David Litvinoff

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David Litvinoff

David Litvinoff (1928 – April 1975), born David Levy, was a consultant for the British film industry who traded on his knowledge of the low life of the East End of London. A man for whom there are few truly reliable facts, it is unclear how genuine his expertise really was, though he certainly knew the Kray Twins and was particularly friendly with Ronnie Kray. He entertained his showbiz friends with stories of the Krays' activities[1] and his niece Vida described him as "the court jester to the rich, smart Chelsea set of the sixties".[2]

Early life[edit]

Litvinoff was born in London into a Jewish family with Russian origins. His older half-brothers were the writer Emanuel Litvinoff and the historian Barnet Litvinoff. David was himself once an aspiring artist, giving a nude performance that scandalised the Institute of Contemporary Arts.[citation needed]

David Levy or David Litvinoff?[edit]

Litvinoff invented a complicated persona for himself that disguised his origins and family background. Iain Sinclair said "he had made himself over, so that even the sound of his voice on the telephone gave nothing of his background away".[3] Stories of beatings he had given or taken, people he knew or could put you in contact with all had to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Stories of Litvinoff's activities are legion, but all second hand and often differ according to the teller. According to Sinclair: "Litvinoff was everybody's best friend, he specialized in it. That was his profession. In your company, he was the perfect audience: witty, up to speed with the gossip, seductive".[3] John Pearson remarked on Litvinoff's natural intelligence and described him as "entirely self-taught and self-invented".[2]

Criminal connections[edit]

Man in a Headscarf (originally The Procurer), Lucian Freud. Oil on canvas, 1954.

Keith Richards wrote of Litvinoff that he "was on the borders of art and villainy, a friend of the Kray brothers, the East End gangsters."[4] The novelist Derek Raymond said, "Used to know Litvinoff's half-brother David quite well. He managed to kill himself. Which was probably just before he would have been murdered."

In Notorious, John Pearson writes that Litvinoff was homosexual and that one function that he performed for Ronnie Kray, who was also homosexual, was to procure boys for sexual services for Ronnie's friends. Such activities also provided useful material for blackmail purposes.[5] Through Ronnie, Litvinoff met Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud who were friends and used to gamble at Esmerlada's Barn. According to Pearson, the man in Freud's painting Man in a Headscarf (originally The Procurer) (1954) was Litvinoff before he was slashed across the face in an attack (sometime before 1968) by an unknown assailant.[2] The Krays were happy to take the credit for the attack as it bolstered their reputation.[2] Pearson claims that Freud gave the work its original name in reference to Litvinoff's function. The painting sold for £1,156,500 at Christie's in 1999. At one time, it had been thought to be a self-portrait.[6]

Work in the film industry[edit]

Litvinoff was "dialogue coach and technical adviser" on the 1970 film Performance, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger. He was a friend of Cammell, and though his friendship with the Kray twins, he was able to introduced the cast and crew to London's underworld. Writing about Performance in The Independent, David Thompson calls him "the most brilliant nutter anyone had ever met ... the catalyst - he just brought the whole thing together".[7]


From 1972 until his death in April 1975 from an overdose of sleeping pills, Litvinoff lived at Davington Priory, Faversham, Kent, which was then owned by the art dealer Christopher Gibbs.[8]


  1. ^ Pearson, John. (2010). Notorious: The Immortal Legend of the Kray Twins. London: Random House. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-84605-152-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d Pearson, John. (2013). The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of the Krays. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-1-4482-1152-4. 
  3. ^ a b Sinclair, Iain. (2000) "Who cares for the caretaker?" in Rachel Lichtenstein; Iain Sinclair. Rodinsky's Room. London: Granta Books. pp. 137–8. ISBN 978-1-86207-329-6. 
  4. ^ Richards, Keith, with James Fox. (2010) Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 202. ISBN 9780297854395
  5. ^ Pearson, 2010, p. 110.
  6. ^ Man in a Headscarf (The Procurer) Christie's, 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  7. ^ Thompson, David (9 May 2004). "Film Studies: Was this the most pretentious British film ever made?". The Independent. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "Biographer on track of Sixties 'chancer'". Faversham.org. Retrieved 5 July 2014.