The story of Archie Hall/ Roy Fontaine: The Butler Did It by Paul Pender
Very humorously written, a lot of which is derived from Roy’s menacing charm so well described by author Paul Pender, best encapsulated in his opening sentence:
“This book is in one sense the record of a friendship, if friendship can be held to include death threats.”
This interview with author Paul Pender in The Scotsman (28 May 2012) gives a precis of Hall’s crimes as a murderous butler, stealing from and killing employers and other thieves. Until his death in 2002 Fontaine was the oldest person serving a whole life tariff. And it appears that may have something to do with who or what he knew from days spent in Blitz-torn London during WWII, servicing the sexual appetites of Vic Oliver, Lord Mountbatten and Lord Boothby (then just ‘Bob’ pre 1957) as a 17 year old lad from Glasgow. Not to mention his bold move in stealing an important briefcase and then trying to sell it back to the Home Office or the Russians for which he escaped with a surprisingly lenient sentence of 4 years in 1973 before returning to prison for the rest of his life for 4 murders within a few years.
Born in 1924 in Glasgow, Archibald Hall was 16 when WWII started. While in the Grand Central Station Hotel in Glasgow having a drink, 17 year old Archie catches the pianist’s eye.
“Roy did not immediately recognise the name Vic Oliver, even when the older man described himself a a well-known radio entertainer.”
Vic was to have success during the war with Hi, Gang! and was the first castaway on Desert Island Discs. The Castaway who annoyed Churchill (BBC 2012)
Towards the end of WWII Oliver was nearing 50 and was soon to be divorced from Sarah Churchill, no longer to be the Prime Minister’s son-in-law. During the war, like Bert Ambrose, Oliver was to enjoy success as an entertainer, mixing musical genius with comedy and leading the way for comedians like Les Dawson and Victor Borges.
“In truth, relations between the musician and his illustrious father-in-law were always strained. Since Churchill had set up a magnificent intelligence-gathering network, it is highly unlikely that he would have remained unaware of the sexual shenanigans of the man who had stolen away his beloved daughter Sarah.” [Loc 1387]
“After sex, Vic liked to hum ‘Prelude to the Starts’, the theme song of his radio show. In the morning, he said he could introduce Roy to some stars of stage and screen. The young man could keep the gold lighter if he agreed to come down to London for a few months, all expenses paid. Roy agreed enthusiastically.
‘It was the first time I’d slept with a man,’ said Roy nostalgically as he picked up the gold lighter. ‘He gave me this as a present: 24 carat-gold. It’s been with me ever since.’
Within a week the 17 year old lad followed his mentor down to London where, despite the Blitz, high society’s gay elite frequently partied the night away above the darkened theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue. Vic took him to all-male soirees in Ivor Novello’s luxury flat overlooking Piccadilly Circus. It was a huge apartment with polished wooden floors, scattered rugs and a white grand piano in the corner.
Roy joined the ranks of the good-looking men who were paid to act as waiters dressed only in things, their job being to satisfy the appetites – all the appetites – of the older men.
I tasted the cream of London society,’ said Roy. ‘Literally!’ He winked suggestively. It was not an image I particularly wished to dwell on.
The serving boys would flirt with the older men and for tips would perform sexual favours for the guests. Couples would drift off into bedrooms and toilets.
Discretion, Roy assured me, was of the utmost importance, because if outed the careers of these men would be over.
‘But then again, ‘ he added, ‘these were not just men with friends in high places. They were the friends in high places.’
It was in these circles that he met Lord Robert Boothby (‘Bob’), who was rumoured to be a lover of Ronnie Kray, the most notorious of all London gangsters. Boothby spent his life shuttling between high society and the criminal underworld. Like so many public figures who could not in those days afford to come out of the closet, he enjoyed living on the dangerous edge of things. He got a kick out of what Oscar Wilder called ‘feasting with panthers.’ When not consorting with the Krays, Boothby moved in exalted circles. He was a close friend of future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and had been Private Secretary to Winston Churchill himself.
