John George Pearson 5th October 1930 – 13th November 2021

 

John Pearson gained a double first at Cambridge. He wanted to be a writer. He worked first at The Economist, then the BBC and then the Sunday Times, and it was at the Times he was understudy to an elder hack called Ian Fleming. Fleming left the newspaper a year or so later when the character he created ‘James Bond’ became a worldwide phenomenon and in 1966 Pearson was invited to write the biography of his old friend Ian Fleming. The book was Pearson’s first major success.

 

However, John will be remembered around the world, and in the East End in particular, for a different book. In 1967 he was invited to meet the Kray twins. Reggie and Ronnie knew the police net was closing in and they needed a writer to tell their story. Pearson, in Rome at the time, was informed by his extremely keen publisher that they had seen his work on Fleming, and they wanted him. He was flown first class back to London, put in a suite at the Ritz and collected the following morning by chauffeur driven Mercedes; all, so he believed, at the twin’s expense. He was taken to an impressive stately pile in Suffolk (now owned by Bill Wyman, ex Rolling Stones) to meet the gangsters. All this was very impressive to a naïve writer.

 

During lunch John noticed that Reggie’s hand was bandaged. He wasn’t to know that eight days previously, whilst stabbing Jack the Hat to death, the knife had slipped and cut Reggie’s thumb. “How did you hurt your hand Reg?” John asked “Gardenin’” came the infamous reply. In John’s own words “Without knowing very much about them, rather casually I agreed to become their ‘official’ biographer”

 

Soon the stately home was a distant memory. Pearson was ensconced in the Blackwall Buildings off Bethnal Green and he is quoted as saying, “The last time I’d seen a room like this was in a slum in Calcutta” Reggie said it was Ron’s little joke. John Pearson spent seven months living in that hovel right up to the day the twins were arrested. As a writer this was a phenomenal opportunity; he truly had access to history in the making. The resulting book ‘The Profession of Violence’ (1972) became an international bestseller and is still the most popular book in the British prison system after the bible. In 2015 it was released as a blockbuster film ‘Legend’ starring Tom Hardy. He went on to write two more books about the Krays amongst many others

Between 1962 and 2010 John Pearson had 24 books published. They ranged from novels to political theories to biographies; he has left behind a truly impressive body of work. Most people would agree that The East End has two internationally renowned criminal narratives: ‘Jack the Ripper’ and ‘The Kray Twins’, and the twins would not be on that list without John Pearson’s distinguished skills as a writer. He died peacefully in bed surrounded by his family on the 13th of November 2021, aged 91

 

Ian Parson