David and Dave, two diamond geezers who became my valued literary mentors and friends 

David Laws

Dave Courtney

Who would have dreamt that our dear late, much-missed pal, David Laws, and Dave Courtney had anything in common?  But they did: an enviable generosity of spirit.

I experienced it first-hand with both men — David, after writing my first novel, in 2020, and with Dave while writing two Kray-connected books several years earlier.

David and I hit it off immediately I joined the Express in 1982. He was most interested I’d been a book publisher and — when he could be dragged away from the Middle Bench! — we’d stroll up to the Wine Press and talk about the novels we hoped to write.

Many years later, when I’d completed Final Deadline, I contacted David, who’d had his own debut novel, The Fuhrer’s Orphans, published by Bloodhound. I wanted to know as much as possible about the company and whether David felt I should approach them.

Not only did he read my 150,000-word manuscript, offering advice on how it might be improved, he told me how Bloodhound worked and what pitfalls to look out for, should I go with them.

Since his death, I’ve been back over our email exchanges, and found that, in an eight-month period, David, dear David, sent dozens — all positive, all helpful, not one complaining of the time I was taking up, not one asking for anything in return.

Dave Courtney, who was found dead at his home, in South East London, on 22 October 2023, and I hit off, too. Of course, it helped that my wife, Sue, and I knew the people he knew — and appreciated a good irreverent joke!

Like David, he responded positively when I sought his help. The first time was in 1997 when the Kray twins’ older brother, Charlie, was on remand, in Belmarsh Prison, awaiting trial on a drugs charge. I was updating his autobiography, Me and My Brothers, and needed to know what life was like for him on Category A.

Although I visited Charlie regularly for ten weeks, it was impossible to get what I needed, so, Dave, who had also been a Cat. A prisoner there, invited me to his home, to mark my card, as it were.

He gave me everything I needed, to put into Charlie’s words. And not once did he hold his hand out for anything.

Ten years or so later, I was writing a book about the Krays twins’ life behind bars and asked Dave, for his experiences visiting Reg in various prisons, and Ron, in Broadmoor. Again, he rolled out the red carpet — and the inevitable joint - and related personal anecdotes that gave my book even more of an authentic touch.  And, again, no mention of a “drink.” 

 I take as I find. And I found David and Dave two diamond geezers I would — most definitely — want with me in the trenches. 

While taping Dave for the behind-bars book, his mobile went. He listened for a few seconds, then said: “Would you put the phone down, then call me back and say that again.” It was not so much a question as an order and I thought: Jeez, someone’s upset him. A minute or so later, the phone rang again. Dave listened, then grinned. “Do you know, Sue,” he said, “nobody has called me that since my mum when I was a little kid.” The caller was my wife and she’d said: “Sorry to interrupt, poppet, but I need to tell Rob something important.”

After that, Dave was poppet all the time, even in the Thank You pages of the books he helped with.

1 November 2023


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