This piece covers the time when Mixie Walsh took the place of Abie Tobias as the “top man” (Frankie Fraser’s words) in Blackpool. It is a joy to introduce a cast of characters so diverse, flamboyant, eccentric and scary…. read the histories of Blackpool and you will not find these people.
Ask somebody from Blackpool who was the most powerful person in Blackpool from the fifties into the new millennium: Mixie Walsh.
There are two kinds of history. There is the history of gangsters, crooks, prostitutes, murderers, burglars, politicians, beggars, fortune-tellers, confidence trickster, crooked councillors, drug dealers, addicts.
They tend not to leave memoirs.
Economic decline and the use of drugs changed the landscape at the end of the twentieth century.
Mixie Walsh had no criminal convictions after he came to Blackpool. This piece explores Mixie’s times and the social circle around him. Colourful is an understatement.
Mixie’s predecessor was Abie Tobias.
Abie Tobias was the top man in Blackpool after the war. That’s what Frankie Fraser says. Frankie Fraser stayed in Blackpool when he was on the run. There were Hotels that specialised in accommodating “the chaps.” Blackpool was a hideaway for people on the run.
Abie Tobias had a fruit and vegetable shop in Cookson Steet at the corner of Charles Street. It is not the current fruit shop it is the one opposite which sells e-cigarettes. Story is there was a brothel upstairs. He owned the Continental Cafe in Topping Street. He owned boarding houses that catered for crooks and he acted as a fence for stolen goods. But his big earners were running brothels and the black market. I am grateful to Terry Reagan who recalls Abie as a large, dark-skinned man, flashily-dressed, good-humoured. He sold rationed fruit. The Chief Constable of Blackpool visited his shop to buy fruit. Diana Dors, who did seasons in Blackpool, visited his shop. He sold black market sugar and fat and fruit to stall-holders on the Golden Mile. Ice-cream makers and fish and chip shops needed rationed fat and sugar to stay in business.
Blackpool was the prostitute capital of the world during and after the war. The Air Force is being trained using the wide beaches for drill, the American Air Force is at Blackpool and Warton, the Civil Service is operating from Blackpool. What you have is an overwhelming number of young men. Supply/demand.
The Black Market was the life-blood of Blackpool. Blackpool had a good war. Entertainment continued and the use of hotels and boarding houses as accomodation for mostly Air Force recruits and Civil Servants kept the money coming. After the war Blackpool was more ready than other resorts and the years after the war were the busiest ever for tourism. Rock, fish and chips and ice-cream. Rock, fish and chips and ice-cream depended on rationed goods. Sugar and fat. If you were an ice-cream manufacturer. You had two choices stick to your ration and lay off staff or use black market goods. When the Chief Constable took his rationed banana from Abie Tobias I am guessing that he didn’t use his ration card.
And this is where Abie Tobias came in. He could get the goods. The war led to epic law breaking. Respectable businessmen bought black market goods. The Chief Constable bought black market goods off Abie Tobias and the Golden Mile couldn’t exist without Abie’s black market goods. Crime was inseperable from Blackpool’s economy.
I will come back to Abie.
Jack Pye was a wrestler. He appeared regularly in the North West and in the Tower. His wrestling persona was a villainous character, insulting the audience, cheating, attacking the referee. He was the man that people love to hate. “Dirty Pye” once kicked Abdul the Turk when he was praying before a bout and if he disagreed with the referee he would hit him with a stool. He was the best known wrestler of his time. He went to school with George Formby and Albert Pierrepoint the hangman. The three remained friends. Imagine the conversations…
In real life Jack was affable . He ran the Castle Casino at North Shore where top stars from Blackpool shows such as Jimmy Edwards would socialise and unwind. Together with his son Dominic he ran two clubs in Dickson Road, the Embassy Club and the Horseshoe Bar. He helped with local children’s charities.
It comes as a surprise to find that Jack Pye was a film star. There was a thriving film industry based in the North West and Jack Pye was in films with George Formby and Diana Dors.
Dominic Pye from: The Evening Gazette
If Jack Pye was formidable his son Dominic was formidabler. The most fearsome person who ever walked the streets of Blackpool.
