Confessions of a King’s Road Cowboy. Memoirs, Autobiography. Subject: London Crime

A sample from the Autobiography, Confessions of a King’s Road Cowboy by Johnny Cigarini

Chapter 17. Bindon

Ronnie Holbrook had come back from Spain and I met him for the first time at the Isle of Wight Festival. At first he was a bit suspicious of me, I guess he thought I’d been banging his misses, and I suppose he had every right to be wary but as neighbours we soon became good mates. He picked up a marginally more legal trade too and had become an antiques dealer with a stall in Antiquarius, on the King’s Road.

Ronnie knew a lot of the Chelsea villains and it was through him that I got to know a man named Johnny Bindon. ‘Biffo’ Bindon was the son of a merchant seaman and he was a notorious villain. Ken Loach first approached him in a pub, and gave him his role in the film Poor Cow. His next break came with a role in Performance next to Jagger, where he played a violent mobster, and then a crime boss in Get Carter. His roles earned him critical praise and typecast him for future parts, but I knew the man and he was no actor, the man was a thug and everyone knew it. He loved beating people up, and wherever he went a fight ensued. He did have qualities though and nobody could deny it, he was a very funny raconteur because of his confidence and he did have good stories, and whenever he was in the pub, you’d find his circle of sycophants hanging on his every word. It was quite sick if I’m honest and in my experience, it was all done out of intimidation. He was a gangster, he was dangerous and he was frightening, although not according to author Philip Hoare, who called him ‘an all-round “good geezer”’. I can’t say I agree with Hoare; I got to know him quite closely. The man was a bully.

More though than his acting and his thuggery, Bindon was famous for the size of his cock. And he would love showing it off and to everyone. He could grasp it with two large hands and still have plenty left over to swing in a circle. Dani called it, in a French accent, Le pink elicoptere. It was like a hose. His party trick in pubs was to put empty pint glasses on it, and put his penis through the handles. I believe he could do ten at one time, or something ridiculous. I was having lunch with him in the Great American Disaster one day, when the waitress came to take our order, without lifting his haunches, he draped his cock across the table, stuck a fork in it and said, ‘can I have this lightly grilled, darling?’ Yes, that was John Bindon, the thug with the giant one.

It was a bright and glorious summer day, we were outside the Chelsea Potter on the King’s Road. There was currently a government survey into the UK sex trade, being led by a very upright and proper English aristocrat named Lord Longford. Bindon saw Longford approaching on the pavement, so he whipped out his cock and started swirling it. ‘How would you like to put this in your report, Lord Longford?’ he shouted down the King’s Road.

There had been a property boom in Chelsea and Fulham in 1970 and ’71, but I had only just started earning decent money so missed out. Terry Donovan, the brilliant photographer and director of the pioneering Robert Palmer videos ‘Addicted to Love’ and ‘Simply Irresistible’ was a good friend of my sister Luisa, from her modelling and photographic repping days. Along with fellow photographers David Bailey and Brian Duffy, Terry helped create the Swinging London of the 1960s, with the high fashion and the celebrity chic. They were the first celebrity photographers, the kind of photographers, particularly Bailey, who were the inspiration for the Antonioni movie Blow-Up. Terry told me the next place where houses would go up in value would be Peckham, South London. It was true that there were some rather nice houses down there, going for £12,000 instead of £25,000 for Fulham and £40,000 for Chelsea, so I bought a house there, in Peckham in 1973 to get on the ladder. It needed renovating, and when the builders moved out, the squatters moved in. Conveniently, though, I knew Bindon.

