Digger: Hello Phil. Lovely day.
Phil: Absolutely. Iím going out in the garden later.
Digger: Sounds like a plan to me. Shall we crack on with
the questions? Does that sound good?
Phil: Yes please.
Digger: Can you tell me a bit of the history of
Historical Footsteps Tours?
Phil: It started in 2009. I had been a teacher for many
years Ė a lecturer. When I retired I wanted to indulge in
my passion, which was researching and looking at historical
events and personages. And I really didnít want to stop
lecturing and teaching as such, so I decided to swap an
indoor classroom for an outdoor one basically.
Phil: And I also had done a few battlefield tours in Europe
before that. I actually took people out to The Somme and
Ypres. To the western front there. So Iíd done some of
that with fairly largish groups and I just wanted to
continue and maybe branch back into the UK. I started off
just looking at military history Ė that was the idea. But
Iíd also done some research way back in the 1970s for
somebody for a Jack The Ripper book and Iíd been to visit
the original sites. So, I decided to pursue
that and go back and research Jack The Ripper a lot more
thoroughly and I thought ďWhy not turn it into a walk as
well?Ē I was aware that several other companies do that.
And while I was along the way I thought ďThe Krays look
interesting as well.Ē I started off originally with Jack
The Ripper in the June, although I had the idea at that time
for an Invasion Of Britain Tour too. Thatís in development
still now, in fact. It was early October that I decided to
put on The Krays and Iíd already done a Blitz Tour. So I
was doing Jack The Ripper and The Blitz when I started. Then we had the bad weather which put paid to a bit of
development I must say in the winter months. And it now seems that
The Krays are one of the most popular tours.
Digger: Why do you think that is?
Phil: I think people like the extremes of The Krays - the
contrast between the violence and dark side and them as
family men and their generosity with people. I think there are a number of companies doing the Jack
The Ripper walks, maybe twenty or so. Although I do them, I
donít do anywhere near as many Jack The Ripper Walks as I
do Krays Walks or Blitz Walks. I think there are three or
four doing Krays Walks, if you can find them, on a regular
basis. Possibly one or two people are offering Blitz Tours
but nobody seems to do them on a regular basis. Whereas I do
both The Krays and The Blitz Tours at least two to three
times a week.
Digger: What do you most enjoy about what you do?
Phil: I think being out there trying to give out some of the
knowledge that Iíve got. Also, to try and enthuse other
people to try and make them as fascinated by these events
as I am.
Digger: Do you get good feedback from them?
Phil: Yes I do.
Digger: I know when Iíve been on some tours, and
itís not just a British thing as I noticed this abroad as
well, there tend to be one or two who ask questions and
contribute and the rest stay tight-lipped.
Phil: I started off running tours with up to 25 people. But I
cut that down because people were saying that they preferred
the tours with smaller numbers and I did a bit of market
research and asked people if they would be prepared to pay
more. Because, obviously, one would have to put up the price
if there were fewer people on a more individual tour. And
the answer was yes. So the latest groups Iíve had with
smaller numbers going through and youíve got people who
are generally very enthusiastic about it. Some people know
very little about it and they come along with friends and
others who do have a more detailed knowledge. They go away
saying ďI wouldnít have thought that, I didnít really know
any of that. Well there you are Iím sixty years of age
and I finally learned something about a time I vaguely knew
this sort of thing happened." I had a lady last week who was
possibly in her fifties and her son and his partner had
booked the tour and she was down here for the weekend with
them. She came on The Krays Tour with them and was quite
amazed at the end of it. She said ďWell, I knew The Krays
existed but I had no idea of what their activities were and
how they spread.Ē And some people, they have a detailed
knowledge, but they donít have a feel for it until they get
to the actual locations. Because I often say that with the
Battlefield Tours, and itís probably true of these other
walks, that you cannot appreciate the historical sense
unless you go and walk the actual areas.
Digger: Thatís right.
Phil: Unless you actually visit them you donít have a
complete picture in your mind.
Digger: Did they use the original locations in the movie
with the Kemps?
Phil: No, very little. In fact Iím not sure they used any.
Certainly not the Krays' home at Vallance Road. Amongst all of the other
tour locations, The Krays ones are the ones where most are still
there. With the exception of the house they actually lived
The clubs they owned Ė the majority have gone. But most of the streets are the same
and the pubs they drank in are the same.
Digger: You donít ever bump into any of the characters?
Phil: No I havenít yet, although I do know that two or
three of them still live in the area.
