THERE have been some legendary figures at the head of East End gangland over the decades. From the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties the main man was Jack Spot, though like many others, much of his legend was self-penned.
JACOB Colmore, John Colmore, Jacob Comacho, Jack Comer – he was known by a multitude of names.
But in a colourful age, (his rivals included Manchester Mike, Newcastle Ned and Edgware Sam) Jack Spot was his common title.
He claimed it was because he was always on the spot when trouble needed sorting. More prosaically it was said to be a childhood alias given for the mole on his cheek.
Born on 12 April 1912 in Whitechapel’s Myrdle Street, Spot was the son of Polish immigrants, his brother a tailor and his sister a dressmaker.
But if his siblings took a predictable route for young immigrants, Spot was after better money.
At 15 he became a bookie’s runner, then a year later hooked up with a man running protection rackets on the Sunday morning stalls in Petticoat Lane.
Times were tight, and the stallholders’ main concern was to prevent new traders moving in and diluting their takings.
Quickly showing his aptitude for gangland, Spot managed to fall out with his senior partner, fought him, and took the protection business for himself, emerging as the self-styled ‘King of Aldgate’.
He went into partnership with East End bookie Dutch Barney, then took a more direct route – acting as lookout and minder to a successful housebreaker.
Arrested and admitting to 40 offences, he was merely bound over. No doubt amazed by his luck, Spot went back to bookmaking.
They say the bookie never loses – Spot made sure he didn’t. If he had a bad day at the course he’d be off before the punters came to collect their winnings, and supplemented his takings with a fairground con called ‘Take a Pick’, where punters paid sixpence (2.5p) to pull a straw from a cup. Lucky winners (and there were few) won a piece of tat, while Spot pocketed £40 a day.
Amazingly, he continued to operate successfully at the racetracks for some time, relying on the never-ending supply of mug punters, backed up by the unspoken threat of violence.
Taking his ‘Pick’ game back to Petticoat Lane, he would win £50 on a good day.
But a major part of the Jack Spot mythology centres on his protection of Jewish shopkeepers from the Blackshirts on their marches down Brick Lane.
His status as friend and protector to East End Jews is certainly partly true – but he did charge the shopkeepers £10 a time.
Nonetheless, it did the trick, and stallholders would be queueing up to donate money to Spot’s ‘Market Traders Association’, in fact just another protection racket.
After a brief stint of war service in the Royal Artillery, he returned first to the East End and then west, to where the real money was.
After a fight in the Edgware Road, and fearing imprisonment, he fled north. He worked as a minder around Leeds and Newcastle, helping up-and-coming gangsters beat or intimidate the old guard out of their nightclubs, gambling dens, or racecourse pitches.
Back in London in the late forties, Spot ran the Botolph Club in Aldgate, pocketing £3000 a week from illegal gambling.
More romantically, he now saw himself as ‘the Robin Hood of the East End’, travelling to Leeds, Manchester or Glasgow to beat up villains who threatened Jewish businesses.
He even claimed that rabbis would advise their frightened people to call for his services.
And he was still making a fortune from the races, meeting anyone who crossed him with instant and savage retribution.
The White family, who had run betting at the major southern courses for years were harassed, attacked with knives, bottles, machetes and finally routed in a fight at Harringay Arena.
The date was 9 July 1947. Now in partnership with gangster Billy Hill, all serious opposition had been crushed.
The two gangleaders settled down as businessmen, living well on the proceeds of protection in West London.
But just as underworld bosses fight their way to the top, so younger, hungrier and more vicious figures wrest control from them – or fill the void created by their imprisonment.
For Jack Spot, his decline was just a few years away – and his nemesis was to be his new partner.