Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Leigh Straw

Second Supervisor

Emeritus Professor Graham Seal


This thesis sits at the intersection of history, media and cultural studies, and will undertake a study into the emergence of criminal celebrities in Britain in the 1960s and their subsequent rise in popularity. It will seek to explain the reasons for and cultural impact of this emergence and rise against an ever-changing social, cultural, political and media landscape, including changes in social and cultural attitudes. In doing so, the study will seek to establish the extent to which criminal celebrities are a product of their time.

The thesis will essentially comprise two main strands with reference to criminal celebrities, one cultural and the other commercial. The first strand will concern the emergence and rise in popularity of criminal celebrities in Britain in the 1960s and will focus on their cultural impact, not least how they became icons of popular culture. The second strand will seek to explain the rise in popularity of criminal celebrities by viewing them through the lens of crime as entertainment. Crime as entertainment, which will be one of the central themes of this study, is inextricably linked with commercial factors which place criminal celebrities in a commercially driven marketplace where they are packaged and sold as entertainment.

This study will demonstrate a nexus between the two main strands of the thesis through three case studies. The case studies will be in respect of criminals who rose to celebrity in Britain in the 1960s, namely international drug dealer Howard Marks, Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and East End of London gangsters the Kray twins. This nexus will be brought into relief in identifying to varying extents the cultural shift which gave the respective case-study subjects respectability and acceptability in society, and where the motif of the good criminal which runs through this thesis, has helped cement this validation. The point of connection between what might be termed cultural acceptability and commercialism is that criminal celebrities once validated by society become, like any other celebrities, targets for commercial exploitation. Criminal celebrities thus become commodities sold in the name of entertainment `to a receptive audience whose appetite for sensation itself has helped foster and indeed institutionalise a culture in respect of them.