Digger: I had a look at Mad Frankie Fraserís website. He
was obviously mainly part of the Richardsonís gang but had
lots of Krays connections.
Phil: Yes, heís in his eighties now.
Digger: He is referred to there as 'con turned icon.'
The only other person that still lives in the area is their cousin
Rita and as far as I know she still lives in the area. She
lives almost opposite where they used to live and people are
surprised when they discover that their cousin still lives
Digger: How much work is there in the creation and
preparation of these tours?
Phil: A lot of research and reading first. So on average for
instance The Krays - I read something like twelve to fourteen
books about The Krays. Jack The Ripper in excess of 25 books
on him and most of the original documentary evidence Iíve
either seen now or seen additional copies of it.
Digger: And do you then learn this in your head?
Phil: Yes, on average I have to read each book about four
Digger: Do you give out handouts?
reports of the Jack The Ripper murders
Phil: Not on The Krays one because thereís so much
information. If it something on Ypres then there would be
maps and other stuff given out.
Digger: Is it mainly Brits who are interested in The Krays
or do you get Europeans, Americans, Japanese?
Phil: Not on The Krays, itís almost all British interest,
although you will get some Canadians who have looked on the
website and come in on that tour as a result. Jack The
Ripper is a very varied audience and with the Blitz ones it
has quite a cross section on that. Iíve had young students
who are doing GCSE who just happen to be doing it for their
history and parents will bring them along on that. Iíve
had Australians and Americans on it because Americans are
quite into that period and the rest have been typically younger couples with their parents. I have had one or two
teachers coming in on them as well.
Digger: I can remember seeing an American lady being
interviewed outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square
on a vox pop from 1969. This was on the Ďextrasí to the
DVD for the Battle of Britain movie. And someone asked her
what the Battle of Britain meant to her. She said ďI
donít know why they call it the Battle of Britain, we
were involved as well.Ē I canít believe how ignorant
some people can be of events.
Phil: The Americans I get tend to be older members of the
family or friends who were over here during the period, not of
the main Blitz itself, but just afterwards. And they lived in
London. So they talked with a lot of people here who had
been in the Blitz or saw a lot of the remains of the first
Blitz, because there were several Blitzes. There was the
ĎLittle Blitzí and then the V1 and V2. When I do the
tour itís mainly concentrating on the first major Blitz.
Digger: The V1 gave you a warning because at least you heard
the engine cut out but the V2 was totally silent
Phil: Yes. The story I tell about the V2 is that my uncle, who
was nineteen years of age, was actually killed in the worst
V2 attack in Britain. At home on leave and he was directly
under the blast at New Cross.
Digger: How much destruction did that make?
Phil: It killed 168 people. I donít know how many were
injured but there were one or two people who were right near
the blast and survived without a scratch but it took them
four months to find out who my uncle was. Heís not on the
official memorial as they donít recognise that it was him although my other uncle
could definitely identify
what he saw.
Digger: Are there ever any questions or
happenings that stump you while taking a tour and what
are the biggest challenges doing a tour?
Phil: I donít think there are many questions that stump me,
although sometimes someone will ask something about an area
which is way outside the tour.
Digger: (Laughs) Something completely out of left field
after youíve been doing the tour for an hour?!
Phil: Yes. ďHow many houses did they have in Suffolk?Ē Or
something like that.
Digger: Do you make up an answer?!
Phil: No, what I would normally do is get their email
address or phone number and say ďCan I find out?Ē I did
have somebody recently who was writing a screenplay for a
film or a play and they said they werenít doing anything
directly on The Krays although the Krays would feature. And
although they were interested in The Krays and always had
been ďCan I come back to you now Iíve seen the places
and got the atmosphere?Ē Sometimes I get the odd TV
company with questions for their research. The first
instance of media interest I had was when I first started
last June and Iíd only been in operation for two weeks.
I was sitting here one evening and there was a phone call
and the guy at the other end said ďIím doing some
research. Iím based up in Glasgow and weíre doing it on
The Blitz. I see you run tours on The Blitz.Ē And at that
time Iíd taken two bookings and he said ďCould we come
down and film the tour?Ē That was for a BBC programme
called The Week We Went To War. So the company featured in
one of those and that provided them with stuff and I
recently had a TV company wanting me to identify a church in
The Blitz. Although thatís proving very difficult Iím
Digger: In the City?