Fighting was part of culture and boxing and wrestling had always been associated with Blackpool. Many people regarded getting drunk and having a fight as part of a weekend. It is probably a coincidence that William Thornber the first historian of Blackpool ran a boxing school in a barn off what is now Warley Road.
I was discussing this era with an old-timer. “Did Dominic Pye have a gang? ” I asked. He looked at me pitying. “Dominic Pye didn’t need a gang.”
When a car blocked in his car in West Street near the Promenade. Dominic lifted the car up and upset it. Facts straight:it was only a three wheeler.
Dominic took up wrestling. He toured in the United States and then in England where he enjoyed being called: “The Prince of Darkness.” There seems to have been an incident where Owen Ratcliffe (come to him later) chased Dominic with a gun at the Horseshoe Bar in Dickson Road. I have been unable to find a report.
You may think that with a gun you’d still think twice about taking on Dominic Pye. Owen Ratcliffe is said to have taken on Billy Hill ( mentor to the Krays) and the Krays. Not together.
Sadly Dominic Pye died in an accident at Little Singleton on 27 February 1979. He was aged 50. He was shooting pigeons at the back of his home and as he returned the shotgun went off as he climbed over a fence.
INCIDENT IN THE CONTINENTAL CAFE TOPPING STREET: ABIE TOBIAS AND JACK PYE
This is what happened at the Continental Cafe in Topping Street which was owned by Abie.
Abie with three London based gangsters robbed Jack Pye’s house in Cornwall Avenue, North Shore. They took a safe which they drove to a farm near Preston. They had timed the robbery to coincide with Jack’s wrestling bouts. A PC noted Abie’s car in Cornwall Avenue.
Jack Pye went to the Continental Cafe with his son Dominic, a boxer called Paddy Mcgrath and others to express his displeasure (More about Paddy McGrath later).
Abie Tobias was later arrested with two London colleagues, Alfred Curtis and Sydney Golder. One of the gang got away. On March 10, 1954, Abie was sentenced to seven years: stiff considering that five hundred pounds was involved .
What had happened? For Abie to be involved in something as “hands on” as a robbery and to bring colleagues from London there had to be a personal motive. Business rivalry?
EXIT ABIE TOBIAS
Abie Tobias did not return to Blackpool. Maybe he could not face a world in which he had been “top man” hobnobbing with Diana Dors and the Chief Constable. He did live to a good age.
SHEILA JACKAMAN AND GEORGE PORRITT
Sheila Jackaman was brought up as one of Abie Tobias’ two daughters.On February 15 1963 she married George Anthony Porritt who had been condemned to death for shooting his step-father. George had offended the powerful Copley family by going out with Flo Coupland who had been the girlfriend of Ed Copley, killed in a car chase. The Copleys , had seized Albert Leonard Porritt, George’s stepfather, who shouted to George to shoot. When he did shoot he killed Albert, his step-father. There were numerous petitions which were supported by the Copley family and George Anthony’s sentence was reduced to ten years.
In 1965 Sheila was charged with conspiracy to rob in Manchester. She took part in a wage snatch with her young baby in the car.
CHRIS AND TONY LAMBRIANOU
Chris and Tony Lambrianou were part of the Kray gang and came to Blackpool in 1964. They claim to have “taken over” Blackpool. In view of the presence of Mixie Walsh and Dominic Pye this seems unlikely. They seem to have had reservations about Eric Mason, a close friend of Mixie Walsh. They thought he was using the Kray name to increase his influence. I adore their suggestion to the Krays that gangs would be allowed to use Kray approval in return for payment. A Kray Franchise… KFC?
One of the delights of reading about people is their failure to behave as expected. Chris Lambrianou became a born-again Christian when in prison for the murder of Jack the Hat McVitie.
After release he continues to give talks about his faith .
PADDY MCGRATH AND OWEN RATCLIFFE
I have mentioned Paddy Mcgrath , he visited Abie Tobias after the robbery at Jack Straw’s. Owen Ratcliffe , according to legend, he chased Dominic Pye at the Horseshoe Bar in Dickson Road. I have not been able to find a newspaper account. The argument with Dominic Pye was about gambling.
