As we in the UK and related territories prepare to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the other events of 1952, specifically those related to our area of interest – i.e. general financial naughtiness. On 21 February 1952, for instance, compulsory identity cards, which had been issued in the UK during World War II, were abandoned. We’ve debated their return ever since.
On 21 May 1952, seven masked men held up a post office van just off Oxford Street in London, and stole eighteen mailbags containing £287,000 (equivalent to over £6 million today). The Eastcastle Street robbery was one of the first “project” robberies, masterminded by London gangster Billy Hill, who carried out full rehearsals under the pretext that a crime movie was being shot. A £25,000 reward was offered and over a thousand police officers involved, with PM Winston Churchill demanding daily updates, but the robbers were never caught. Billy Hill was a life-long mentor for the Kray twins, who launched their own criminal operations in 1952 after being dishonourably discharged from the Royal Fusiliers.
1952 also saw the birth of Thomas McGraw. Although he too started with post office robberies, Tam – or The Licensee – grew up to become one of Glasgow’s wealthiest businessmen, with security companies, taxi firms and a huge network of heroin traffickers under his control. Like Billy Hill, and against the odds given their numerous enemies, McGraw died peacefully at home. And in 1952, film fans were flocking to see “The Turning Point” – no, not the ballet film with Anne Bancroft, but a tough drama starring Edmond O’Brien as a crusading district attorney tasked to crack down on a crime syndicate which has corrupted many city officials. The story was inspired by the Kafauver Committee of the US Senate, which existed from 1950 to 1951 and investigated inter-state organised crime.
But let’s focus on the sunny side of 1952 for now. We’re having a street party on Sunday, complete with Union Flag bunting, a three-tier cake (red, white and blue, of course) and a remarkably lifelike cardboard cut-out of Her Majesty. I hope you will all have a chance to enjoy similar silliness.