At that time, the law was very sympathetic to squatters. All they had to do was change the lock and the house was legally theirs. You couldn’t force them out, and they never left the property vacant. They were often very streetwise and had done their homework on the law and always had at least two people in the house, to have a witness of any forced attempts to get them out. I made a decision to gather a bunch of big, rugby playing types to try to persuade the squatters out, but my solicitor, an old university friend, told me I must not, ‘absolutely must not’, touch them, not even a push in fact. I had arranged to meet a bunch of mates in the Roebuck over the road from my flat and Bindon happened to be there. It was just too good an opportunity to pass and conveniently he had with him one of his lieutenants. Hard cases from the country would often do jobs for him that he couldn’t handle on his own and this particular character was quite something, as his numerous facial scars attested. Word spread fast about what we were up to and Bindon insisted on coming with us. I remember how I had to beg him not to get violent because I had notified the police and they were going to be stood outside the house. Had it turned nasty, I might have ended up behind bars, and I was bringing Bindon so I was quite aware that anything could happen. We got to the house in Peckham, and without wasting any time, Biffo crashed through the front door as soon as it was opened, throwing the kid who answered it into the side wall. Before I even stepped into my living room, Biffo had the two squatters up against the back wall, which they seemed to press themselves back into. He really did put on a terrific performance. I watched as the squatters were pinned to the wall by Bindon’s wrath and I saw it in their eyes, they were shitting it. Amazingly though, they were incredibly plucky and would not budge. I suppose I respected them for that – even though they were in my house, they were standing up for what they believed in and that was surely a good thing. So Bindon stormed off in a terrible huff and he went rushing around the house until he found what he was looking for. He reappeared, marching downstairs holding a bag of grass held tight in his fingers, his face grinning in triumph. ‘Okay boys, the game’s up. Do you want me to take this outside to the coppers, or will one of you go and find your friends?’ Bindon was referring to the other squat around the corner. The bag of grass was the smoking gun and it was great to watch, as now they were left without a card to play. One of them left to go to the other squat while the remaining squatter was left without a witness, so Bindon took him and threw him outside. I had thought ahead and had a locksmith standing by. He quickly got to work while I emptied the house of all the squatters’ possessions, before they repossessed it. As we were piling all their stuff into the gardens, the policemen came over. The squatter had returned with some mates, but they were outside the house. Was the power struggle going to shift again? Was I in a world of it? The bobby stood there with the squatters lined next to him. Bindon and his lieutenant were there too and I was bricking it. The squatters were protesting that what we were doing was illegal. I didn’t want to go to jail and the kid was right, it was illegal. But then something wonderful happened, the power of my golden bollocks had returned.

‘We don’t like your sort around here. If I were you I would get a van and get your stuff out of this nice gentleman’s garden. Because we’re leaving now, and when we’ve gone, I think these two could make mincemeat out of you,’ the copper said, looking at Bindon and his mate. I later found out that the ‘lieutenant’ personality with the muscles and the scars was one of the most hunted men in England, and wanted for shooting a policeman.

In 1977, Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin, gave his approval for Richard Cole, the band’s tour manager, to hire John Bindon as a security man on their US tour. Bindon and Cole were friends from the King’s Road, and I was also a friend of Cole and his wife Marilyn. Towards the end of the tour there occurred what has become known in rock ‘n’ roll history as The Oakland Incident. Bindon had a fight with promoter Bill Graham’s security chief and knocked him unconscious, this then escalated into an all-out brawl between the two sets of security men. The band was performing and unaware of the incident. Zeppelin then said they would only perform the second Oakland concert the next night after Bill Graham had signed a letter of indemnification, absolving the band for any responsibility for the incident. After the second concert was over, Graham changed his mind and sued the band for $2 million. After months of legal wrangling, the case was settled. Peter Grant later said that hiring John Bindon was the biggest mistake of his management career.

Bindon was also a friend of Steve O’Rourke, the manager of Pink Floyd. Biffo sometimes did security work for the Floyd and one night Steve, Bindon and I were out on the town, just the three of us. We were driving around in Steve’s Mercedes 280 SE Cabriolet. It was a lovely summer night and he had the convertible top down. We went to a few pubs and then hit Tramp. After being there a while, Steve suddenly cried out in terrible panic. He rushed out of the club but returned minutes later, ‘that was lucky. I left my briefcase on the back seat. I’m going to the States tomorrow… I’ve got my ticket, passport and £4000 in cash in it.’ We left Tramp and hit the Speakeasy but I noticed that as soon as we got there, Bindon was on the public phone in the lobby. A while later, Steve was told that someone had smashed open the boot of his car and the briefcase was gone. We were discussing the incident at the bar with a member of the American band playing that night, and the musician said, ‘I saw who did it.’

‘Oh yeah? Who?’ Bindon asked him, but from the tone of his questioning it was clear who it was.

‘It was you’, the musician said, and Bindon knocked him out cold. It seemed John had telephoned a friend to pass the briefcase on to him, then went out and stole it and returned to the club to join Steve and I. He would do that, even to Steve O’Rourke, a friend and employer. That was the kind of man that he was.