Roy claimed that it was through Boothby that he was invited to Somerset Maugham’s villa on the French Riviera after the war – the famed Villa Mauresque. He went into great detail about swimming in the pool there and spending a weekend in the company of other young men whose physical perfection was matched only by the beautiful objets d’art with which they were surrounded.” [Loc 1414]
In 1939 the family had followed Roy’s father to the British Army Catterick base as telegraphist in General Post Office – when he discovers his mother having an affair he plots revenge on Major Morris and is caught with Nazi photos and a book by Aleister Crowley he says he was going to plant on Morris but,
“Under pressure he revealed that he was fascinated by Crowley’s writings on how to impose one’s will on others. He told me he’d learned from Crowley that ‘the key was the stare. The unblinking hypnotic stare.’
Roy had realised – before the British Intelligence Services did – that Hitler had been heavily influenced by Crowley and the occult, and he surmised, correctly as it turned out, that Adolf had spent many hours in front of a mirror perfecting that hypnotic stare which would ultimately transform a nation of decent people into willing accomplices in genocide.
I had a sudden illumination. I asked him outright, ‘So Roy tell me – did you practise your stare?’
After what seemed like an unconscionably long silence, he said, ‘How the fuck did you know that?’
‘A lucky guess,’ I said. I didn’t tell him that I’d spent years researching the Satanic origins of the Nazis. Unfortunately, the stare could only get you so far. The next step, whether your name was Adolf or Archie, tended to be murder.” [Loc 1167]
Roy’s love of Crowley’s ‘unblinking hypnotic stare’ sounds very familiar…did Savile practise his unblinking hypnotic stare in the mirror too? And was Aleister Crowley Savile’s inspiration as it was Roy’s?
The Case of the Attache Case
“In 1945, the 21 year old sophisticate returned to Glasgow from his London adventure. The was was over, and Roy bade a temporary goodbye to his upper-class acquaintances. He wanted to move in their circles some day, but with a little more dignity: ‘Preferably not with a banknote for sexual services stuck between the cheeks of my arse.” [Loc 1492]
“Big changes were taking place in the postwar world. Vic Oliver was divorced by Lady Sarah Churchill and Lord Mountbatten was given a new job, as Viceroy of India.”[Loc 1492]
“Roy claimed Mountbatten’s new title of Viceroy was appropriate, since his Lordship had engaged in so much vice with Roy. He kept in touch with Mountbatten’s inner circle and told me that ‘Lord Louis, God bless him, remained adventurous on the sexual front. You could say that India just added more spice.'”
“Roy had penetrated the ruling class of Britain, literally and metaphorically. He knew their dirty little secrets. Journalistic accounts of his life have tended to concentrate on the blood and gore”
“I was a good boy second time around,’ he said. As an escapee and a high security prisoner I met more interesting people. I was now part of a very special elite. Many of my fellow high-security prisoners were spies: there was Peter kroger and Paddy Meehan, who were linked to MI5. They taught me how valuable Government secrets are. That information was to come in handy later.” [Loc 2790]
“On a visit to London he had gone to one of his favourite watering holes – the American bar of the savoy. There he met a handsome young man who was carrying an expensive looking attache case. They laughed and joked over cocktails, and Roy, now the older man (he was nearly 50), gave the young fellow an expensive cigar, lighting it with his 24-carat-gold lighter….[Loc 2955]
Soon Roy and the young fellow were romping in the feathered luxury of a king-sized hotel bed. Roy’s motives went beyond mere lust.
‘The attache case had caught my eye,’ he explained. ‘I’d never seen one before which was monogrammed “ER II” – the monogram of Her Majesty the Queen.
‘I felt I deserved it,’ said Roy, ‘given that I’d spent so many years of my life detained at her pleasure. Possessing the young man wasn’t enough. I had to possess the case too…..
When he got home he realised that he had hit the jack-pot. With pounding heart he discovered that it contained top-secret files marked ‘For the Prime Minister’s office only.’
