The life of famed East End luminary Lenny McLean gets a touching, personal treatment in hard-hitting new documentary The Guv’nor. Famous (and infamous) as a bareknuckle boxer, bouncer, enforcer, and doorman from the late ‘60s, McLean’s journey from unlicensed fighter to best-selling author and star of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. It’s the story of a working class man weathering the changing decades before his untimely death in 1998.
The new film follows Lenny’s son Jamie as he explores his father’s story from his troubled upbringing, his local fame and later stardom. To celebrate the film’s October release – and next year’s biopic My Name is Lenny – we take a look at 20 of the most amazing facts about this man from a different era…
Lenny was known as “The Guv’nor” and “The King of Bouncers” around many of the clubs and pubs in London.
Being raised by an abusive step-father, Lenny had an incredibly difficult upbringing. By the age of 10, he suffered many broken bones. At the age of 15, he was fired from his first job after beating up the foreman.
McLean is said to have competed in almost four thousand fights over three decades, winning a very large majority of these. This led many to accept McLean as the unofficial Heavyweight Champion of the World in unlicensed boxing.
When he fought Mad Gypsy Bradshaw, Mad Gypsy head-butted him as the introductions were made. After Lenny dabbed his forehead with a giant glove, he battered Mad Gypsy to the floor and stomped on him, finishing the match within a minute.
Being the best-known figure in unlicensed boxing produced fans for McLean, but also enemies, including his rivals’ supporters, and some who lost money in bets. This led to McLean suffering from many attacks.
A few years later, Lenny was attacked in his own home when his wife answered the door to a masked gunman. The assailant took 4 shots at Lenny as he was coming down the stairs. Fortunately, none of the bullets hit and by the time he got to the door the shooter had disappeared.
Not long after, Lenny was attacked at home again. This time as he had driven back from work. As he locked his car he was shot in the back of the shoulder and quickly made his way inside. Luckily the bullet went straight through his shoulder and he recovered quickly without even going to hospital.
Lenny would later find out that the same man was responsible for both attacks at his home and tracked him down. That man was Billy Quinn, a boxer and drug addict who McLean had humiliated in a sparring match. This surprised McLean as he had rivalries with far more powerful people.
On one occasion he was flown to New York to fight a Mafia Don’s champion, a 24 stone, six-foot eight-inch monster called John McCormack. Lenny battered him unconscious in minutes, hitting him so hard that he broke both his hands.
McLean was featured prominently in a television documentary on nightclub security staff titled Bounce: Behind The Velvet Rope.
He became interested in acting after being introduced to an agent by two show-business friends, Mike Reid and Freddie Starr. Both of whom – with Archie Mills – he had ‘minded’ as a bodyguard, as well as minding the cast of television shows such as EastEnders and The Bill.
He was friends with the Kray Twins and played a brief unbilled cameo as a ringside spectator in the 1990 film The Krays.
McLean’s autobiography, titled ‘The Guv’nor’ and written with Peter Gerrard, was published in January 1998, roughly 6 months before his death. It immediately occupied the number one position on the bestsellers’ list.
Rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, actor Ray Winstone and pop star Phil Collins have all shown interest in portraying Lenny on screen.
In ‘The Guv’nor’, McLean recounts that various film studios expressed an interest in making a film based on his life. McLean suggested Craig Fairbrass to portray him but Hollywood’s preference for Sylvester Stallone caused negotiations to discontinue.
The autobiography ‘The Guv’nor’ was instantly a number one bestseller and proved so popular that a second book, titled ‘The Guv’nor Tapes’, was written by Peter Gerrard based on conversations they had. It featured even more anecdotes which didn’t make it into the first book.
Lenny’s wife Val has said “He was so different from his image and was devoted to the kids and me. We were a little separate world that he kept away from all the violence and fighting. When Jamie was little, Lenny used to look at him and say, ‘Son, you’re never going to turn out like me. I’ll make sure of that’. He did (turn out different) – and I’m so proud of him for that.”
During the filming of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels McLean was struck ill by what he believed to be the flu. He was subsequently diagnosed with pleurisy, although further X-ray examination proved he was suffering from lung cancer. He died shortly afterward on 28 July 1998, in Bexley, a few weeks prior to the release of the film. Director Guy Ritchie dedicated the smash hit film to Lenny.
A feature film entitled ‘My Name Is Lenny’ starring Josh Helman (Mad Max: Fury Road) MMA Champion Michael Bisping and John Hurt (Alien) is currently in post-production and will be released in 2017.