|Born||John Dennis Bindon
4 October 1943
Fulham, London, England
|Died||10 October 1993
Chelsea, London, England
|Resting place||London, England|
|Other names||Biffo, The Guv'nor, Big John|
|Occupation||Actor and bodyguard|
|Height||1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)|
|Parent(s)||Dennis Bindon & Cicely Bindon (née Monaghan)|
John Dennis "Biffo" Bindon (4 October 1943 – 10 October 1993) was an English actor and bodyguard who had close links with the London underworld. The son of a London cab driver, Bindon was frequently in trouble as a youth for getting into fights, and spent two periods in Borstal. He was spotted in a London pub by Ken Loach who asked him to star in his film Poor Cow (1967). Other film and television productions followed, with Bindon sought after to play gangsters or tough police detectives. He played a violent mobster alongside Mick Jagger in Performance (1970) and a London crime boss in Get Carter (1971). Philip Hoare described Bindon as "the archetypal actor-villain, and an all-round 'good geezer'".
He was also known for having many socialite girlfriends, such as Christine Keeler, the former Playboy "Bunny Girl" Serena Williams and Vicki Hodge, who had a 12-year abusive relationship with Bindon. Through Hodge, Bindon gained access to British aristocratic circles, which culminated with his meeting Princess Margaret in the late 1960s, at her home on Mustique in the Caribbean. Bindon claimed he had sex with the princess, whilst Margaret later denied the meeting ever took place despite photographic evidence.
Bindon lived his hard man persona on and off screen. He was believed to be running protection rackets in west London pubs and have alleged connections to the Kray twins and the Richardson Gang. In the late 1970s in addition to acting work he provided security for actors and musicians, most notoriously for Led Zeppelin on their 1977 US tour, where he was sacked for brawling backstage. In 1978 Bindon was tried for the murder of London gangster Johnny Darke. Bindon pleaded self-defence and was acquitted, but the case damaged his reputation, and this coupled with being seen as difficult to work with by directors meant his acting career declined. In the 1980s Bindon became reclusive and died in 1993 from an AIDS-related illness.
John Bindon was born in Fulham, London, and was the son of Dennis Bindon, a merchant seaman and engineer, turned cab driver. The second eldest in a working-class family of three children, Bindon went to St Mark's Church School in Fulham where he became a noted rugby union junior, but left at the age of 15. He was given the nickname "Biffo" for starting or getting into fights.
As a teenager, he served time in a borstal for possessing live ammunition. After jobs ranging from laying asphalt to dealing in antiques (his best friend for several years was the glamorous and now-infamous international antiques dealer John Hobbs) Bindon pursued a career in acting. Director Ken Loach, spotting him in a London pub in 1966, considered him perfect for the role of a rough husband in the film, Poor Cow (1967). His next big break came the following year with a role in Performance (not released until 1970) alongside Mick Jagger, where he played a violent mobster. His portrayal earned him critical praise and typecast him for future roles.
In 1968, he met Vicki Hodge, a baronet's daughter turned model and actress, who introduced him to British aristocracy. However, he had been previously invited to the Caribbean island resort of Mustique, where Bindon claimed to have had sex with Princess Margaret. The biographer of the Princess, Noel Botham, was also of the opinion that Bindon had an affair with her. During this time Bindon gained the nickname "Big John", due to the reported size of his penis. He went back to Mustique for a second time in 1969 and took girlfriend Hodge with him. The princess later publicly denied meeting Bindon (despite pictures of them next to one another) and was reportedly unimpressed to hear stories of their sexual encounters in the press. Bindon's name was also linked with a succession of models, including Christine Keeler, the former Playboy "Bunny Girl" Serena Williams, and also Angela Barnett, then girlfriend and future wife of pop star David Bowie.
Bindon was awarded the Queen's Award for Bravery, a police bravery medal, for diving off Putney Bridge into the River Thames to rescue a drowning man, in 1968, although some said he had pushed the man in and only rescued him when a policeman appeared.
Bindon had a violent temper and a natural intimidating personality, and he was accused of running a protection racket in west London, targeting pubs, restaurants and cafés. There were also suggestions of connections to the Richardson Gang and the Kray twins, who supported his control of west London, as well as rivalries with gangs from south London. The south London rivalries were suggested to have contributed to his bankruptcy, when he accrued drug debts. The extent of his involvement in the English underworld has never been reliably established.