The papers had been prepared by a secret Government think tank for a briefing of the British Cabinet. They revealed much valuable information on global economics, security, foreign policy and the world oil situation, which the Government did not want to fall into the wrong hands.” [Loc 2969]
Roy then phoned the Home office the next morning saying he’d give the papers back at a price. The Home office accused him of blackmail and ‘Roy accused them of hypocrisy. ‘Let’s face it’, he told them, ‘politics and blackmail are practically synonymous!’. [Loc 2984]
In the news at the time the briefcase was reported as belonging to a Mr S Guinness a First Secretary at the Foreign Office who was on secondment to the Cabinet Office, a member of Rothschild “Think Tank”, and who had said he left his briefcase by the front door to discover it had been stolen from his home on his return (Butler hid stolen Cabinet papers in wine store, The Guardian 11 August 1973 – see above).
Roy’s Plan B involved selling the papers to the Russians so he went to the Russian Consulate in Brompton Road, London and has an amusing but inconclusive and unsatisfactory conversation about selling the papers.
Within a few weeks of visiting the Russian Consulate and moving to Warwickshire to start a new job as a Butler to Mr Angelo Southall at Grimshaw Hall, MI5 turn up on Southall’s doorstep…
“The three large gentlemen who confronted Roy told him they’d tear Grimshaw Hall apart if he didn’t reveal the location of the Cabinet papers. He knew he couldn’t mess them around. There weren’t many people whom Roy met who were more ruthless than himself, but these chaps really meant business.
He led them downstairs to the wine cellar, where the attache case was hidden under a wine rack. Sensing that he probably woouldn’t be laughing again anytime soon, Ron smiled wanly and quipped, ‘It was a very good year for secrets.
While he was in custody awaiting trial, he received a visit from a Caommander Wilson of MI5 who knew of Roy’s intimacy with influential members of the ruling class, including Lords Mountbatten and Boothby – as well as Churchhill’s son-in-law Vic Oliver. The Commander suspected that Roy might have been garnering state secrets via pillow talk and passing them on to the Russians.
‘Tell me everything you know about the Russian,’ he demanded.
To which Roy pithily replied, ‘I believe they live in Eastern Europe.’
Before Commander Wilson could register a response, Roy continued, ‘How many years are you going to give me for nicking a poxy fucking briefcase? If the Government fucks with me, I will fuck with them. I have deposited with several friends and my legal representatives of my sexual liasions with Lord Mountbatten, Lord Boothby and Vic Oliver. In the event of anything untoward happening to me, these are to be sent to various newspapers along with a vivid description of the sexual shenanigans currently taking place between government ministers and male prostitutes in a swanky gay club off Park Lane. The club is very popular with prominent members of Ted Heath’s Conservative Government, which, as you will be aware, Commander, is at this moment running the country under the banner of restoring wholesome family values.’
This gave the Commander much food for thought.
Roy rammed home his advantage by stressing that ‘these revelations will make the Profumo affair look like a vicar’s tea party. Or maybe a vicars and tarts tea party.’
It was a high-risk stratagem, but it worked. When Roy was sentence to four years in prison, senior law officers and policemen were astonished. Most of them had assumed that for contravening the Official Secrets Act he would go down for at least ten. Nevertheless, even with his reduced sentence, he would be 52 when he got out.” [Loc 3061]
When Lord Mountbatten died, Roy must have seen his leverage slipping as other WWII blitz-time associates passed away too. However, successive Home Secretaries were not to be fooled into letting him out and he remained on the life tariff, often attempting suicide, finally dying in 2002.
Malcolm McDowell and Paul Pender are now working on the film of Roy’s life which I’m hoping makes it to screens soon. Roy’s entire life for himself was built out of that first encounter with Vic Oliver and the information he gained, even his name change conjured up as a wish to appear sophisticated. Who will play Mountbatten?
Hall published his autobiography, A Perfect Gentleman, in 1999. More to read.