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|Born||Leonard John McLean
9 April 1949
Hoxton, London, England, UK
|Died||28 July 1998
Bexley, London, England, UK
|Other names||The Guv'nor|
|Occupation||Actor, author, bouncer, boxer|
Leonard John "Lenny" McLean (9 April 1949 – 28 July 1998), also known as "The Guv'nor," was an English bare-knuckle fighter, bouncer, criminal and prisoner, author, businessman, bodyguard, enforcer, weightlifter, television presenter and actor, and has been referred to as "the hardest man in Britain".
McLean's pugilist reputation began in the East End of London in the late 1960s and was sustained through to the mid-1980s. He has stated that he had been involved in up to 4,000 fight contests.
McLean claimed in his autobiography to have been well known in the criminal underworld. As a respected and feared figure, he often associated with such people as the Kray twins, Ronnie Biggs and Charles Bronson. He was also known in the London nightclub scene as a bouncer, where he often managed security.
Lenny McLean was born into a large working-class family in Hoxton in the East End of London. His father, Leonard McLean senior, had been a Royal Marine during the Second World War, but after being debilitated by a near-fatal disease which he contracted in India he became a petty criminal and swindler. He died when Lenny was six years old, and was buried in a pauper's grave, as many working class men of the time were.
Lenny's mother, Rose, later married Jim Irwin, who was, like her previous husband, a conman. Unlike the elder McLean, Irwin was also a violent alcoholic, who physically abused Lenny and his brothers for many years. By the age of ten, McLean had suffered many broken bones. However, when Lenny's infant brother Raymond was beaten brutally with a belt, McLean's great-uncle Jimmy Spinks—a feared local gangster—attacked Irwin, nearly killing him, and threatened to cut his throat should he ever need to return to protect the children again.
Lenny admired his great-uncle thereafter and when he became a street fighter he said that he considered every victory to be won on behalf of his vulnerable younger self. He expressed the rage resulting from his abusive childhood with such abandon that often it would take several men to separate him from his defeated opponent.
During his teenage years, McLean mixed with various criminals for whom he ran errands. He was arrested for petty crimes and served 18 months in prison. After he was dismissed from his first legitimate job for beating up his foreman, he worked at odd jobs. By the age of fifteen, McLean realised he could earn a living from fighting and pursued it as his main means of income.
McLean's first unlicensed boxing match came about as a result of a chance meeting while in his late teens: when his car broke down in the Blackwall Tunnel he abandoned it and went to buy a replacement from an associate known as Kenny Mac, a gypsy used-car salesman in Kingsland Road, Hackney, only to find the replacement quickly failed too. McLean returned later to demand his money back, but rather than repay it, Kenny Mac offered to give McLean a new car in exchange for McLean fighting in one of Mac's organised bouts later that night in Kenny's yard. McLean's opponent was just under 7 feet (210 cm) tall and weighed 20 stone (130 kg); he lasted less than a minute against McLean, earning McLean £500, a considerable prize at the time.
Kenny Mac and McLean became friends and on numerous later bouts Mac acted as McLean's boxing manager, with McLean subsequently becoming the best-known bare-knuckle street fighter in Britain.
Aged twenty, McLean married Val. They had two children, a boy and a girl, named Jamie and Kelly. McLean described his family as his "rock," whose existence helped him to reject a life solely devoted to crime, and for whom he maintained some self-control during his fights.
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When Frank Warren formed the National Boxing Council in the 1970s, it allowed the toughest underground fighters in Britain to compete legally. McLean, unable to become a licensed boxer due to his violent reputation and criminal record, entered the world of unlicensed boxing (which, though legal, was not sanctioned by the British Boxing Board of Control), and he quickly became one of its brightest stars. His most famous bout was against George 'Pappy' Langley. The notorious Essex fighter had earned a name for himself by knocking out almost all of his opponents to date. The fight lasted one round with George Langley being victorious via KO.
McLean, who in his prime was six feet two inches (188 cm) tall and weighed over twenty stone (127 kg), boasted that he could beat anybody, in either a legitimate match or in an unlicensed match with or without gloves, and reputedly sent out challenges to many of the famous boxers of the day, including Muhammad Ali and Mr. T, though neither contest materialised. He was challenged by the king of the gypsies Bartley Gorman to see who was the hardest unlicensed fighter in the United Kingdom but he refused, leading many to believe Bartley to be the better fighter.
McLean had a brutal trilogy of unlicensed matches with arch-rival Roy "Pretty Boy" Shaw, a former patient of Broadmoor Hospital. McLean lost to Shaw once via verbal submission, which McLean justified by claiming his gloves had been tampered with, thus reducing their maneuverability. McLean beat Shaw in a rematch with a dramatic first-round knockout in which Shaw was knocked out of the ring. In their final bout, McLean ended the feud with a brutal first-round knockout at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London in September 1978.
However, McLean was not invincible nor a professional athlete and large portions of his career cannot be verified. He was allegedly twice knocked out by Johnny "Big Bad" Waldron during the early days of his boxing career, both times in the first round. He was also knocked out in the first round by George Langley, twice stopped in matches against Cliff Field, and beaten on points by Kevin Paddock (none of which are mentioned in McLean's autobiography), although McLean always maintained that he had never lost a fight "on the cobbles" or outside the ring.
