James Morton is the author of the hugely successful Gangland series. He has long experience as a solicitor specialising in criminal work and was editor-in-chief of New Law Journal for many years. James talked to Nick Doffman about his Gangland series and in particular his fascinating work on the world of London gangs.
Mishcon Academy: In Conversation with James Morton
Mishcon de Reya
Well this afternoon we had the pleasure of chatting with James Morton. He is the author of the Gangland series of books as well as ghost writer to Mad Frankie Fraser’s autobiographies and numerous other books. We spoke about people’s fascination with the underworld and criminality generally. We traced James’ career; he started as a defence lawyer and a self-confessed gangland lawyer to writing books. We asked James just to sort of paint a picture of gangland London back in the 40s, 50s and 60s which he did, tracing nasty people like the Sabini’s, the Cortazi’s, Billy Hill and of course the Krays that everybody knows.
I became a lawyer by default. I couldn’t do mathematics; mathematics wasn’t a requirement for entry into the profession so that was really all that was left for me. I always wanted to write and while I was a lawyer I still wrote, I wrote for a variety of magazines, films and filming contemporary review. I also did the horror skips from time to time.
When my practice really effectively folded I went to University and took a Degree in criminology and once I’d finished practising, my old clients I still kept in touch with and they were now quite prepared to tell me more or less, less probably than more, of what actually happened and so I compiled a book on a history of London’s underworld roughly from 1900.
Mad Frankie Fraser I defended in the Parkhurst riot when he got five years and I thought I had done perfectly well with him but when Gangland came out there was a bit of a quarrel between me and a North London family who objected to what I had written about. Thank God it is all smoothed over and I came home one day and found a message from the office saying a Mr Francis Fraser wanted to talk to you. So I rang and said ‘is this the Mr Fraser?’ and he said ‘yes’. He says ‘I’ve got your book’, he said ‘I didn’t buy it I had it nicked’, he says ‘you’ve got things wrong’. So I said ‘yes very likely’. I said ‘I will correct them in the next book’. He said ‘no I’m writing my biography and you are going to do it’ and in the words of a Godfather, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Mishcon de Reya
What the Academy does apart from providing legal knowledge, it also allows us to think beyond the law which makes us all better at what we do in providing a good service to clients.