SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


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