Despite these defeats, McLean claims to have competed in almost four thousand fights over three decades, and winning a very large majority of these fights. This led many to accept McLean as the unofficial Heavyweight Champion of the World in unlicensed boxing.
With his growing fame, McLean also became known as "The King of Bouncers" around many of the clubs and pubs in London.
McLean was also a publican, holding joint ownership of a public house in the East End of London named the "Guv'Nors" along with Charlie Kray, elder brother of the Kray twins, reputed to be the "most legitimate" of the three brothers.
McLean has also been described as a "fixer" and a "minder" (or bodyguard) for criminals and celebrities including Mike Reid, Freddie Starr, Boy George, and the casts of television shows such as EastEnders and The Bill.
In 1992 McLean decided to release an album of Elvis Presley covers. The Album was entitled 'Lenny Sings...'. He claimed "The King meets The Guvnor. It's sure to be a winner." His lead single 'Blue Suede Shoes' failed to break into the top 200 and the album was subsequently scrapped.
Attempts on McLean's life
Being the best-known figure in unlicensed boxing produced for McLean not only fans, but also enemies, including some of his rivals' supporters, and some who had lost money betting on McLean's opponents. McLean also made enemies from years of ejecting people from pubs and clubs. He suffered two bullet wounds from separate attacks, and was attacked from behind and stabbed on two occasions.
McLean has said that he later caught up with and punished one of his assailants, a drug addict named Barry Dalton, who had attempted to shoot McLean at his home while his children were in the house. Dalton had also made many other enemies, and a year later was found dead with a bullet in his head, a murder for which McLean asserted his innocence. (McLean L, The Guv'nor, Blake Publishing, 2003)
1992 court case
In 1992, McLean was working as the head doorman at the The Hippodrome in London's Leicester Square, when he ejected a man named Gary Humphries who was reportedly on drugs, streaking through the nightclub and harassing women and urinating on the floor. McLean admitted to "giving him a backhander." Humphries died later that night and was found to have a broken jawbone and severe neck injuries.
McLean was arrested for the murder of Gary Humphries by the same policeman who had caught the Kray twins, Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read. McLean immediately protested his innocence, and claimed the police had a vendetta against him because of his association with the Krays.
McLean's charge was reduced to manslaughter, of which he was cleared at the Old Bailey when it emerged that Humphries had been in a scuffle with the police after being ejected from the nightclub. Reportedly, the police had forcefully restrained him with a stranglehold. Professor Gresham, a pathologist who had worked on many high-profile murder cases, gave evidence that the stranglehold applied by the police probably caused the neck injuries which probably caused Humphries' death.
However, it was determined that McLean was responsible for Humphries' broken jaw, and McLean served an 18-month prison sentence for grievous bodily harm.
McLean was featured prominently in a television documentary on nightclub security staff, titled Bounce: Behind The Velvet Rope. He gravitated towards acting after being introduced to an agent by two long-term show-business friends, Mike Reid and Freddie Starr, for whom with Archie Mills he had "minded," and also after "minding" the cast of television shows such as EastEnders and The Bill. After playing a brief unbilled cameo as a ringside spectator in the film of The Krays (1990), McLean appeared in such roles as Eddie Davies in ITV's Customs drama The Knock, and moved to lower roles such as that of a police chief in The Fifth Element (1997), his largest acclaimed role being in Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), playing the part of 'Barry The Baptist'.
During the filming of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels McLean was struck ill by what he believed to be the flu. He was subsequently diagnosed with pleurisy, although further X-ray examination proved he was suffering from lung cancer which had metastasized to his brain. He died shortly afterward on 28 July 1998, in Bexley, London, a few weeks prior to the release of the film. Director Guy Ritchie dedicated the film to him and had billboards for the film changed to feature McLean in tribute.
Lenny McLean's autobiography, titled The Guv'nor, written with Peter Gerrard, was published shortly before his death, and immediately occupied the number one position on the bestsellers' list. Since McLean's death, Peter Gerrard has written another book about McLean, titled The Guv'nor: A Celebration. McLean's widow, Val, has written Married To The Guv'nor with Peter Gerrard, and, with Anthony Thomas, has produced a second book about McLean titled The Guv'nor Through The Eyes Of Others.
Lenny McLean film
In his autobiography, McLean recounts that various film studios had expressed an interest in making a film based on his life and career in unlicensed boxing. McLean wanted Craig Fairbrass to portray him as he had known the actor for some time and also considered that Fairbrass resembled himself as a younger man. McLean travelled to Hollywood, California, to discuss the matter with film studio executives, but their preference for Sylvester Stallone for the part caused McLean to discontinue negotiations. Meanwhile, rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, actor Ray Winstone and pop star Phil Collins also showed interest in the role. However, the plan suffered funding problems. One supposed film promoter, later found to have been a conman, took more than a million pounds from McLean and disappeared. The plan has been in uncertain hiatus since McLean's death. World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler William Regal said in a television interview that he had been offered the role, but this has never come to fruition.
References and notes
- Lenny McLean at the Internet Movie Database
- The Official Lenny McLean Site
- The Guv'nor – An Independent UK film from Planzed