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David Sullivan talks 'Rise of the Krays'

Filed: Tuesday, 25th August 2015
By: Staff Writer

West Ham United's co-owner David Sullivan is a busy man these days.

It's the last week of August and West Ham United supporters are keenly awaiting news of impending player arrivals. However Sullivan has a lot more on his plate at the moment than just football, as this week also marks the release of a new film which he has financed.

'The Rise of the Krays' goes on general release this week and is just the first of a series of films Sullivan hopes to become involved in in the near future. A follow-up, 'The Fall of the Krays' is already in the pipeline - and the 66-year-old insists that many more will follow, if both 'Rise' and 'Fall' prove to be a success.

"Football is my hobby, so I need other business ventures and income to fund it and make a living," Sullivan told KUMB, when asked what prompted him to finance the film. "We draw no salary or expenses from West Ham United FC.

"Ken Brown - another big West Ham supporter - asked me to get involved and I thought it was a great concept. His brother is Terry Brown [Sullivan's predecessor as Chairman]; I met him at West Ham after a couple of games.

"He's been making football hooligan films for many years with his son [Sebastian] and they wanted to make something a bit bigger."

For Sullivan it is a welcome return to the format where he made part of his fortune in the 1970s. He released nine films between the mid-seventies and early eighties - which Wikipedia claim made him a millionaire by the age of 25.

Irene Handl and Alfie Bass, amongst other British comedy icons, in 'Come Play With Me'

"I made nine sex comedies in the 1970s that played in every cinema in the country," he confirms. "One of the films , 'Come Play With Me' was the most successful sex comedy of all time.

"They weren't mainstream comedies but they were mainstream in that they were certificated by the BBFC. They weren't porn movies, they were only one degree beyond Carry On films - like seaside postcard-type movies. We had people like Irene Handl and Alfie Bass in my films, real British comedy icons.

"I gave up working with film in the early 1980s because probably quite wrongly, I did it to make money. In those days there were subsidies available to British filmmakers, but when that stopped it was very hard to make any money out of the films.

"I should have made one film a year, even though I lost a bit of money, just for the fun of doing it. That's one of my great regrets in life."

Despite those regrets, it is clear from Sullivan's enthusiastic tone that he had been well and truly bitten by the film bug again. And despite having left it 34 years between productions, he is keen to explore more projects of a similar nature.

"We're already in post-production with 'Fall of the Krays' and we already know from the number of pre-orders it's going to be between moderately and very successful," he adds. "So we've already commissioned that. which will come out in about nine months time.

"If both of them are successful we'll then make some more films, because I think it's a lovely thing to do - giving young actors and people on the crew jobs they wouldn't otherwise get. Around 200 people have worked on the 'Rise' film."

'Rise', says Sullivan, is a warts 'n all production showing Ronnie and Reggie Kray as they really were. "That's important," he insists. "We do not glamorise them, we paint them as they really were - very violent and nasty people."

And of the two actors who play the twins - newcomers Simon Cotton and Kevin Leslie - he remarks: "They are two sensational young actors who’ll frighten the viewer to death!"

Cotton and Leslie star as Ronnie and Reggie in 'Rise'

West Ham's Chairman, who is set to hand his share of the club over to his two sons Jack and Dave at some point in the future admits to having a passionate love for the gangster genre in film - and, unusually perhaps, one founded on a love for British films in particular.

"My all-time favourite gangster movies are Get Carter, The Long Good Friday and either Gangster #1 or Sexy Beast," he muses. "I'd always pick British gangster movies. I don't like the American ones so much.

"The Godfather is a fantastic film, Goodfellas is pretty good - but I just love British gangster films. You can't beat them. For me, they're real lads films and things you identify with."

Sullivan also admitted to identifying with the Krays a little too closely once - when he adopted their name in order to attempt to settle a few debts!

"I did use the name 'Kray' on letters regarding the non-payment of cheques!" he confessed. "I wasn't personally pretending to be one of the Krays though.

"I did get quite an irate letter from Reggie Kray via Leicester Prison [when he found out]. We began to correspond and became quite chummy over it. As for the cheques, I think using the Kray name on the follow-up letters helped us get 30 to 60 per cent paid, so it kind of worked!"

Although the sixties gangs such as the Krays and their rivals the Richardsons are little more than a memory now, Sullivan believes their spirit lives on - albeit in the most unusual of places. "Football agents are like gangsters, the way they threaten people with some of their antics," he admitted.

"If they don't get their own way they threaten us, threaten players and even threaten each other! For every deal you've got, six agents say they represent the player. Six agents say 'we mentioned him to you first, we want some money'. Sometimes it's a bit like the Wild West!"

The Krays were convicted of murder at the Old Bailey in 1969 and jailed for life. Ronnie died in 1995 and Reggie, five years later.

* The 'Rise of the Krays' in available for digital download now from all good stockists and on DVD and Blu-Ray from 31 August. Prices vary from £7-12.

Another clip from 'Rise', now available on digital download

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