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Billy Fullerton was a cruel hypocrite, according to new research.

He was the original Glasgow hard man, a cold-blooded thug who led a fearsome razor gang by day but remained a devoted family man by night … or so generations have been led to believe.

In fact, the truth about Billy Fullerton flies in the face of the image he created for himself and his gang. While the Billy Boys revelled in their reputation as underworld gentlemen, quick to flash a blade but loyal to their wives and children, the reality was far more painful, new research reveals.

And despite Fullerton’s reputation as the “razor king” of 1930s Glasgow – a myth now intertwined with the novel No Mean City – it seems he never actually used the weapon that became synonymous with his name.

Dr Andrew Davies, a historian at Liverpool University, set out to probe the truth behind the fiction that has sprung up around one of Scotland’s most infamous gangland figures.

What he found was a violent man living in the shell of his own notoriety, a victim of his own circumstance to some extent but also a cruel and hypocritical figure who beat his wife.

In the beginning, Fullerton, who died in 1962, had a much more mundane life than many would expect. Although widely credited with founding the Billy Boys gang that terrorised Bridgeton and Glasgow’s east end in the 1930s, he was in fact recruited to the group after it was already established.

Rather at odds with his hard-man image, he first became noticed when he was organising bus trips to Rangers football games on the other side of the city.

In addition, Dr Davies says, Fullerton was not the sole leader of the Billy Boys. The gang remained prominent while he was serving lengthy stretches in jail, the result of his ongoing brushes with the legendary “Hammer of the Gangs”, former chief constable Sir Percy Sillitoe.

Unlikely as it might sound, Sir Percy – a tough English police officer headhunted to tackle Glasgow’s gangs – might have gone some way towards creating the myth of Billy Fullerton.

Dr Davies said: “Sillitoe actually says some quite interesting things in his memoirs. I think he creates quite a heroic image of Fullerton. “One thing he says is that he was an ingenious, reckless leader – a skilled fighter, but not a criminal in any conventional sense.”

Again at odds with Fullerton’s image, the new research shows he and his peers generally used knives and bottles, rather than the razors with which they are associated.

Dr Davies said: “People conflate the character of Fullerton with Johnnie Stark [from the 1935 novel No Mean City]. There were no instances whatsoever of Billy Fullerton fighting with a razor.”

Also appealing to many is the romantic tale that the Billy Boys paid a subscription into a central fund to provide financial aid for their wives when the men were inside. “Fullerton himself was jailed for wife-beating in the 1930s, so in terms of myth-making that goes on,” said Dr Davies. “I’m just keen to subject these claims to critical scrutiny.”

Fighter And fascist
 

Glasgow in the 1930s was in the grip of gang fever. In the lore of this violent period, no man looms larger than Billy Fullerton, supposed leader of the Billy Boys – a loose group of aggressively Protestant young men.

Fullerton is probably the only person who can lay claim to inspiring both a bigoted football chant and a poem by the late Edwin Morgan.

He went on to become a member of Oswald Mosley’s fascists. His remains are thought to lie in an unmarked grave in Riddrie Park Cemetery in Glasgow.

Dr Davies’ book is due to be published in 2012. He will be appearing at the Gangs and Global Exchange conference in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, on December 2.

source Chrs Watt Herald Scotland