greenie and The Boy was just figments of his imagination. The astonishing detailed accuracy of the descriptions of the trio that had successfully fooled some of the jury were actually based on the three policemen who had originally interviewed him.

In May 1958 Hume, complete with a false passport and what was left of the money he had received from the Sunday Pictorial, fled to Zurich in Switzerland. To raise more money he started committing bank robberies back in England that were cleverly synchronised with flights at Heathrow enabling him to flee the country before the police had even started their enquiries. Eventually Hume’s luck ran out when he shot and killed a taxi driver after another attempted bank robbery. This time it was in  Zurich and Hume was ignominiously captured by a pastry chef before being rescued by the police from a gathering angry crowd.

Hume was at last found guilty for murder and he received a life sentence with hard-labour. In 1976 he was was judged to be mentally unstable by the Swiss authorities and this gave them the excuse to fly Hume back to England where he was incarcerated at Broadmoor Hospital. Hume was eventually released in 1998 but it was just a few months later when his decomposing body was found in a wood in Gloucestershire. The body was identified as Hume’s by it’s fingerprints.

Not unlike the Manson Family killings in 1969 that seemed to bring an end to the peace-loving hippy era and the summer of love, the shocking Stanley Setty murder changed the public perception of the typical Spiv as a loveable rogue forever. There was always something slightly comical about the Spiv and indeed the exaggerated clothes and manners lent themselves to caricature. The spiv-like comedy characters continued to be part of British popular culture for the next couple of decades or so – notably Arthur English’s Prince of the Wide Boys, George Cole’s ‘Flash Harry’ in the St Trinian films, and Private Walker in the early Dad’s Army episodes.

London, 1950. British actor and comedian Arthur English dressed as the spiv known as ‘Prince of the Wide-Boys’.

But it was rationing that gave spivs a major reason to exist and during the General Election of 1950 the Conservative Party actively campaigned on a manifesto of ending rationing as quickly as possible. The issuing of petrol coupons ended in May 1951 while sugar rationing finished two years later and finally in 1954 when the public were allowed to buy meat wherever and whenever they wanted, it brought an end to rationing completely.

By the time Brian Hume was released from prison in 1956, the era of the Spiv had essentially come to an end.