Bermondsey-born Jimmy Humphreys was an enterprising chap. A graduate of Rochester borstal, Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor jails, Jimmy capitalized on the capacity for the cunt-struck to be cash-rich in ’60s Soho.
Clubs were Jimmy’s forte. The Queen, at the corner of Berwick and D’Arlaby Streets, proved profitable. He even married barmaid-turned-stripper Rusty. And Jimmy knew how to deal with the formalities. Simple supply and demand. The more you earn, the more you pay.
The Queens was convenient too. Late-entertainer and all-round-smarmy-git Jeremy Beadle recalled cops and crooks doing the business at the the New Hogarth , D’Arlaby Street. Beadle was about, his mother and step-father ran the club: “On a Wednesday someone from West End Central would drop in for a drink and an envelope. It was all very civilized.”
Jimmy and Rusty were a great team. Some say she was the brains behind the business. Rusty knew where the money was. Jimmy needed to turn pornbroker. One obstacle lay in Jimmy and Rusty’s way: the Met’s Obscene Publications Squad. The Dirty Squad.
Jimmy and Rusty were wide. Christmas is a good time. More mouths to feed. So in late December 1969, Jimmy and Rusty entertained Commander Wally Virgo to dinner at the Criterion, Piccadilly.
Based at New Scotland Yard, Commander Virgo supervised the business of nine elite Metropolitan Police squads. The Dirty Squad was one of them.
Detective Chief Superintendent Bill “the architect” Moody, the head of the Dirty Squad, had refused Jimmy a “licence” to trade dirty books in Soho. Commander Wally “the man upstairs” Virgo arranged a meeting.
Virgo and Moody were clever. Too clever. They used Bernie Silver, a Stoke Newington Jew, running a successful string of adult entertainment services in Soho. Silver’s pedigree included work with the Messina brothers, pimps of ’50s notoriety. Silver also had brains. Along with Maltese-born “Big Frank” Mifsud, they controlled 19 out of 24 strip clubs in Soho. Lawyer-turned-historian James Morton explains:
The arrangement had been worked out so there would be no rivalry and inter-club warfare between them. Say A and B ran the Star Club, B and C owned the Spangled Club, C and the D the Banner Club and D and A the America Club. If, therefore, premises owned by Silver or Mifsud were attacked the other operators would suffer and there was no incentive for anyone to cause trouble in another club.
Following Silver’s efforts, Detective Chief Superintendent Moody and Jimmy Humphreys met for lunch at the Empress Restaurant, Mayfair. Gillray would be proud.
Caution. I fucked up first time round. Undergrad error. Check your sources. Stay switched on. James Morton claims Humphreys paid £14,000 for a licence to sell dirty books from 55 Rupert Street, Soho.
£14,000 is a hell of a load of cash. £1,000 in 1969 is worth £13,190 today, but has the purchasing power of £33,680.
For an asking price of £4,000, the cop granted the crook a licence. Silver paid half and kept the Syndicate sweet. Within a short period of time, Humphreys and Silver set-up pornshops in Soho’s Lisle, Newport and Windmill Streets. Moody received a further £6,000 for these licenses.
There’s no honour among cops, some may say. Virgo was peeved at not receiving his cut of the £10,000 paid to Moody. Not in a position to sack Moody, as Silver suggested, Humphreys and Silver paid Virgo £1,000 compensation. A further £2,000 a month was to be paid to him, with more to come if more licenses were granted. Don’t forget the Christmas bonus: £2,000.
But Jimmy did alright: £216,000 (untaxed) profit over a three-year period, from his porn shops alone.
As for the £14,000. Not a figment of James Morton’s imagination. John Mason, you’ll meet him soon, paid £14,000 to Bill Moody to drop “a particularly embarrassing charge” pending a certain Georgie Vim.
And how did the public come to learn of this protection racket? Via the press. A mere three years after The Times’s revelations of masonic Met Police corruption, suggestions of the survival of “a firm in a firm” were stoked by Laurie Manifold’s scoop “Police Chief and the Porn King”, published in the Sunday People on 27 February 1972.
Commander Ken Drury, of the Met’s Flying Squad, and his wife had holidayed in Cyprus. Their hosts and patrons? Rusty and Jimmy. Old friends. Jimmy and Ken became de-facto business partners following the clearing-up of a little mess. Bernie Silver found out that Jimmy had been shagging his mistress. A fit-up was planned. Commander Ken sorted things out for Jimmy. For £1,050.
Even the Yard’s top-brass didn’t believe Commander Ken’s claim that he was in Cyprus hunting train-robber Ronnie Biggs. Commander Ken was suspended. Then He then fell on his truncheon. Resigned. No disciplinary board.
And then for reasons everyone concerned regrets, ex-Commander Ken sold his story to the News of the World for £10,000. Ex-Commander Ken also named Jimmy Humphreys as a grass. Jimmy wasn’t happy. Jimmy’s meticulously maintained diaries detailed meetings with over twenty detectives. Address books too.
How was it thus? How did Scotland Yard’s Dirty Squad find itself running one of the West End’s most lucrative protection rackets?
Supply and demand. Stupid legislation. Spiv’s paradise. The no-man’s land of law and morality. Cops across the country lamented the legalization of off-course cash-betting in 1960. Pills and prostitution prove pitfalls too.
As is such with tits and bums, and more. Demands of the flesh. A demand so strong it fostered an unholy-trinity between property owners, pornographers and policeman. The cash nexus.