Phil: Yes. So you do get challenges in that sense, but not
from people asking questions. Although you do get odd
characters who join your tour. Like the lady, not one of my
clients, who was drunk on the Jack The Ripper Tour. Sheíd
been in a pub nearby and nearly pushed me out of the way
saying to the others ďWell, I can tell you all about this
site here.Ē Totally drunk. I had to get her away in a very
polite way. No major problems Ė sometimes youíll get
somebody who says ďI thought that was different to that...Ē But I often say on a tour that there are two
different versions of this incident and which we believe is
entirely based on how credible you think that evidence is.
Digger: Isnít it odd that the further away we get from
these events the more technology allows us to know what
Phil: It is. The ones that are very difficult are the
Jack The Ripper ones Ė there are so many theories. I
suppose the only real difficulty there is that everybody
seems to have their pet theory.
Digger: Thereís no DNA available?
Phil: No, nothing like that. The only physical clue ever
left that was definitely a clue to one of the murders. That
particular piece of evidence no longer exists. Unfortunately
a lot of the documentary evidence for the Ripper incidents
has also gone, been lost or stolen.
Digger: Conspiracy theories?
Phil: Thatís a good old chestnut, that one, that doesnít
stand up. We know, now, there must be a good twenty suspects
and very few of whom seems to stand up. People like Patricia
Cornwell have spent fortunes on their theories. People
seem to get a pet suspect and then try to fit all the
evidence to that suspect rather than take all the evidence
and then see who does it lead to.
Digger: Thatís a common fault, isnít it?
Phil: Yes, and unfortunately what tends to happen these days
is that someone will write a book on Jack The Ripper or The
Krays and what they are doing is using other books as part
of their evidence. But other books are taking things that
are wrong from elsewhere, so sometimes the myths or things we
take as facts, but are incorrect, are perpetuated. This
does create difficulties. The other thing is that when
visiting the sites you have to make sure you can get access.
Digger: I should imagine you need peopleís agreement?
Phil: In some areas, yes. In fact, not for me but a number
of the Jack The Ripper Tour operators had problems recently
because there are some University of London residences in
Whitechapel and one of them is in the site which could have
had a connection with a victim. And some of the groups
have been standing outside there and irritating the
residents so I and most of the other companies did have a
letter from the warden of the place saying can you please
tell your guys to keep people away. Which I can understand.
So making sure we donít obstruct traffic or pedestrians
and also making sure you know where the group is safe.
Crossing roads, the timing of the tour and making sure it
doesnít go too long so they get tired or too short that
they donít think theyíve got their moneyís worth.
Digger: Yes, people do have a saturation point for taking on
information and they need comfort breaks too.
Phil: Comfort breaks and refreshments. You need to check
that the pubs are happy to have groups in and for me to talk
about the area. We go into The Blind Beggar and a very small
pub called The Carpenterís Arms on The Krays Tour and I
havenít asked the landlord there. But you realise from the
size that you canít take a big group in and it can only be
six or seven people. So you have to keep your group to that
size because most people will want to go in there and have a
look and have a drink. Thatís another popular thing with
The Krays Tour, it does incorporate two pubs which many see
as a great draw. Also certain days, like Monday, I canít
do a Krays Tour because one of the pubs is closed. Then there's
the order of the sites that youíre going to, making sure
itís a logical progression. Sometimes you canít do it
chronologically Ė The Krays Tour is like that, whereas The
Ripper Tour you can do chronologically.
Digger: Do you think that people in forty
or fifty years' time will be going on tours based on
what's happening now?
Phil: I think it will be much more difficult. Whether
youíll get somebody in forty or fifty years' time doing
something like what just happened up in Cumbria where that guy committed
mass-murder this week I donít know. But, the point is,
people either like a good yarn where people have been caught
after a long 'career' like The Krays or they like a good Whodunit.
Digger: And itís far enough away in time for them not to
Phil: Yes, and unfortunately, at least with the murder ones
which tend to be the popular ones Ė a walk on a robbery
probably wouldnít go very well - it tends to be unsolved
murders, no matter how macabre, that appeal to people. I
donít know about modern gangs and I foresee that maybe
something on spies or something like that might be popular.
But again, the
problem is going around these sites is getting more and more
difficult because of congestion charges and parking fees.
