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THE BIRMINGHAM FEWTRELLS
This section on the Fewtrells is a bit ‘out of course’ with the rest of the blog as the Fewtrell brothers were ‘brummy’ businessmen and not criminals. But it is interesting as it sheds a light on the type of business that appealed to certain ‘ geezers’ in the 1960s, especially Nightclubs where they would have a ready market for their amphetamine and cocaine sales teams to operate in. Gangs like the Krays used their muscle and violent reputation to take over many clubs. But when the Krays tried to take over the Birmingham clubscene. which would have given them a stranglehold on the Midlands and a halfway warehouse on the route to the 2nd biggest drugs market in the UK, Manchester….they bit off more than they could chew.
MENTION the surname Fewtrell to anyone in Birmingham and chances are they will know exactly who you are talking about.
Because for four decades the colourful family, including brothers Eddie, Don and Chris, entertained the city and became the Kings of Clubland.
Eddie, affectionately known as ‘Mr Nightclub’, sold his empire more than 25 years ago, but the Fewtrell name has never lost its place in the minds of the Birmingham public.
Their story is a real-life rags-to-riches tale which started in the back streets of Aston.
Eddie, one of eight brothers, broke onto the nightclub scene in the 50s with his brother Chris when they bought the old Victoria Cafe, in Navigation Street, and turned it into the Bermuda Club.
In an instant the venue transformed nightlife in the city which, until then, had just been a collection of coffee shops and espresso bars.
In 1960, Eddie and Don went into business opening the Cedar Club on Constitution Hill.
Among the live acts who performed was up-and-coming star Tom Jones, who performed for two nights – for just #70.
But as the brother’s empire grew, they attracted the attention of two of Britain’s most notorious gangsters – the Krays.
In an interview five years ago, Eddie recounted the time the East Enders tried to muscle in on the club scene – and were sent packing.
He recalled: “I was in the club one night when some bloke came up to me and said that he knew some people who might be able to help me out.
“‘Well I was getting a bit annoyed at this point, here’s some Cockney telling me he knows people who can look after me and I’m thinking ‘what do I need their help for when I’ve got seven brothers to do that?’.
“I grew up fighting around the streets of Aston and in the army and so on and I wasn’t having any of that so I told him in no uncertain terms to clear off.
( rumour has it that a fight between the two took place and reliable(?) witnesses have told how a gun was produced by the cockney and the struggle ended with his ear being half shot off. ed)
“There were threats and so on after that and some trouble, so I went to the chief of police in Birmingham and told him what was happening.
“He told me to sort it out so we did, and that was the end of that.”
( the ‘sorting out’ became known as the Battle of Snow Hill. see further down page. ed)
The brothers’ business careers went their separate ways in the 1970.
Eddie opened Boogies nightclub, Boogies Brasserie, Edwards No 7, Edwards No 8, the Paramount pub, Goldwyns nightclub and Abigails, while Don owned The Revolution – later known as Pollyannas – in Newhall Street, and also Faces at Five Ways.
He sold his clubs in the mid 80s and went to Australia but returned two years later when he rejoined Eddie’s empire, managing Goldwyns.
The link-up ended when Eddie sold up to Ansells in a multi-million deal in the early 90s.
Eddie though, found he could not stay away from the club scene and, as soon as a golden handcuffs clause in the deal expired, he bought clubs in Birmingham and Merry Hill.
In 1993, Don, then 63, revealed he was broke and living in a council flat.
He reflected in an interview: “All sorts of things have been said about the Fewtrells. But we have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure and we changed the face of Birmingham.
“I’ve had the money and it’s gone. But I’m a happy man and you can’t take it with you when you go.”
Chris died in 1999, aged 56, after a long battle with cancer. Of the other brothers, Frank died of a heart attack, aged just 35, and Ken also died, aged 56.
The Battle of Snow Hill
They gathered in large numbers under the shadow of the sodium lights that fringed Snow Hill Station.
Hundreds of bear-like, brooding individuals with noses bent and broken more times than politicians’ promises.
On one side, the Kray Twins’ army of Cockney villains. On the other, the Fewtrells, the brothers who ran Birmingham’s thriving clubland.
It was a blood-spattered brawl involving the hardest men spat out of London’s East End and the Second City’s tough Aston District that, for those involved, will forever be remembered as The Battle of Snow Hill.
And for Ronnie and Reggie, the savage, final chapter in their feud with the vast Fewtrell clan had special significance.
The late 1960s explosion of violence took place on October 14, the date of the Battle of Hastings. Ronnie delighted in pointing that out when recalling the carnage.
And like Harold’s Saxon hordes, the notorious Cockney villains were crushed, their bid to spread the criminal cancer of drugs, extortion and crime to Birmingham streets forever thwarted.
The final confrontation in the simmering feud is now revealed in an explosive new book, The Accidental Gangster, dedicated to sifting the fact from the fiction over bad blood that freely flowed between the two camps.
(It is rumoured that several bodies from the Battle of Snow Hill are entombed in the giant cement pillars holding up Spaghetti Junction but I don’t think the construction dates and the Battle dates correspond. ed)
A book has been written by David Keogh, married to Eddie Fewtrell’s daughter, Abi.
And it includes recollections from the brothers of whom Eddie, Gordon, Johnny and Roger are still alive. It recounts the dark days when the Krays attempted to make Birmingham their manor.