Landlords could charge what they wished following the Rent Act of 1957. Soho, a cosmopolitan village at the heart of London’s West End, was ripe for the picking, A property-grab followed the release of plans to 300,000 of square feet of land around nearby Piccadilly Circus into tower blocks. The plan failed, but the scheme, according to The Times, “left a trail of planning blight”.
Waiting to cash-in on the land-grab, landlords let out leases with six months break-clauses. Such terms were ideal for low-overhead operations such as the sex business. Tourists love it dingy. Period-piece peeling-plaster still evident.
The ’60s came two years early. 1959 is the year. The Street Offences Act pushed the working girl off the street into the club or private room. Feeding the wallets of night club and property owners.
1959 also benefited the pornbrokers with the Obscene Publication Act’s subjective smut test:
For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
The Dirty Squad, a unit whose officers expanded from five to fourteen men between 1957 and 1972, decided as to whether an item under investigation was “obscene”. The Dirty Squad was a popular team to join. Under Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody’s guidance, applicants noted that recruits “sprouted wealth”.
While prosecutions were carried out by the Director for Public Prosecutions or the Met’s Solicitors’ Department, the Dirty Squad had operational autonomy and monopoly on information. In short, the Met were obliged to enforce a stupid law. And a time-consuming one too for the copper involved:
Going by the book, he had to inspect and buy (and be recognized), procure a warrant and authority to search, swoop, itemize the material (possibly tons of it) which he seized, and go to court (if the DPP agreed).
Demand for dirty books was strong. Estimates suggest Soho was home to around 50 porn-shops in the late 1960s. Each shop would turn-over between £2,000 and £10,000 a week.
Under Bill Moody, the Dirty Squad effectively licensed porn in Soho. For around £1,000 a week, the major pornbrokers would trade with impunity. It worked, in a way. Those most generous were guaranteed a decent return. Competitors were kept out of the market, material confiscated. A slice of the salacious snaps were, in turn, sold from policeman to pornographer. John Mason confessed to being given a CID tie so he could visit Holborn nick to purchase impounded porn. In an emergency the code-word “W.H. Smith” or “Rymans” would be uttered. Rozzers on the raid would merely find a stooge at the shop-front. Hardcore long-gone.
Ron “the Dustman” Davey, another porn-merchant, was questioned in 1975 by Met officers investigating the Dirty Squad’s corruption. Davey recalled how he came to know Detective Sergeant Cyril Jones (who later received a seven-year prison sentence) through Moody’s world of masonry:
I have been to numerous of these and in fact Bill introduced me into his lodge. It has been put to me that I booked a coach on the following dates – 6.11.69 to Derry and Toms (12 people); 17.11.69 to Top Rank Suite, Croydon (12 people); 25.9.71 Regent Street. All were masonic functions at which I was a guest. Normally present were Bill Moody, Cyril Jones, 2 other police officers [who Davey names] and our wives. I am quite sure there were many more outings.
Coincidence or conspiracy? Too stupid a question, but under Wally Virgo and Bill Moody’s command, the Dirty Squad was almost entirely masonic. Frank Andrews was a Detective Constable on the Dirty Squad between 1965 and 1968. He recalled a chat with a colleague about a Masonic Ladies’ Night:
He said words to the effect, “Have you got enough money for the new dress for your wife?” I indicated that I didn’t want any help but he then handed me a brown envelope and said, “Put that towards the cost of the new dress for your wife.” I did not want the money and decided to ditch it in a nearby waste-paper bin. We attended the ladies’ evening as planned. Bill Moody was there with his wife and another sergeant.
A firm in a firm.The Times and the Sunday People. A first. Public confirmation of systematic police corruption. One pornographer, “Big Jeff” Phillips, claimed that the Dirty Squad received £250,000 a year, of which he contributed £15,000. “Big Jeff” also claimed to organize the payment of monies to senior officers into Swiss bank accounts. Allegations which World in Action journalists Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short suggest are plausible.
Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody, the chief of the Dirty Squad, was sentenced at the Old Bailey in 1977 to twelve years in prison. Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad received eight years’ imprisonment, reduced to five years on appeal given no evidence suggested he corrupted younger officers.
As for Commander Wally Virgo, his twelve year stretch was quashed by the Court of Appeal, “saying that the trial judge had failed to give a proper direction on the corroboration of Humphreys’s evidence.” But Virgo was also responsible for the Drugs Squad.
More shit to follow soon.
- David Ascoli, The Queen’s Peace: The Origins and Development of the Metropolitan Police (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979).
- Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short, The Fall of Scotland Yard (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).
- James Morton, Bent Coppers (London: Little, Brown, 1993).
- __________, Gangland Soho (London: Piaktus, 2008).
- Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2000).
- Martin Short, Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (London: HarperCollins, 1993).
- John Sutherland, Offensive Literature: Decensorhip in Britain, 1960-1982 (London: Junction Books, 1982).
- Martin Tomkinson, The Pornbrokers: The Rise of the Soho Sex Business (London: Virgin, 1982).
- Judith Walkowitz, Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
- Andrew Weir, “Jimmy and Rusty”, Independent, 4 July 1994,http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/jimmy-and-rusty-it-was-a-small-event-at-southwark-and-it-ended-in-small-jail-sentences-but-jimmy-humphreys-in-better-days-right-was-a-caesar-of-soho-and-his-wife-rusty-an-empress-of-vice-when-they-come-out-how-will-they-supplement-their-pensions-report-andrew-weir-1411438.html
- “Law: Man Senior to Commander ‘May have taken Bribes'”, The Times, 2 March 1977.