Britain’s Most Notorious Street Fighter – The Guv’nor
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“All these years all I’ve known is violence,
violence, violence, violence.” Gritting his teeth, this man who looks as
much like “The Thing” from the Fantastic Four as arguably any other human being, adds,
“I hate violence. I detest it. But I done it for 40 years…I had to put
food on the table.” These are the words of Lenny McLean, aka,
The Guv’nor, a man who claimed all he ever knew since being a kid was fighting. He was good at it, too, and from being a working
class lad who bust heads and wrecked his knuckles in the East End of London, he grew a fierce
reputation in the UK and years later in the U.S. scene of underground street fighting. He claimed to have had around 20,000 fights,
or what was called in his days, having it out on “the cobbles”, meaning the cobbled
streets. You might think 20,000 is an exaggeration,
but tell us what you think after the show. Let’s start with his childhood. In an interview McLean once said, “I was
probably a lovely kid.” He tells the interviewer this because he admits,
perhaps with some regret, that not long into his formative years any kind of love he had
was kicked out of him after his father died. That dad was replaced by a stepdad, who for
Mclean was the personification of evil. He came from an Irish family and they lived
as we said in the rough East End of London. His father had been a Royal Marine and had
been stationed in India for a time. There he picked up a tropical disease and
became very ill. He left the Navy and turned to crime, but
that didn’t last long and when Lenny was just four his father died. It’s said lack of funds meant the dad, Lenny
senior, had to be buried in what’s called a Pauper’s grave. That’s a very poor-looking lot paid for
by the government. His mother re-married, and this is what McLean
said in an interview about his new stepfather. “He broke my leg when I was 5. He broke my jaw when I was 6. He broke all my ribs when I was 7, bashed
me until I was 12.” The father has been described as a criminal,
a violent alcoholic, who abused not only young Lenny but his brothers, too. It might have been worse, but after the father
brutally whipped Lenny’s infant brother, a notorious and fearsome local gangster called
Jimmy Spinks said enough is enough. This man was Lenny’s great uncle, and he
beat the father within an inch of his life and told him in no uncertain terms that if
he abused the kids anymore his life was over. Many years later Lenny’s mother on her deathbed
pleaded with him not to seek vengeance on this man after she had gone. Lenny agreed. So, this was the young Lenny, and he has said
this violent upbringing was the catalyst of the hatred that would come. He wouldn’t be beaten again. But he wouldn’t spend much longer in the
family home anyway, because young Lenny started hanging around with gangsters and doing a
few errands. In time he would become known and respected
by local gangsters such as The Kray Twins and Ronnie Biggs. He also associated with the notorious prisoner,
Charles Bronson. The two might have fought, but Bronson as
you’ll know from our show about him, couldn’t stay away from prison. Because of turning to crime as a young lad,
Lenny was sent away to an approved school, aka, a reform school. This at least got him away from the abusive
stepfather. He then ended up in a Borstal: one of many
former British young offenders institutions that have since been exposed as places of
utter brutality. We don’t just mean the kids fighting, but
what the guards did to many of those lost souls. Years after Borstal he would also serve time
in prison. But during all this Lenny realized he had
a formidable skill. That was fighting. He was good at it, he didn’t lose, and he
was feared even as young as 15. It’s said at that age he was fired from
his first job for beating up his boss. He also realized that fighting might be a
way to pull him out of poverty, in that you could earn good money fighting on the streets,
and you could earn cash in the protection racket. He hadn’t yet received the moniker “the
hardest man in Britain”, but that was a status he was looking to secure. And so he fought, and fought, and fought. Once described as looking like a “silverback
gorilla”, he took on some of the best. Even when just young he took on and easily
beat a man in a street fight who was said to be 7 feet (210 cm) tall and weighed 20
stone (130 kg). Lenny got himself 500 pounds for that win. If you convert that to today’s money in
dollars it’s almost $5,000. There was cash in bare-knuckle fighting if
you were good at it, and Lenny wasn’t just good, he was virtually unbeatable. He travelled around England, Scotland, Wales,
and he beat the hardest guys wherever he went. He took on the king of the gypsies, and he
won. He soon became known as the best street fighter
in the UK and got the name “the Governor”. McLean has said in many interviews that he
liked fighting, but the main emphasis once he’d had his two kids was making sure they
didn’t need for anything. He grew a fierce reputation, also getting
the nickname “Ten Men Len” because he had at one point taken on ten guys at once
and beaten them. Years later in an interview he said when working
as a doorman he had been attacked by about 15 men. The posh-sounding interviewer seems surprised
when Lenny tells him he knocked at least six of them out, and the rest ran away. “You’re a bully,” says the interviewer
in BBC Queen’s English. Lenny replies in a strong cockney accent,
“Nah, I’m not, I’m a gentlemen.” One thing McLean detested was bullying. He always said he only fought troublemakers
when working as a doorman and the rest of the bareknuckle battles were just business. He’d been bullied and beaten himself, and
he hated it. “I could be a very nice guy,” he said
of working in clubs as a bouncer, “But if there was trouble, I’d turn into a lunatic.” As for street fighting, he once said, “No
one in England could beat me,” but he added that a lot of people tried. “Always be on your guard,” he said. “Keep the hate, hate from your ankles, because
someone is always looking to beat you.” His was right about that, too. He was stabbed at least once, and later shot
twice which almost killed him. Another man tried to shoot him at his house. That didn’t work out for the gunman and
that man was found dead soon after. Lenny always claimed he had nothing to do
