Meet union firebrand Bob Crow's most embarrassing secret - his charming, hard-working, Maggie-loving brother
When Bob Crow and his big brother Richard threw down jumpers for goal posts for an impromptu FA Cup Final, or recreated Lord’s in the street outside their home, their games were inevitably fiercely contested. But through the melee, casual onlookers would have no difficulty in detecting which brother was which.
‘Bob knew all the rules,’ Richard recalls. ‘Even when we were in primary school, he’d go down the local sport shop and buy pocket books with all the official rules. And he’d learn them off by heart. ‘Say we were playing cricket and he was bowled out – he’d know some obscure rule about the bowler’s feet which meant that he wasn’t out. If he was caught, he’d quote chapter and verse about the rope or whatever.
‘Bob would always be wicket keeper and we’d always have to keep an eye on him because he’d use his knee to knock the bails off while catching the ball, and then claim he had stumped you. He was only seven or eight at the time and needless to say, he could be quite annoying. But to be honest, I think he’d be exactly the same now.’
As he grew up, Bob Crow didn’t become any less troublesome. Today, as general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, he is a noisy, unabashed militant – some would say a throwback to the days when the British economy was brought to its knees by the kind of strike action that closed the country’s schools last week. Bob says his confrontational style of politics, regularly displayed in disputes involving London’s Tube drivers, can be attributed to his father, George – a docker who later became a union convenor at Ford’s huge Dagenham plant – and his working-class upbringing in Hainault, Essex, in the Sixties.
Yet this same background formed Richard, who shares the same stocky features, but is vastly different to his brother in almost every other regard. While Bob is a card-carrying communist who rents his house because he disagrees with private property, Richard, 53, is an ivestor-trader who lives in a spacious four-bedroom house in leafy Buckinghamshire. He is as far to the Right as Bob is to the Left and is anti-trade union, loathing their willingness to strike.
Bob has said they are ‘chalk and cheese’, and Richard cheerfully agrees when I visit him at the immaculate home he shares with his wife, Karen, and two Persian cats, Thomas and Lolly. He is in a weelchairafter breaking his back in a road accident at the age of 19. At first he seems strikingly similar to his younger sibling. It is only when he starts speaking that it becomes clear Richard, a keen bird-watcher, is much softer than the pugnacious Bob, with an appealing, ever-present twinkle in his eye. ‘If me and Bob get together, we’ll talk about football, sport and life in general,’ he explains. ‘We get on until it comes to politics and unions. ‘As soon as we talk about that, we clash. I don’t do unions. I tell him, “You don’t like the boys in the City but they’re the ones running your pensions”. ‘Sometimes I tell him he’s talking codswallop. Bob knows I disagree with his views. The Press always say Bob is loony Left – I think I’m realistic Right. I do think he genuinely believes in what he says, but he’s extreme. We have heated debates – well, he’ll be a bit loud – but we always walk away as friends: after all, family is family.’