Taking a group around an area has got to be a very local
activity, like a literary thing or a historical thing in a
local area. Because you can only really make a walk from something in a
space. Charing Cross Road and The Strand or Oxford Street
you might have problems with and I wouldnít even attempt it. A
lot of my tours take place in the evenings Ė The Kray Walks and the Jack The Ripper
ones, because most of the activities occurred in the night
and Iím doing nothing more theatrical by offering those in
the night than anybody else. The Kray ones could be operated
in the daytime but if I started walking around in the
daytime thereíd be a lot more traffic and also we
wouldnít just be able to stand at the side of the road and
look around in the Bethnal Green Road. Weíd be in the way of the
stalls and market traders and we wouldnít be able to
necessarily see what we wanted to see. And to get in the
pubs during the day Ė one doesn't open until six. The
Blitz one Ė holding it in the evening wouldn't be as good
because you need to see the faces of the buildings and the
damage that you can actually still ascertain and therefore
the Blitz ones are much better in the afternoon. The best
time is the weekends and I tend to do two Blitz Tours on a Saturday
Digger: Is the Invasion Of Britain Tour due anytime soon?
Phil: It will be ready but itís going to take at least
another eight weeks.
Digger: It was fascinating when you told me the other day
that if we had been invaded by The Germans we would have
overrun them because we had so many secret cells and
counter-invasion measures in place and the Royal Navy would have cut off
their supply routes and it could have shortened the length
of the war by three years.
Phil: That was a war game that was played at Sandhurst and I
need to check out the details of that. Before I ever give
any of these details I check it out two or three times just
to make sure that the actual figures I am giving out are
correct. Because Iíd hate to give the wrong figures out to
Digger: Youíd end up sounding like an MP.
Phil: I would indeed.
Digger: Where do you see Historical Footsteps Tours going in
Phil: There will be some expansion on it. Hopefully on the
walks side at least another three walks that Iíve got in mind.
There are also some slightly longer tours as well. Thereís
another murder one that Iím hoping to put on in Kent and
Iíd like to get the one-day Battlefield Tours to The Somme
and Ypres underway. They are ready, itís just a question
of putting them on.
Youíre not tempted by anything else from history as yet?
Phil: You mean much further afield?
Digger: You do The Krays. I was thinking maybe a rock and
pop culture tour?
Phil: There are several great spy stories that feature
around London and Iíd like to do something along those
lines. In the forties, fifties or earlier, especially the
instances of German agents.
Digger: And you could go back to Profumo.
Phil: You could indeed, and that takes us back to
Whitechapel because Christine Keeler did have a drink in one
of the pubs with The Krays at one point and you'll find that
Mandy Rice-Davies says she did. But she didnít. There is a
murder one on the Edwardian murders in East London - I want
to put that into operation.
Digger: Youíre going to be busy.
Phil: Yes, if they take off Iíll need to expand staff but
at the moment I do most of them myself and weíll see how
they go. I donít know Ė the pop culture one might be
difficult for me.
Digger: Maybe Iíll do that one! I donít think itís
been done properly at all and thereís so much there. I
canít imagine that anyoneís done some market research
and found out it there wouldnít be popularity for it Ė
why wouldnít there be?
Phil: I think it would be popular. It would be one of these
I would possibly offer it but I wouldnít run it myself.
Iíd have to bring in a guide to run it. I would think
there is a limit to what one can research oneself.
Digger: The Bag Oí Nails club has just opened up again in Soho.
Where all the sixties movers and shakers used to hang out. It wonít be the same as the original, just as The Cavern
isnít the same in Liverpool.
Phil: There are plenty of opportunities. Itís just finding
niches. The Battle of Britain one isnít operational yet
because we need this guy to give me permission for the
people on the tour to sit in the Spitfire, which would make
it a much more popular tour.
Digger: Nobody can fly in one these days. You can fly
alongside one in a helicopter but thatís the nearest you
Phil: Iíve actually sat in one because I know the guy who
owns it Ė the plan is the group would go to several other
places to do with the Battle of Britain first and then end
up at Biggin Hill to see the Spitfire coming back from an Airshow,
it will close down and then weíll have each one of them
sitting in the cockpit for about five minutes.
Digger: Are there size restrictions? Incredibly, in the Battle of Britain movie
two pilots share a cockpit when theyíre evacuating from
Phil: If youíve ever tried sitting in a Spitfire, two
people would be almost impossible.
Digger: They must have been very small.
Phil: You also have to be able to climb up onto the wing.
But they are much stronger than you think.
Digger: Well, Phil, it all sounds fascinating and best of
luck with all your plans for these new tours.
Phil: Many thanks David. Thatís lovely. Have a good