As some of you may know, I am writing a screenplay based on my book King of Thieves: The Adventures of Arthur Delaney and the Kangaroo Gang which chronicles the exploits of the legendary Australian shoplifters in the UK and Europe in the 1960s and 70s.
It’s a long slow process for me and co-writer Andrew Knight, turning a rambling work of non-fiction into a story that will conform to the narrative arc of a movie. We are on the third draft now and it feels like we’re getting close to something that we can take to a director who will no doubt make a million more changes. I would advise anyone thinking of a screenwriting career to bear in mind that your work will be edited. If you are too thin-skinned or individualistic to accept that, maybe you should stick to journalism or book writing. The collaborative process nonetheless can be a very creative one.
One of the hardest things has been to cull characters and stories from the work that don’t quite fit the story you are telling. When researching King of Thieves in Australia, England and France I would constantly come across characters and stories that seemed to have jumped straight from the silver screen. Unfortunately most of these won’t make the cut. So I thought I would run a few in the blog for a laugh. The story of Doodle Doug is typical of the Kangaroo gang yarns – hilarious but ultimately tragic. They lived for the moment with the knowledge that it would pass soon enough.
Sydney crook Doug Wardle, never made the Australian Index, the supplement that Scotland Yard produced for the UK Police Gazette in the mid 60s. He was not even a thief, yet he was a prolific earner. Just how he earnt was a mystery to the Aussies so at first he was known as “Mystery Doug.” His only endowment was purely physical. To put it bluntly, Wardle had an enormous doodle. He was so well endowed, Jack “The Fibber” Warren used to call him “Wotawhoppa”. It hung down to his knees, so the legend went..
“Hey Wotawhoppa, how’s it hanging?” he used to ask Wardle.
“I know a policewoman who could throw a saddle on that thing and ride him for three furlongs!” he would say.
It had been his doodle that had sent Wardle to London in the first place. A notorious consorting squad detective in Sydney had discovered Wardle was knocking off his wife. He warned Wardle that if he ever caught him in Sydney again there was a bullet with his name engraved on it.
He turned up in London in about 1966 with the second of crooks who followed the likes of The Fibber and Arthur “The King” Delaney. Soon London would be overrun with Aussies and guys like Wardle were definitely in the B-team Yet he would always pull out rolls of money in the pubs and gaming clubs around Paddington and Queens Way where the Aussies congregated. Finally he took one of them into his confidence and everyone go to know his lurk.
As one lag put it Wardle wasn’t so much a shoplifter as “a cock-lifter.” He earned his money by taking his prodigious member into public toilets around Mayfair and the West End. In those straitlaced days, homosexuality in the middle classes was still frowned upon so very proper gentlemen would indulge their guilty pleasures in the public loos where the thrill of danger added to the pleasure. Wardle would sidle up to the urinal, smiling at his mark. He would give his member a wristy flick and all but put it in the gentleman’s hand. But as soon as the mug took the bait, Doug’s demeanour would change.
“You’re borrowed, you dirty bastard,” he would say, coiling his bits back into his trousers. “Det Sgt Robertson of Scotland Yard. You will be coming along with me sir,” he would say, dragging the horrified man out by the collar into the busy street.
“This is a very serious offence, this is public indecency!” Doug would say. “Imagine when your family and the chaps down the club find out about this. You may even do time!”
The mark would usually be a Sir So-and-So, a Lord or a wealthy legal eagle. By the time they got halfway to West End Central police station, the mark would be begging, often crying, trying to make a deal with “the police.” If they held out, Doug would leave the victim waiting in a small ante room at the police station to contemplate his fate while he went off to do “the paperwork.” A few minutes of this and they would fold ready to meet any demand.
Wardle would suggest the whole thing could be cleared up by making a discreet donation to the Police Youth Club. The terms agreed, they would then change course for the nearest bank branch where the grateful offender would hand over up to ₤3000 in cash. It didn’t end there. Doodle Doug would back up with more demands for donations and this could go on for months. He claimed to have had pulled this stunt on about 50 mugs and he had a dozen regulars paying him hush money. A voracious card player, Wardle would pull out bundles of money still in the bank wrappers. Of course, it couldn’t last. Finally one of the marks plucked up the gumption to complain to police. A West End magistrate, the butler to a peer Lord Wigg and a visiting US Rear Admiral were among those who finally testified against Wardle. Doodle Doug got the heaviest lagging of any of the Australians, seven years for impersonating a police officer. He was murdered in jail after being fingered as an informer.