From the archive: A question of confidence in prisons

Originally published on 15 February 1964

Stanley Lowe, former con-man and graduate of almost every major gaol in the country, is about to descend on Oxford University to lecture the men he calls "the Home Secretaries of tomorrow."

Mr Lowe, who once sold the Champs-Elysées for cash, has been invited to be the first speaker at a new Oxford Forum – a platform for writers whose work has appeared in "Isis."

His message will be simple: that Britain's gaols are an anachronism; that, except for one, they did not do him much good; and that "the British criminal receives a far more expensive education in crime than undergraduates at Oxford do for their degrees." He should know.

His years "inside" began at 14. "I want to tell people that there's ­nothing clever about sitting in the jug half your life," he says. "All this talk of glamour about crime is a load of rubbish."

He talks about his early life quickly. "My dad was killed and my mother poisoned herself. At 12 I was sent to an orphanage in Hornsey. By 14 I was going round the East End. I'd got in with a crowd of tea leafs. We used to do all the fiddles. I got nicked."

In 1938 he was in America, already a budding confidence trickster. In a bar he met "The Doc" – "a brilliant, fabulous con-man." He was trying to sell me Brooklyn Bridge. I tried to sell him Times Square. Finally we called it quits. Then I became his protege." That led to an American sentence – for forging and issuing £5,000 worth of dollars – and then deportation.

Paris was the meeting place for con-men like Stanley Lowe, ­"Snakehips" Johnson, and the Wolfes. It was there that he met the ­American oil man. "I can sniff out money; always have been able to; I got him in a second. I bought him a drink.

"I told him I was in films. The net result was that I sold him part-ownership of the Champs-Elysées for £2,500 with nothing on paper."

His last sentence, for forging ­travellers' cheques, was reduced from 10 years to three on appeal. "I realised how lucky I was. It was the last one. I know if I come up again they'll throw the book at me. I don't want to die in gaol."

His resolution to go straight was greatly helped, he says, by the ­experimental rehabilitation scheme in Wandsworth. There prisoners are on trust, cell doors are not locked, and at weekends they do voluntary work outside.

"That's the reason I've kept free of trouble."

Eric Clark

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From the archive: 2 February 1976: Liberal MPs show Thorpe the exit
Originally published in the Guardian on 2 February 1976: Liberal MPs are now almost certain that Mr Jeremy Thorpe will cease to be the party's leader before the end of the year

Simon Hoggart

02, Feb, 2013 @12:05 AM

From the archive, 22 February 1988: TV preacher falls from grace

Originally published in the Guardian on 22 February 1988: Jimmy Swaggart, the American television evangelist who survived 1987 without either running for President or falling from grace, yesterday managed to astonish a world long inured to the antics of his profession

Michael White

22, Feb, 2010 @3:55 PM

From the archive, 15 May 1964: Mr Khruschev ridicules aid from the west

Originally published in the Guardian on 15 May 1964: Mr Khrushchev today used ceremonies at the Aswan High Dam again to attack the West by ridiculing its efforts at economic aid

Michael Wall

15, May, 2010 @1:07 PM

From the archive, 15 February 1984: Grave problem on Iona

Originally published in the Guardian on 15 February 1984: The romantic island of lona, off the western coast of Scotland, is facing a problem arising from its chief claim to fame

Martin Wainwright

15, Feb, 2011 @9:37 AM

From the archive, 19 February 2005: Activists may record hunt plotters in pubs

Originally published in the Guardian on 19 February 2005: A leading animal rights group yesterday revealed that it might secretly tape record conversations in rural pubs to gather intelligence, and urged the public to inform the police about illegal hunting with hounds

Owen Bowcott and Sandra Laville

19, Feb, 2010 @2:20 PM

Letters: The plight of Britain's prisons
Letters: Simon Jenkins makes a number of important points regarding the latest prison crisis (Britain's prisons reek of a wretchedly backward nation, June 20).

21, Jun, 2007 @11:06 PM

Prisons: Ford in flames | Editorial
Editorial: The inspectors' reports and anecdotal evidence strongly imply that many of the answers to what happened lie locally


03, Jan, 2011 @12:04 AM

From the archive, 26 February 1994: Massacre at the mosque

Originally published in the Guardian on 26 February 1994: Israeli and PLO negotiators are to meet in Washington within days to demonstrate continued commitment to their peace accord, in the wake of yesterday's massacre of more than 40 Palestinians in a mosque in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron

Derek Brown

26, Feb, 2010 @4:37 PM

Article image
Prisons need more than extra money | Letters
Letters: Policies need to be developed based on drastically reducing the prison population and diverting offenders from custody


26, Feb, 2017 @7:22 PM

Letters: Less crime but more prisons

Letters: Reports of crime falling is not reflected in the soaring prison population expected to rise to 96,000 by 2014

27, Apr, 2009 @11:01 PM