Glasgow fights "No Mean City" tag, 75 years on

Tue Jan 5, 2010 2:36pm EST
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By Dave Graham

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters Life!) - Razor King Johnnie Stark is long dead, but the specter of violence raised by the brutal street fighter in "No Mean City" still haunts Glasgow seven decades after the novel's publication.

Though razor gangs no longer roam the streets, gang violence in Glasgow lies at the heart of World Health Organization figures that say a person is more than three times as likely to die from a stab wound in Scotland than in England and Wales.

"The uncomfortable truth" says John Carnochan, head of Strathclyde police's Violence Reduction Unit, is "not very much has been learned" over the years about how to curb the violence.

"We're trying to change that. It would be testimony when the book's 100th anniversary comes if somebody is able to say: 'What a difference has been made in the last 25 years,'" he said.

Dismissed by critics as a sensationalist work that left an indelible stain on Glasgow's reputation, the book was being linked to violent crime in the British Empire's "second city" just days after it appeared at the end of October 1935.

Set in the Gorbals, a district south of the river Clyde that became a byword for downtrodden, overcrowded slums, the tale charts the rise and fall of the "bullet-headed" Stark during the city's industrial decline after World War One.

A vindictive alcoholic, sometime laborer Stark becomes "Razor King" of the local gangland due to a talent for violence and fondness for slashing his adversaries' faces with razors.

Today it is knives, not razors that most preoccupy police.   Continued...

<p>A man stands next to flowers tied to a railing in memory of a man murdered by gang members in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland in this file photo dated January 4, 2010. REUTERS/David Moir</p>