Bindon had an aristocratic girlfriend Vicky Hodge, the daughter of a baronet. A classic case of a posh tottie liking a bit of rough. I knew her around Chelsea and through that connection, Biffo was invited to Mustique on a number of occasions, an exclusive private island in the Caribbean Sea. There, he met the late Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. She denied it, but I know there exists a photograph of them together. The story goes that she had heard about the size of his penis, and they went for a walk down the beach so that he could show it to her. Bindon claimed that when they returned to London, the princess would frequently send a car for him to visit her in Kensington Palace.

One of Bindon’s pals was blues and jazz singer Dana Gillespie, who was and still is a regular in Mustique. She is also aristocratic, and was friends with Vicky Hodge, so that may have been the reason Johnny and Vicky went there. Dana was going out with my friend Leslie Spitz at the time, and I often saw them in London. I also spent some time with them in LA in ’72, during the David Bowie tour for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album. Dana was a best friend of David’s wife Angie Bowie, about whom Mick Jagger wrote the song ‘Angie’. We all hung out at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; note scene of the Richard Gere and Julia Roberts hit movie Pretty Woman. Bowie didn’t hang out with us; he was at the other end of the hotel, being looked after by his bodyguard. Nevertheless, Angie had access to all the trappings of a superstar existence, and with a phone call could summon a stretched limo for us when our stomachs rumbled and we needed a restaurant. I remember we always had that great Stevie Wonder track ‘Superstition’ on the limo radio. It was a fun few days for me, living the Hollywood dream.

One day, back in London, I was with Leslie and Dana, and Angie and a male friend. We were driving back into London from the country and were stuck in traffic on the Cromwell Road. Stuck in the traffic alongside us were the Russian Ambassador and his wife. At least, I presumed that’s who they were because they were in the back of a chauffeur-driven Zil limousine, a heavily armoured Russian car used only for soviet leaders and the Russian government. They were high above us, and looking straight into our car. I think from the looks on their faces they were rather shocked as one of the girls was giving a blowjob to one of the men in the back of my car.

Bindon was a good friend of Leslie Spitz and Tony Howard, and they were always at Tony’s house in Chelsea. Just to show what a sadistic bully Bindon was, one night he beat Leslie up and for no good reason, outside Tony’s house. Leslie is a tiny man, not over 5’6’ tall, and he was Bindon’s friend. Other news was spreading too and word on the street now had Bindon connected with the Kray twins and the Richardson Gang.

Johnny Bindon lived in a Belgravia mews house next door to my friends Bill and Hazel Collins. Bill, the younger brother of Joan and Jackie Collins, is another Ferraristo. Jackie always used to be in Tramp during the seventies, and her now-deceased husband Oscar Lerman was one of the owners of the club at that time. Later she moved to Los Angeles. Bill would often be the DJ at Tramp, which is how I got to know him – that and the fact that his Jamaican wife Hazel is one of the most gorgeous girls in London. I had a falling out with Jackie one night. We had all been to the premiere of Saturday Night Fever. Jackie said to me later in Tramp, ‘Don’t you know a commercials director who could make a film of my book The Stud?’ I think it was the first book she had written. I’d had a couple of drinks and I made an obnoxious remark, which I immediately regretted, something to the effect that ‘new directors want to do something more worthy for their first film’. It was a stupid thing to say, for apart from being very rude, I hadn’t even read the damn book. Jackie eventually got the film made and it became the biggest selling video at that time. So much for my opinion!

In 1978, John Bindon killed another villain, Johnny Darke, in an afternoon drinking club in Putney. They had a fight, and Darke, who must have been very tough to do so, was straddling Bindon on the floor, while repeatedly stabbing him in his chest. Bindon managed to get his knife out of his boot, and he thrust it up into Darke’s heart. Seriously injured, and wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket, Bindon managed to make it by train and took a ferry to Ireland, where he went into hiding in a monastery. He eventually offered a deal to the police, that he would return to face justice if he could plead self-defence, to which the police agreed. Bob Hoskins was a character witness for the defence and Bindon was tried and acquitted. He got away with a lot with the police, and there were rumours why: that either he was an informer, or that he had secretly taken compromising photographs with Princess Margaret, which protected him. This story is featured, although Bindon is not mentioned, in the 2008 film The Bank Job, written by my mate Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, which is about the 1971 Lloyds Bank robbery, and the attempt by the secret service agency MI5 to get some ‘photographs’ stored in the bank safety deposit.

Johnny ‘Biffo’ Bindon died of an AIDS-related illness in 1993.