with it, and some London gangsters backed his statement up. The underworld had taken to the man it seems. He didn’t like guns or knives. Those things weren’t gentlemanly, they were
for the weak. He did once get in serious trouble after hitting
a man who subsequently died. He was charged with murder but later it was
reduced to manslaughter and then reduced again to grievous bodily harm for the man’s broken
jaw. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. McLean claims to have never lost one fight
on the cobbles in his 4,000 organized street bouts, but he did lose a famous battle with
a man that came across as a lunatic himself, and that was Roy “Pretty Boy” Shaw. This was unlicensed boxing, which wasn’t
pretty to watch. You could say the rules were somewhat lax,
and the ref didn’t do much stepping in. In some fights it seemed you had to be unconscious
to lose, and that meant getting pummeled while on the canvas. McLean lost a few bouts over his career, but
with Shaw he had three fights and won the last two. Shaw was no pushover, having a reputation
with gangsters himself. He was later sent to a psychiatric institution
and was forced to undergo electric convulsive shock treatment for his anger issues. The doctor once said he was “the most powerful
and dangerous man I have ever tried to treat.” It seems not as powerful as McLean, and the
two didn’t have many kind words for each other. Mclean would say years later in interviews
that he didn’t mind any style of fighting, no rules, a few rules, or the unlicensed boxing,
but it seems it was with ungloved hands where he really shined. His fame and the fact he never lost on the
cobbles took him over to the USA. In New York City he fought the bareknuckle
champion there. He won, but not before incurring two broken
hands. That was 1986, and the guy he fought was also
said to be incredibly tough. McLean said despite the hands – those would
be pinned soon – he took a lot of money back home with him for his wife and kids. You see, McLean always said his family was
his rock. The fighting was purely a job, and it was
all he really knew how to do. His education for the most part was fighting
with other young offenders and dealing with rather unethical guards. Years later his son would say in an interview,
“He was gentle and funny to us and his friends, never raising a finger to my sister and me. What my dad did, in work and on the streets,
was bully bullies. He added, “Unprovoked violence only ever
came as a vigilante, clattering blokes on the estate who’d hit their wives or kids,
sometimes even working with the police to sort out problems they couldn’t get near. People respected him in the area and still
do; that was the old code of honor.” McLean would always say that violence found
him and he made money out of it because he was good at it. A life of hate had been founded by the abuse,
but he wouldn’t want that life for anyone else and he shielded his kids away from it. The following comes out in an interview Mclean
would have in the 1980s with U.S talk show host Ruby Wax. The abridged dialogue went like this:
Wax: “What is street fighting?” McLean: “You fight anybody.” Wax: “What are the rules?” McLean: “No r ules.” Wax: “Is it immoral?” McLean: “They call me an animal.” He then describes how after beating the king
of the gypsies the two called each other the next day and had a friendly chat. It was just sport, business, there were no
hard feelings. He then says he just read an article in the
newspaper about a man that robbed an old woman and beat her badly. “The people who did that to the girl. They’re the animals,” he said. Wax didn’t disagree. In a separate interview McLean does say there
is one thing he regretted doing in a street fight, perhaps bordering on animalistic, and
that was biting a man’s nose off. Then again, no rules means no rules. His fighting for cash career lasted around
30 years, but he had to stop as his hands were finished. And then after TV show appearances he started
getting contacts to make films. His actual resume after a few years read,
“A bare-knuckle fighter, bouncer, criminal and prisoner, author, businessman, bodyguard,
enforcer, weightlifter, television presenter and actor.” His acting career wasn’t exactly Oscar material,
but he did some big films, once working with “the lovely guy” Bruce Willis on “The
Fifth Element.” A very amusing McLean once said in an interview
that Willis had invited him to his trailer and it was luxurious, fitted with a large
living room, a pristine bathroom. “They gave me a chair,” said Mclean laughing,
alluding that this was a step down from being a king on the streets. The interviewer asked if acting was not a
hard transition, to which McLean says he only ever plays hardmen. “I’ve been rehearsing that for 30 years,”
he laughs, saying it was easy. His biggest role was that of a London gangster’s
right-hand man in the 1998 movie, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” The actors in interviews all said it was great
to work with this friendly giant. Director Guy Ritchie said, “He was great
to be around.” He used the past tense because McLean died
one month before the film came out. McLean felt fine, but then he believed he’d
got the flu. It turned out that he had lung cancer, and
that had spread to his brain. The Guv’nor was gone, finally beaten, taken
out by a tumor, and Guy Ritchie dedicated the film to him. If you want to know more there are movies
and documentaries about McLean, but we’d like to know what you think about him? Great-hearted gentlemen, or maniacal monster,
or something in between? Tell us in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
Man So Violent Even Other Prisoners Fear Him. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

100 thoughts on “Britain’s Most Notorious Street Fighter – The Guv’nor

  1. Gentle giant on one hand and a brute force on the other… Who would be a good sparing partner for the guv'nor?

  2. This is a kind of role model I try to be for my younger brother. Not being a deliquent, but rather playing nice until I can't.

  3. Man did what he had to do to provide for his family , protected people that couldn’t protect themselves, and did it well R.I.P.

  4. I tip my hat to him you got to respect a man who use violence to help others and there like if you show the same respect for him

  5. Lenny was once used as protection in a meeting, turned out they where the IRA, Lenny didn't care, when they pulled weapons he pulled out his fists.

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