The Krays’ henchman on life and twisted love in the gang

As Tom Hardy's double performance as the East End gangsters hits cinemas, Chris Lambrianou reveals the true story behind Legend

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When Chris Lambrianou left prison in 1983, he had just served 15 years after being convicted for murder alongside the Kray twins. As a free man he began a new life, having become a born-again Christian while in jail. Eventually, he married. In time, there were children. They turned out to be twins. “A boy and a girl, not two boys,” he says. “Still, life can be ironic.”

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For Lambrianou, escaping the Krays has never been easy. Now a new film retells their story. Legend is an account of the brothers’ bloody rise and fall in 60s London, with Tom Hardy playing both Reg and Ron. Lambrianou is quietly impressed. “I’ve got to say, Tom Hardy plays it brilliantly. He does the twins great. He may go a little over the top with Ronnie, but he plays Reggie very sensitively.”

Lambrianou, 78, now lives in Oxford – but his accent is still pure east London, a reminder of his former life as a henchman of the Krays. His brother Tony was also mixed up in their empire. When Legend’s writer/director Brian Helgeland came to London to research the film, Lambrianou showed him around the twins’ old haunts. According to Helgeland, Lambrianou also gave him the key to the whole drama. That was Frances Shea, the ill-starred Bethnal Green girl whose relationship with Reg is the heart of the movie.

It was Lambrianou who told the director how important Frances was to the Krays’ story. He had been to school with her big brother Frank (played by Merlin’s Colin Morgan in the movie). “Me and Frank were best mates. You couldn’t have met a nicer guy. There was nothing criminal about him, but he ended up working as the Krays’ driver.”

Frances was soon pulled into the twins’ orbit, too, as Reg became smitten. They made an unlikely couple. “The Sheas were a dead straight family, and Frances was a decent girl. But you can’t tell someone who to fall in love with.”

At first, Lambrianou thought Frances might persuade Reg to abandon crime. He wasn’t alone. The couple married in 1965, but Ron saw their relationship as a threat. “Ronnie’s love for Reggie meant tightening the fist around him,” he recalls. “It was, ‘We need you with us, not her.’”

Lambrianou says the mental state of Ron, a paranoid schizophrenic, was the real cause of the Krays’ destruction. “Ron had a bit of the Napoleon in him. You never knew how far he would take things.” For Frances, the marriage was disastrous. Psychologically fragile herself, she committed suicide in 1967. “She didn’t stand a chance. The Krays leaned on each other, and in doing that they squeezed the girl to pieces.”

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In Legend (in cinemas from today, Wednesday 9 September), the story of Frances and Reg is played as tragic romance, with Hardy’s Reg a smooth talker in a tailored suit. Here, Lambrianou thinks a touch of dramatic licence has been involved. “Reggie didn’t have a lot of confidence. He was too shy to go up and start talking to women. He’d need a bit of speed, to be honest, to be able to chat a girl up. He was a sensitive soul really, Reggie.”