In Racket Town: Gangster Chic in Austerity Britain, 1939-1953

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The postwar cycle of ‘spiv’ films, which Robert Murphy first brought to scholarly attention, is widely regarded as a turning point in the history of British crime cinema. For the first time this cycle of films portrayed recognizably British criminals in familiar postwar settings. The films are seen as a creative response to black marketeering during and immediately after the Second World War. This simple narrative obscures the tangled relationship between the postwar British spiv film and the interwar American gangster film, and between film and crime. Although the direct influence of the gangster on the celluloid spiv has long been appreciated, his indirect influence on the spiv phenomenon has gone unremarked. This article tells the story of how young men, fans of the interwar gangster film, aped the style of their heroes Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, giving the spiv, the latest incarnation of the working-class wide boy, an ‘American Look’ that influenced filmic portrayals. In doing so, this article enriches our understanding of the relationship between British and American crime cinema.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-559
JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2011

Bibliographical note

Published in a special issue of the journal dedicated to best papers from the IHR Winter Conference 2010.


  • spiv
  • gangster
  • film
  • fashion
  • austerity
  • Britain

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