Ex-Stratford journalist turns from news to fantasy - and cites the Kray Twins as inspiration
PUBLISHED: 17:49 25 April 2018
Ilford-born Paul Thomas made his name on the Stratford Express covering the Kray twins, organised crime and Newham in the 50s and 60s. He spoke to The Recorder about his new book, journalistic inspirations, and the time he chased the Queen across the Royal Docks in a lorry.
“I started on the Leytonstone Express and Independent in 1957,” he said.
“My dad was a bank manager and thought I should go into insurance or banking. I wanted to be a boat builder. My mother found an advert in the local paper for a cub reporter, so I went for an interview and got the job.”
Paul, 78, spent a year there before being headhunted for the Stratford Express. Having grown up in Ilford, Leyton, Woodford and Wanstead, he was used to London life.
“I was used to East London living, I’d never had anything else,” he said.
“It was tough, it was busy – I didn’t go to university but after a couple of years I had my degree in street wisdom.”
Like today, crime was a part of everyday life in Stratford in the 60s. Paul ended up covering the Kray Twins, the notorious crime gang who ran the borough.
“There was an understanding that the Krays were bad news, they were gangsters, but they also kept things organised,” he said.
“They kept the Richardsons, a gang from south of the river, out of town, and if you kept your nose clean, you had nothing to fear.
“They were organised criminals running a business – they helped certain people become celebrities by running nightclubs and made money by keeping other businesses safe. So long as you paid your protection money they looked after you.”
Paul used his career as a journalist, and Reggie Kray in particular, to inspire his new book, ‘Changing Colours’.
“When Reggie was jailed, they allowed him to spend his last few weeks in a hotel in Norwich,” Paul said.
“That’s where he died, and he allegedly spent his last months becoming a born-again Christian. He turned from evil to good, and that’s a theme of the book.”
‘Changing Colours’ follows the story of Nicoleta, a Transylvanian girl who moves to London to become a singer. A PR guru and English Lord seize the opportunity to create an image for her as the wife of Vlad III, the Romanian Prince who inspired the legend of Dracula.
“The inspiration came from London,” Paul said.
“At the end of the 60s I moved to Norfolk to start my PR company, and in the mid 80s my wife and I gave birth to two daughters. When they grew up, they both wanted to move to London, which I got into my mind would make a good book.
“At the same time, around 2005-08, people were being very critical of the number of countries trying to get into the EU, Romania being one of them. I considered Romania as this country wanting a better life, so I created Nicoleta, a country girl wanting to move to a better life.”
Paul admitted writing fantasy, as a journalist, was a far cry from his usual stories.
“At first it was hard work,” he said.
“I always thought, would X character do this, would Y say this, but I was too tied to reality. Then I suddenly got the knack where I could dream up all sorts of things. You start to sit down and write and your brain redevelops the story.”
Paul remains a journalist at heart – he admitted there are some stories which can’t be made up.
“I did go on a tour with the Queen round the Docklands once,” he recalled.
“In 1958, East London was just docks, ships and warehouses. The Queen and Prince Philip did a tour where they were driven round and the media were driven after them. They’d speak to people and immediately after, as they moved off, we’d speak to those people.
“My photographer and I got chatting to a couple of dockers, and suddenly realised the media car had driven off without us. This lorry came along so I flagged him down, asked the docker to give us a lift, and told him to follow the car in the distance. We took chase after the Queen in this docker’s lorry, following her down the road.”
The debut novel came out yesterday (April 25). For more information, visit aboutchangingcolours.com.