Dave Courtney, 54, is a flamboyant media figure who has carved out a career presenting himself as an east London hard man. The gangster turned actor, recording artist and author claims he has been shot, stabbed, had his nose bitten off and been run off the road.
But there are some embarrassing plot holes in his media-friendly life story.
For a start, Courtney claims to have been heavily involved with the Kray twins, household names across the UK for running protection rackets, armed robberies and murders in London’s west end during the 1950s and 60s.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray were arrested in 1968 and convicted in 1969 and both were given life sentences. But our Dave wasn’t born until 1959, making him ten years old at the time. Mexican drug cartels might employ 9-year-old shooters, but to the best of our knowledge London’s premier crime family never went into business with pre-teens.
Courtney did “organise security” for Ronnie Kray’s funeral in March 1995, and spent several nights guarding the grave of the deceased gangster in April the same year. He had been recruited by Reggie Kray, who asked him to prevent souvenir hunters stealing tributes.
Treading the boards
While keeping up appearances as one of the most feared men in London, the Telly Savalas look-a-like was playing bit-part roles in TV shows and movies during the 1990s.
You might recognise him from such prime-time highlights as The Paradise Club, where he played a minder, and a 1994 episode of The Bill. He also appeared in the children’s science show Brainiac: Science Abuse, where he was given the task of breaking into a safe with his gang of criminal masterminds. (They failed.)
He might consider himself London’s answer to Don Corleone, but I don’t remember Marlon Brando popping up in any grubby DVD nasties. In 2002 Courtney starred in the porn film Lock, Cock and Two Smoking Bimbos.
He subsequently had roles in Triads, Yardies and Onion Bhajiis, playing ‘Mad Dave’, The Estate Film as “Dangerous Doug from Dartford” and in another adult film, Cathula 2: Vampires of Sex.
It was during his role in The Paradise Club that Courtney took a beating from Eastenders bad boy Leslie Grantham, who told him “it’s about time you grew up and stopped acting the hard man”.
Unfit for the underworld
It was some descent from mobster to TV star – a downfall that saw Courtney change his look, from professional mob boss to second-rate East End extra – and one that fundamentally changed his reputation.
But even before that time, there were stirrings in the darkened backrooms of nightclubs. People were starting to say that DC no longer had a place as a true gangster, and perhaps that he’d never deserved one in the first place.
Notorious ruffian “Mad” Frank Fraser, who was also nicknamed The Dentist after getting a reputation for removing teeth with gold-plated pliers during torture, spoke out in 1999 and said that Courtney has no “right to a place in the criminal aristocracy” and that he “hasn’t earned the right to be in such company”.
When you compare Dave to some of the names that have been associated with gangs in the UK during the twentieth century, there isn’t really much of a comparison. The Krays committed arson, assault and murder.
We think of Freddie ‘Brown Bread Fred’ Foreman, who helped dispose of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie and killed numerous others. The list goes on. But Courtney isn’t on it.
His family do get into scrapes. Courtney’s stepson, Genson Courtney, was shot through the eye in July 2011 after leaving his girlfriend’s house in the early hours of the morning. The shooting took place just two weeks after Genson “punched him three times and left him bloodied and battered”.
Reports also suggested that Genson had an altercation with his uncle, David Pinto, over an unsettled debt. Pinto and an accomplice were convicted of his murder in May 2013.
But Courtney personally? His only real claim to violent fame is an attack on waiters at a Chinese restaurant in 1979, after his brother received a meal on a plate rather than a disposable tinfoil tray as he had requested.
As for his rap sheet, well. He was once arrested for possessing imitation firearms.
Look into my eyes
Perhaps to regain some of the credibility he lost in the 1990s, Dave Courtney began in the early 2000s to tell a story about when he met Mike Tyson.
According to the mobster, “Tyson was in a nightclub chatting up some girls I knew and I didn’t like it, he clocked me giving him the stare and shit his pants and left the place immediately”.
He added: “Tyson later called me and apologised for acting arrogant in my town.”
Would a World Heavyweight Champion who won 44 of his 50 professional career fights by knockout, really leave a nightclub because a wannabe gangster was giving him evils?
Mike Tyson isn’t the only famous figure that Dave Courtney claims to have had an encounter with. While working at top London nightclubs The Limelight and The Hippodrome he claims to have thrown former snooker player Jimmy White and footballer Charlie Nicholas out, taken Dolph Lundgren’s car for a joyride after he was thrown the keys and, perhaps the best all, saved Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards from a mob of screaming girls.
Rebuilding a reputation
Having had his reputation as a tough guy thoroughly and rather embarrassingly destroyed by fellow gang members (and his own actions), Courtney had plenty to prove. He had to come out fighting and confirm his place amongst the law-breaking elite, so what did he do?
He built this house, and called it Camelot Castle.
Situated in Plumstead, Camelot Castle has some interesting design features. The front gates, for example, feature “golden” knuckledusters and the side of the house is occupied by a large mural which incorporates a painting of Courtney himself, sitting on a knuckleduster-themed throne.
The house also boasts a blue plaque in the style of an English Heritage point of interest marker, which reads: “Dave Courtney OBE lived here.” (In case you’re wondering, he’s never received an honour; he says OBE stands for One Big Ego.)
As if that weren’t cringeworthy enough, the celebrity gangster was declared bankrupt in May 2009 for failure to repay £400,000, including £250,000 to the Revenue.
But financial woes must come quite far down Courtney’s list of troubles. In fact, it’s a wonder he’s still alive.
Courtney says he was once involved in a serious car accident when he was doing “about 100 miles an hour” and a car clipped his “new Range Rover”. According to Dave, the car travelled “about 180 yards down the road and rolled 12 times”.
He listed his injuries as: a broken pelvis, two vertebrae “broken off his spine”, broken coccyx, a broken ankle, six broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured skull, a ruptured spleen and ruptured kidneys.
We reached out to the Accident and Emergency department at Courtney’s local hospital to ask if it was likely anyone could survive all that, but they didn’t get back to us.
So everything seems a little cursed for Dave Courtney. His acting career hasn’t taken off, he’s been in a car crash and he’s been told he shouldn’t compare himself to the crime elite by several of the men he admires.
What’s a chap to do? Start a music career, apparently.
In 2003 the gangland celeb had released a teaser of some of his upcoming work on his website under the title Ten Commandments (treat yourself; it’s delightful), but little has been done to the page since. The webpage hasn’t been updated since 13 May 2003 and the reviews, soundbites and track listings are all still “coming soon”.
2010 saw a second attempt from Dave to enter the world of gangster rap as he released a song on Duster records, featuring up-and-coming urban artistes ShowTime, MC Creed and Biggy.
In the intro he says: “I am now classed by the media as a celebrity gangster. I would like to say first of all that there is no such thing, it is a contradiction of words, it’s like saying police intelligence. The two words just don’t go”.
Getting his VICE
Of course, claiming “celebrity gangster” is a contradiction doesn’t stop Courtney from personally cashing in on his reputation as a hard man.
Genuine gangsters tend to shy away from media attention, because it’s not hugely compatible with their business interests. But Courtney never misses an opportunity to get in front of the cameras or give an interview to a credulous youth blog.
Courtney has in the past co-hosted a video for VICE and frequently appears as their go-to authority on the East End underworld.
But how much of an authority on the dark underbelly of the capital is this showboating buffoon really? Not for the first time in Courtney’s life, the jury’s out.