Owen Ratcliffe and Paddy McGrath formed a partnership. First they sold fish and chips. Then they opened a gaming club in Blackpool. It attracted gamblers from all over the North West and in 1952 they opened the Cromfield Club in Manchester. Billy Hill, the Krays, and the Nash brothers tried to get part of the action. Owen Ratcliffe was fearless. He confronted and threatened Billy Hill, the boss of bosses, at the Astor Club in London. Brian London’s father, Jack London, was doorman at the Cromfield Club.
Owen Ratcliffe later owned a club in Catford, South East London, called Mr Smith and the Witchdoctor. It was here in 1966 that a discussion between members of the Kray Gang and the Richardson Gang left one person dead. Inevitably Frankie Fraser was involved.
MIXIE WALSH AND HIS CIRCLE
DOCTOR KEN MCGILL
Dr Ken Mcgill from the Evening Gazette
Doctor Ken Mcgill kept readers of the Evening Gazette fascinated for a generation. He was from Ireland and had been a boxer as a student in Dublin. His appearances in the Gazette mostly involved drink and fighting. There is a story that he used to go into the Bosley Grill and dispense sick notes and prescriptions. He had a surgery in Caunce Street.
Readers of the Gazette were fascinated when he was involved with Evelyn Lees, a Blackpool Beauty Queen contestant. Their stormy relationship ended when he was accused of assaulting her in Green Drive, Lytham.
The episode had a sad sequel. After her relationship ended she fell into the sea and drowned near the Norbreck Castle on 9th August 1974. The young man who was with her made heroic attempts to rescue her.
Her brother Anthony Lees was charged with stealing from Doctor Ken Mcgill’s surgery. Anthony Lees was later stabbed to death in Park Road. Three men were charged with manslaughter but acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. One of the accused was charged on the day of his acquittal with causing manslaughter by selling drugs in a separate case.
Nobly the dying Anthony Lees told the men who had fatally wounded him to blame it on some Scots Lads as he waited for the ambulance. Drugs changed and intensified crime in Blackpool.
A keep fit fanatic Ken Mcgill was an early jogger and he was jogging in North Shore on Monday 23 August 1971 when he was the first medical person to attend the wounded and dying Superintendent Gerald Richardson. In recognition of his efforts he was sent a cheque by the Police. He did not cash it. He was also awarded a certificate in recognition of his work but he would not collect it because it meant visiting the Police Station. He was an admirer of Gerald Richardson and campaigned for him to be given a posthumous knighthood.
Dr Ken Mcgill and Mixie Walsh are said to have sparred with Brian London.
He was a visitor to the United States where he had a lucky win at golf that helped finance and extend his holiday. He met Dolly Parton who said: “I could do with some of you.”
Doctor McGill is remembered as a delightful eccentric man. Mad as a bag of frogs one person recalls but wonderful company. He brightened up bankruptcy hearings with his antagonism to paying tax. He played at North Shore golf-club. Once he was accused of cheating at a tournament and the Evening Gazette had to withdraw the accusation and pay a settlement. He made his own putters and I hear his name still adorns North Shore Golf Club.
Happy go lucky money flowed through him. He would give you his last penny.
He brightened the life of Blackpool residents.
Eric Mason was a regular visitor to Blackpool where he visited his friend Mixie Walsh. The pair had met in Dartmoor. Mixie had attacked six policemen.
I find Eric Mason an intriguing character. He was certainly brutally treated. He claimed that he led a life of crime because he rebelled against the brutality of the system. If you rebel against the brutality is joining the Kray gang the obvious move?
There is a truthfulness in Eric Mason’s book: “The Brutal Truth.” A prison work gang find a wild strawberry plant and their dreams are of waiting until it is ripe and sharing the strawberries. Suddenly they find one of the strawberries missing. They are mistrustful. Until they found a sparrow eating the strawberries. They shared one strawberry and left the rest for the sparrow. This is from memory it may not have been a sparrow.
