Lenny 'The Guv'nor' McClean 'treated kindness with kindness and violence with extreme violence'
PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 October 2016
Jamie McClean and Paul van Carter's new documentary delves into the life of an infamous boxer, brutal bouncer, talented actor and loving family man
That a name can strike fear into the hearts of violent men sounds like the stuff of gangster films.
But Lenny McLean was the real deal, and often referred to as the hardest man in Britain.
Growing up in Hoxton’s Geffrye Court, he did his first paid fight when he was under 10 years old and entered into a life of unlicensed boxing and bouncing, becoming associated with the Kray twins and Charles Bronson.
“When he was growing up in the 40s and 50s, they never had anything,” says his son Jamie McLean. “They were born into a very violent area of poverty in post war Britain. He didn’t have an education or positive role models. All he knew how to do was fight.”
Jamie, now in his forties, is rediscovering his father’s life, and has filmed a documentary looking at the
experiences and character traits that might have made him the aggressive man he was capable of being. “It delves into a lot of my dad’s stuff that no one really knew about him: the OCD, I think he had a bit of dyslexia as well, and the child abuse as well, so all rolled into one that sort of made him quite a violent person outside the home.”
The Guv’nor, directed by Paul van Carter, follows Jamie as he explores Lenny’s life, talking to his father’s old friends and colleagues and looking back over his own memories.
Much of the film makes reference to the confessions of Lenny’s 1998 autobiography, but talking heads from the people who knew him best provide insight that many will never have heard before.
While the documentary focuses a great deal on his career as an unlicensed boxer (about which a feature film is being released next year), most interest lies in the elements that surround that part of his life.
“He used to bully the bullies,” says Jamie, in reference to his assertion in the film that “he treated kindness with kindness and he treated violence with extreme violence.”
During his years as a club bouncer for venues such as Camden Palace (now Koko) and the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, he was at the centre of countless violent altercations, one of which resulted in his being shot and another with him being accused of murder, for which he was later acquitted. He served more than one stint behind bars.
“He helped a lot of people as well,” says Jamie, speaking of a woman who had contacted him to tell him that Lenny had helped her out of homelessness when she was sleeping outside Camden Palace.
“She said he got her a job collecting glasses and a room with one of the barmaids and paid six months of her rent upfront to get her back on her feet. She said: ‘I’d probably be dead if it weren’t for your dad.’”
It is this softer side of Lenny that many people never saw, but that embodied him for the people close to him.
“Some of these so-called east end hard men are always glorifying gangster-ism and violence but he wasn’t like that at all. He didn’t encourage anyone to get involved in it.
“All my friends’ dads were postmen or builders or cab drivers. Unfortunately my dad hit people for a living, which was unusual. But you love your family and respect them and he only did it for us so we didn’t want for anything. And we never did.”
His life as a gentle family man is all the more surprising given the abuse he and his siblings were subjected to by their stepfather, to whom Jamie assigns blame.
“Everyone brushed it under the carpet. It was a 40 year secret.
“In his book he watered it down a bit. My uncle said it was a lot worse. They said that he used to set traps for them. He went to prison for 18 months for something and it was the best 18 months of their lives. They weren’t scared to come home from school.”
While his stepfather’s abuse influenced much of Lenny’s life, his latter years were taken up with more creative pursuits.
“By the end he detested violence. He hated everything about it. He hated talking about it because it just consumed his life.”
It was at this point that he wrote his autobiography, which sold a million copies and became a number one bestseller, and began to act, his most notable role being Barry the Baptist in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Sadly, he died of cancer before he could reap the benefits of his success. Jamie believes that it should have been the start of a booming acting career.
Instead, his silver screen legacy will be upheld by Josh Helman who plays him in My Name is Lenny, which also stars John Hurt and Lenny’s Lock, Stock co-star Nick Moran. It centres around his rivalry with fellow boxer Roy Shaw.
“We had a camera test and they got Josh ready and walked him up and you could hear a pin drop. The hair on my arms stood up. It was like looking at him again.”
“My dad had been talking about this film for 40 years.”
The Guv’nor documentary is an intriguing insight into the tale of an infamous man.
“There’s got to be a start to the story – you can’t just have this man going around beating people up. [The abuse] was the start of the whole thing. If he hadn’t been abused as a kid, he wouldn’t have done any of it.”
The Guv’nor is out in select cinemas, October 7 and DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download, October 10.