David admits he’s used some poetic licence, changing names and locations and adding drama to produce a Pulp Fiction style. But the incidents, themselves – the ones on these pages – are firmly embedded in fact, he insisted, gained through interviews and the family conversations.
David, who lives in Plymouth, reveals how:
*The Krays gave the order for Eddie – regarded as the figurehead of the family – to be killed.
*They hired a hitman to rub-out the nightspot boss in his own club. In the life-and-death struggle, the gunman – a Brummie – had his ear shot off.
*The simmering ill-will between the two families was spawned by a simple misunderstanding. The Fewtrells wrongly believed Ronnie and Reggie had organised the trashing of one of their businesses.
“They just wanted to run clubs and make money. They wanted to be successful businessmen.
“The incident with the gun gave that feel to the family and they couldn’t shake it off.”
“The guy tried to shoot him and Eddie tried to wrestle the gun off him,” explained David. “In the struggle, it kept firing and the guy, who was from Birmingham, had his ear shot off.
“Everyone thought Eddie had shot one of the Krays. That’s where the reputation came from.
There is one undeniable truth. The Fewtrells – Eddie, Roger, Chrissy, Frankie, Johnny, Don and Gordon – were tough individuals who refused to be bullied, not even by the curdled cream of London’s organised crime scene.
One other brother, Kenny, did not follow the clubland tradition and became something of a loner.
Chrissy, in particular, was a talented boxer tipped for big things in the pro ranks.
In Aston, everyone knew the Fewtrells.
Dad George was a larger-than-life individual who held the dubious distinction of being the last man in Birmingham arrested for being drunk in charge of a horse.
Eddie worked in the rag market before purchasing his first venue, The Bermuda Club. “His wife Hazel persuaded Eddie to get the club,” explained David. “She was the very much behind a lot of what the Fewtrells did. She was the driving force.”
The Bermuda Club, in the winter of 1961, was to be the setting for the Fewtrells first fateful meeting with Ronnie and Reggie.
It was explosive and lit the touchpaper to a turbulent turf war that would last years.
“At the time the Elbow Room, in Aston, was popular with Londoners, particularly London gangsters,” said David. “There’s a photograph of the Kray Twins in Aston.
“I believe they were on their way to the Elbow Room when they turned-up at the Bermuda Club.”
The twins brought their brash reputation into the Bermuda. Swaggering, demanding and intimidating, they were red-rag to Brummie bull, Eddie.
“The conversation was getting heavy. The insults began to fly,” said David. “it was getting close to a fight.”
The incendiary encounter ended with something that would’ve never happened to Ronnie and Reggie in the heart of London. They were thrown out.
“I think the Krays didn’t want Birmingham,” reasoned David. “I don’t think they wanted the clubs, but they did want revenge.
“I think they came down because they wanted to open a drugs hub in Birmingham to distribute the drugs the Americans had asked them to sell in Birmingham.”
Soon after the villains’ enforced exit, the club was “hit” – and hit hard – by a notorious gang known as The Meat Market Mob, a title bestowed on the gang through their weapons of choice – cleavers.
“The Krays had nothing to do with it, I believe,” said David. “The Meat Market Mob and the Fewtrells had bad blood between them. It was a vicious fight and a lot of people were injured.”
In a bid to bring the Fewtrells to heel – and teach them a painful lesson – the Krays dispatched lieutenants “London Chris” and Tony Lambrianou to carry out their dirty work.
They were waiting outside the Cedar Club in Ronnie Kray’s Jag and spotted Don. They bit off a lot more than they could chew, heading back home bloody and bruised.
The stage was set for the Snow Hill showdown, a battle that many have dismissed as a myth.
“Did it happen?” smiled David. “I’ve spoken to 50 guys who say they were there and 50 who said it didn’t happen. I’ve spoken to doormen who are adamant they were there. The brothers I’ve spoken to refuse to say anything.
“In Birmingham, the tip-off came from the Irish community. They liked the Fewtrells because, at the time, there were clubs you could not get into with an Irish accent. They were welcomed by the Fewtrells.
“They were told the Krays were gathering by friends and colleagues in London.”
It is, David insisted, thanks to the brothers that Birmingham did not endure the Krays’ brutal reign, although its a part of Birmingham’s past the prime-players do not dwell on.
In a In a 2001 interview, Eddie, living in quiet retirement and breeding horses near Ledbury, touched on the subject. He said: “I was in the club one night when some bloke came up to me and said that he knew some people who might be able to help me out.
In 1993, the late Don Fewtrell reflected on the family’s lasting legacy. “All sorts of things have been said about the Fewtrells. But we have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure and we changed the face of Birmingham.”
And saved it from the Krays.
2 thoughts on “The Birmingham ‘ Fewtrells’”
Lived in Brum most of my life and visited Rebeccas and Barbarellas on many occasions in the 1972 / 74 era. Great clubs and met my wife there. (and am still married). Also went to school with Paul Fewtrell Eddies nephew for a very short time when I was 10 / 11 who I believe lost his Dad at a very early age and he went on to run Pollyanas where I never went. There were other clubs like, The Locarno, The Dolce Vita, The Top Rank, The Mayfair., The Piccadilly, and my favourite which was the Rainbow suite with DJ Brian Tee a reggae specialist. Oh happy days.
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Thanks for the comment Andy, I think all of us ‘of a certain age’ had a similar social life. Mine was in Brixton and South London with forays into the West End at the weekend. Different times. Eddie Fewtrell is living outside Ledbury in a gated mansion and hopefully enjoying his retirement. I hear that he breeds horses now.