Inevitably Eric Mason got into an incident with Frankie Fraser when Frankie Fraser attacked Eric with an axe. He complained that he had lost his axe. “It was an ‘Arrod’s axe.”
Eric’s version is that he was subdued by a number of people.
In many ways Eric was the stereotype gangster of the post-war years. A boxer with a lifelong interest in boxing, a celebrity-struck character name-dropping for England… Frank Sinatra etc… a one time club-owner with an interest in promoting bands, a man with a lifelong admiration for P J Proby. Each to his own as they say.
A moving aspect of Eric Mason’s career is his loyalty to Mixie Walsh. When Mixie Walsh suffered from alzheimers Eric Mason arranged a benefit.
Eric went straight for thirty years and then got in trouble over marijuana. He was the last man in England to be punished with the cat of nine tails.
THE QUALITY STREET GANG
I can’t stop myself mentioning the Quality Street Gang . They they have a very slim link with Blackpool but also because they have a link with Big Politics. A connection with the Provisional IRA and the Brighton Bombing and the Shoot to Kill Policy.
The nature of the QSG is disputed. Some believe that they were primarily a social group. Others thought that they were behind every major crime in Manchester. Some of the group attended Mixie’s 70th birthday celebrations.
The QSG used to meet in a bar where Phil Lynott’s mother worked. They are models for: “The Boys are back in town.” And for the less well known :”Johnny the Fox meets Jimmy the Weed.”
In the world of Big Politics the conflict in Northern Ireland intensified because of Mrs Thatcher’s alleged: “Shoot to kill,” policy. The Army and RUC were accused of shooting unarmed suspects. John Stalker the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester was sent to examine the evidence. Before he could complete his enquiries he was recalled. A complaint was made was that he was too close to members of the QSG.
He was cleared.
Conspiracy theory: he was removed from the enquiry because he was not supplying expected whitewash.
A story about James Anderton the Chief Constable of Manchester. He was seriously disliked by many of his men. A group of detectives told the West Yorkshire Police that they suspected he was the Yorkshire Ripper. And that this was taken so seriously that a surveillance group planted microphones in his home. I can’t account for why this fills me with joy.
The Brighton Bombing of 1983 was the Provisional IRA’s response to shoot to kill. Patrick Magee who placed the bomb was in Blackpool the previous year.
Looking at the Imperial?
For me Margaret Thatcher could do no right, but credit for her glorious sang froid on the occasion of the Brighton Bombing.
BLACKPOOL MARY, LARRY RUSHTON
If we see the QSG as a social group rather than a crime gang we can see that they were like the circle around Mixie Walsh. A criminal past, an interest in boxing, an Irish connection, links with show business, and business interest in clubs were some of the characteristics. Fun, eccentricity and colourfulness were cherished. When Jane Austen wrote: ““For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” she could have had Mixie Walsh’s friends in mind.
Blackpool Mary was a prostitute . It is said that she concealed people and goods in her place. Sadly her younger sister, Madge Leadbetter, was murdered on 31 May 1952. Blackpool Mary lived to a good age. She was an ally of Mixie and is said to have helped conceal men on the run and stolen goods. The joint interests of prostitutes and club-owners meant that the groups would socialise.
Other names come up but I do not know anything about them. George the Greek, Gordon Green, Philip Mars, Tommy Throup, Pat and Jim Wallace, Peter Mason.
One character was Larry Rushton. A former armed robber he took to art. He is said to have escaped from Dartmoor within twenty minutes of arriving. I am told that Larry Rushton achieved celebrity status when he was featured in the Daily Mirror. “The convict artist, ” deeply eccentric, he is said to have always worn a wig and would not answer the door until he had adjusted his wig.
Because of their interests in boxing and clubs they would socialise with other club owners. Dr Ken Mcgill and Mixie sparred with Brian London. Josef Locke socialised with Mixie’s circle. The connection with clubs brought them into contact with celebrities such as Diana Dors. Diana Dors, “the British Marilyn Monroe,” spent many summer seasons in Blackpool. She often sailed pretty close to the wind, in November 1953 she was found guilty of larceny in Blackpool.
