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News

Britain's Underworld from the Spivs to the Krays

Cardiff University : 25 August, 2006  (Technical Article)
Was post-war Britain a villains
Was post-war Britain a villainsí paradise? Britain in the forties and fifties is often recalled as a golden age. Now a new book by Cardiff University expert Professor Donald Thomas, chronicles an underworld of escalating crime from 1945-1970.

The launch of Villainsí Paradise will be held, by invitation, in the Universityís Arts and Social Studies Library. Professor Thomas, Personal Chair in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, will also donate a selection of his personal archive of research papers, used in writing his series of acclaimed books on the Underworld in Victorian and WWII eras to the Universityís Special Collections and Archives.

In his book, Professor Thomas reveals that amongst the ex-servicemen and deserters (nearly 20,000) returning to Britain many had acquired skills and weapons that made turning to crime an easy option. At a time when Britainís exports had nose-dived and the country was still suffering acute rationing, anxiety about armed robberies and psychopaths spread. The criminal of the future was prototyped by Ronnie Briggs and the Great Train Robbery, and Britain became the world leader in one thing, safe cracking.

Among the incidents in Wales, revealed in the book:

War surplus looting: Two South Wales entrepreneurs and the Royal Ordnance Depot at Barry were the means of robbing the Ministry of Supply of a fortune in ex-US Army consumer goods from the ministryís base in Worcestershire. As one soldier admitted, everyone on the camp was 'at it'
Coupon Robbery: The biggest petrol coupon robbery of the 1940s took place at the Petroleum Board offices in Churchill Way, Cardiff. Coupons for 750,000 gallons of petrol were stolen during the night of 9-10 November 1947.
The Sporting Underworld: A Cardiff bookmaker, Gomer Charles and a Rhondda scrap-metal dealer were principal figures in the Bath 'Francasal' race-course swindle of 1953. Horses were switched at the last moment and Santa Amaro impersonated its sluggish stable mate winning easily.
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