Bindon's best known film roles were his appearance in Get Carter (1971) and The Who's film Quadrophenia (1979) as a drug dealer. He also appeared in television series such as Public Eye, The Gold Robbers, Department S, Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars, Paul Temple, Special Branch, Softly, Softly: Taskforce and Hazell playing out his usual tough-guy roles. Despite a productive film and television career, Bindon felt he needed a break from acting, and went into organising security. It was to be a move which would have disastrous personal and financial consequences.
In early 1977, Bindon was hired by Peter Grant on advice from tour manager Richard Cole as security co-ordinator for the rock group Led Zeppelin during their concert tour of the United States. He had previously provided security for actors Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. Upon arrival at the stadium, it is alleged that Bindon pushed a member of promoter Bill Graham's stage crew out of the way as the band entered via a backstage ramp. As a result, tension had been simmering between Graham's staff and Led Zeppelin's security team during the day, and as Grant and Bindon were walking down the ramp near the end of the concert, words were exchanged with stage crew chief Jim Downey, which resulted in Bindon knocking Downey out cold. Bindon maintained that he was goaded into the fight after Graham's crew referred to him as "a weak limey fuck".
Just minutes later a separate off-stage incident occurred. Bill Graham's security man Jim Matzorkis was accused of slapping Peter Grant's 11-year-old son Warren for taking a dressing room sign, and the ensuing argument escalated into an all-out brawl. Led Zeppelin's second Oakland show took place only after Bill Graham signed a letter of indemnification, absolving Led Zeppelin from responsibility for the previous night's incident. However, Graham refused to honour the letter and assault charges were laid against Grant, Cole, Bindon and John Bonham when the band arrived back at their hotel. The four received bail and later pleaded no contest, receiving suspended sentences. Bindon was dismissed by the band and returned to England. Grant later said that allowing Bindon to be hired was the biggest mistake he ever made as manager.
In 1978, Bindon became involved in a fight with John Darke, a London gangster, outside the Ranelagh Yacht Club, in Fulham, London. Darke was stabbed nine times, resulting in his death, and Bindon managed to flee to Dublin with his own knife wounds covered up. He gave himself up to police and in the subsequent trial at the Old Bailey in October 1979. The prosecution claimed that this was a £10,000 contract killing over drugs, with the fight as a cover for the death. However, the defence argued that Darke's death was in self-defence, saying Bindon was in fear of his life as he was being blackmailed about losing drug money and cocaine worth thousands of pounds (though his defence might have been hindered amid allegations of bragging to a cellmate that he was a hitman while on remand awaiting trial, referring to Darke as "an old man's cunt"). Bindon was acquitted of Darke's murder in November 1979. It was reported that the "substantial appearance" of actor Bob Hoskins as a character witness at the trial helped sway the jury's verdict and that the judge Sir William Mars-Jones "had been sympathetic towards Bindon in his summing-up and unhappy with the ragbag of witnesses produced by the prosecution".
Media reports of the trial, along with the Oakland incident, seriously damaged Bindon's reputation (there were other various allegations of a similar violent nature against Bindon) and he found it increasingly difficult to find work in the entertainment industry. This was partly attributable also to his reputation for being difficult to work with on set, as much as his alleged connections to organised crime.
During the 1980s, Bindon became a more reclusive figure, spending more of his time at his Belgravia flat. He died in London at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. His death appears to be the subject of some debate. Some sources (including the 2005 ITV Real Crime: Starring John Bindon documentary) say Bindon died from an AIDS-related illness, while others (including Wensley Clarkson's biography (citing the now defunct UK newspaper Today) claim he was suffering from liver cancer. Bindon's funeral was attended by more than 200 people, including his friend and neighbour Matthew Freud.
In 2002, a Carlton Television documentary of John Bindon's life entitled Real Crime: Starring John Bindon was screened in the UK on ITV. It featured archival footage of Bindon behind the scenes and interviews with Angela Bowie, Vicki Hodge, Billy Murray, George Sewell and James Whitaker. Bindon also featured in the Carlton documentary for ITV, The Secret Life of Princess Margaret, broadcast in 2005. Bindon's relationship with Princess Margaret was the subject of Channel 4's documentary The Princess and the Gangster which was broadcast on 9 February 2009.
In 2005, Wensley Clarkson published a biography of Bindon entitled Bindon: Fighter, Gangster, Actor, Lover – the True Story of John Bindon, a Modern Legend (London: John Blake. ISBN 1-84454-116-9).
Bindon and his alleged relationship with Princess Margaret is a major plot element in the 2008 crime film The Bank Job. The movie is based on an actual 1971 robbery of a Lloyds Bank in London when numerous safe deposit boxes were opened and ransacked. The film alludes to the unsubstantiated claim that among the items taken were compromising photographs showing Margaret on a Caribbean beach with Bindon.