When Eric Mason stayed in St Annes he shared a place with the Dave Clark Five.
For fifty years Mixie Walsh was the most powerful man in Blackpool. So who was Mixie? Look in the papers and you won’t find anything. Well, a brief mention when he appeared in court and was acquitted.
I spoke to a lady who was his contemporary and whose husband worked with him. She called him: “Michael.” “Mixie” is brilliant branding: it changes a name into something unique.
This lady’s husband (he has since died) worked with Mixie in the building trade. She recalled that he was a very hard worker and that he was fit. Once her husband and Mixie were involved in an incident in a club. Six Geordies were hurt. The case came to court but Mixie was acquitted and that is the only time he appeared in court in Blackpool.
What did Mixie look like?
She says : Well he was small and almost non-descript. You wouldn’t notice him until…
Fast moving, strong , fit and fearless. There was something lion-like aspect to Mixie’s aggression. The lady’s husband was no slouch and he said he’d never seen anybody move so fast. Part of the menace around Mixie was that you might forget he was there.
He adored his mother. He came to Blackpool after doing time for asaulting six Policemen. He lived at 19, Bethesda Road, Revoe.
This lady’s attitude to Mixie, at one time he was very close friends with her husband, was typical of Blackpool residents. She didn’t entirely approve of him but said she never felt he was a threat to people he knew. He was not a flashy dresser, or ostentatious. Although he drank a bit he was not an unusually heavy drinker. He was generous to children. He bought her daughter a record player.
He would sing quite dreadfully at gatherings.
When I asked what she thought he was involved with she answered thoughtfully: I think he would do anything that was profitable.
Did she like him?
He wouldn’t hurt one of us.
Why do you think he was the way he was?
(Thoughtfully) He found the thing he was really good at and that he was happy doing.
A story about Mixie Walsh: I was told this by a retired headmaster. Holy Family school in North Shore had been vandalised and computers stolen. A posse of parents got in touch with Mixie Walsh. He sent on of his intimidating colleagues who found the thief with some of the computers. There was no violence. The thief was told: “No more.”And there was no more.
In this sense Mixie Walsh was a supporter of order. Jaw-droppingly gangs that had started extorting protection money ended up providing security at pubs and nightclubs and supermarkets. Given that crime and law and order have a yin yang interdependence maybe it isn’t so surprising.
The age of the monopolistic gang was fading. Crime is so diverse: internet fraud, smuggling, cannabis farming, dealing in legal highs, importing platinum without paying VAT… Traditional gangs often moved into Security.
And regarding Mixie Walsh that’s it. You can look it up yourself. You will hear how charismatic he was, how generous he was, how he was always a perfect gentleman. You will hear that he kept the Krays out of Blackpool (not true) although it probably is true that gangs from Manchester and Liverpool were deterred. Considering the amount of drugs taken in Blackpool there were few shootings or stabbings and this may be because there was a stable hierarchy.
You will not hear a bad word from anybody and all his numerous godchildren remember a good humoured, witty man. This guy kept in control of a gang and dealt with rivals and his name inspired… still does inspire fear. You can say his name now and people lower their voices and look around.
His skill, his lack of vanity, his realistic ambitions, his normality , his charm, his humour, his loyal friends kept him in place five times as long as the average third world dictator ( I have no idea I made that up) and he hardly appeared in court. If he lived now he would be a management guru: “Mixie Walsh and the Art of the Deal.”
I think one key is that he enjoyed what he did and the opportunities to socialise with the likes of Dr Ken Mcgill and Larry Rushton. He and his friends were fun to be around.
This is Mixie. You may have probably walked past him if you are an older Blackpool resident. You could accidentally have nudged him in a queue at a bar. Better not to do that.
Look at the eyes…
I had a lot of help from people who want to remain anonymous. I am very aware that parts of this are very incomplete and I’d be delighted if anyone could add anything.
The message board for Fans Online
and also on the Blackpool site:
I believe that this is part of Blackpool’s “unofficial” history the story should be told.
Thanks to Terry Reagan for his memories of Abie Tobias.