Special send-off for Bert ‘Battles’ Rossi, Soho gangland boss who was Krays ‘adviser’
Gangland boss refused to buy £35million Lucian Freud painting for £30, it is claimed
04 August, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Bert Rossi, holding a photography of himself and the Kray twins
THE soundtrack of gangster films The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America rang out at St Peter’s Italian Church on Monday as mourners bid farewell to Bert “Battles” Rossi, one of Britain’s oldest gangland bosses who helped the Mafia come to the UK and was an adviser to the notorious Kray twins.
Well known in Soho, where he ran gambling clubs and snooker halls, Mr Rossi died last month aged 94.
Dozens of family members, friends and former associates, most of them elderly, attended a service in Little Italy – Holborn – led by Father Giuseppe.
After the service mourners swapped stories of the man they knew as Bert, “Battles” – he was a feared street fighter – or “Bananas”, a reference to his massive fingers.
Born in Saffron Hill, as a young man Mr rossi worked as a driver for gangster “Harryboy” Sabini. He was also close to gangster Bert Marsh, who had changed his
name from Pasqualino Papa.He later dealt cocaine, but would never touch heroin, and ran clubs in Soho, working for gang leader Billy Hill, and with Albert Dimes, another Clerkenwell Italian mobster, running gambling and snooker halls.
Mr Rossi married Rene, an Englishwoman who has since died, and the couple had two children, Peter, who has also passed away, and Irene.
He was jailed, along with “Mad” Frankie Fraser, in 1956 for attacking the Soho gang leader Jack “Spot” Comer. In prison he met Ronnie Kray, who he scorned for “wanting the limelight” but nonetheless mentored.
It was said that artists Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon were frequent visitors to Mr Rossi’s establishments in Soho. Mr Rossi claimed Freud offered him the famous “Fat Sue” portrait for £30, but he declined: “That painting only went and sold for £35million at auction.” He also acted as a minder for the boxer Rocky Marciano when he was in London.
Aldo, 89, a childhood friend who served on the altar during the service, said: “He was a pal, a good friend. He was great. We used to [release] the doves together [at the annual Italian] procession. We put a bowl of flowers outside, and when they brought [the float with] her lady [Mary] underneath we used to open it and they’d fly out.
“He was a nice guy, to me he was. You know, he had to be how he was, with who he was and where he was but other than that, he was one of us. Italian community. We were old pals and we grew up together from the forties.”
Aldo grew up with Mr Rossi in the Clerkenwell slums as German bombs rained down during the Blitz, during which Mr Rossi got a job as a demolition worker. He said that after his pal’s demise he was now the only living Italian remaining from his area.
Was he tough? “Oh yeah, there was no getting away with it, I won’t go any further than that. People got the wrong impression but you had to be like that to survive in them days, you know. There were some nasty people around. You had to be, not nasty, but firm.”
He added: “But when we talk about gangsters… go down to the Houses of Parliament and the City of London, see how much money their laundering of the Russians and the Chinese and the Indians, never mind about the ordinary people. “They only get annoyed because you tread on their toes. They get away with it, of course they do.”
In his later years, Mr Rossi had a relationship with another Englishwoman, Mary.
He kept up his dapper appearance, usually wearing a three-piece suit. Grandson Frankie Rossi’s fondest memories of his grandfather are spending time with him at the Italian procession, where they would sit and chat next to the legendary late boxing cornerman Dennie Mancini’s stall.
Frankie, 30, said: “My granddad was a family- oriented man, he loved his family. Her taught me morals, to be respectful, never to be a bully. He loved gambling, playing cards and he loved boxing.”
Bert Rossi’s memoirs, Britain’s Oldest London Gangland Boss, written by crime author James Morton, came out days before he died. Frankie added: “He was the last one [alive]. He decided to do the book because he couldn’t incriminate anybody. Everyone else has passed away.”
Mr Rossi is survived by partner Mary, daughter Irene, son-in- law Danny, grandchildren Frankie and Francine and two great-grandchildren.