HE was Glasgow’s equivalent of Don Corleone, the fictional New York crime godfather immortalised in his portrayal by Marlon Brando.
Once, when giving evidence at the High Court in Glasgow, Arthur Thompson even joked about speaking with cotton wool in his mouth – a technique Brando used to sound like a mob boss.
For more than 30 years – until his death in 1993 – Thompson ruled Glasgow’s criminal underworld with an iron fist through his interests in extortion, money lending, illegal casinos, robbery, and drugs.
Although Thompson wasn’t a tall man, he was powerfully built with a chilling stare that could terrify both friend and foe alike.
One of his main sources of income over the years was providing “protection” to pubs in the city.
He is known to have blown up a pub and social club after one owner refused to comply.
In the 1960s, his wife Rita was employed as a singer, with one pub paying a fee of £200 for each performance – the equivalent of £4000 in today’s money.
However, Rita never sang a note. It was just a way for the terrified owner to pay protection to Thompson. At one time, he had at least 20 pubs in Glasgow paying him £4000 each week.
Beatings and slashings were routinely inflicted on anyone who failed to pay up.
Thompson himself had been known for punishing enemies or bad debtors by nailing their hands and feet to the floor crucifixion-style.
One retired publican said: “To stop trouble all the landlord or bar manager in one of those pubs needed to say was, ‘This is Arthur Thompson’s place’.”
Arthur was also involved in legitimate enterprises such as pubs, demolition, corner shops, garages, and carpet showrooms to keep his assets hidden.
As his power and wealth grew, so did his influence.
In the early 1960s, Thompson became close allies of notorious London gangsters The Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie – so much so, they are reputed to have come up to Glasgow to seek his advice on a plan to take over The Beatles from their manager Brian Epstein.
However, Thompson said the pair’s reputation would damage the band’s career. As a result the takeover never took place.
He was friendly with another legendary London gangster too – “Mad” Frankie Fraser.
Fraser, now dead, once recalled: “Down south, we viewed Glasgow as the Wild West. The violence was on a much, much higher level.
“So the person in charge would have to have been something very special, and Arthur was certainly that.”
It was RUMOURED that Thompson was involved in the 1963 Great Train robbery when £2.6 million (equivalent to around £30m now) was stolen from the Glasgow to London mail train.
During his trips to London he’d become friends with one of the ring leaders, Buster Edwards, who would later attend the funeral of Arthur’s murdered son, Arthur Jr.
When fellow gang member Ronnie Biggs was asked shortly before his death in 2013 if Arthur was involved in the robbery, Biggs replied cryptically: “I might be dying but I’m not a grass.”
By 1966, Arthur Thompson was all-powerful in Glasgow.
He even threatened to bomb the homes of two off-duty police officers after they saw him kill two men in Royston Road, Glasgow, in May that year.
Joe Jackson was with his older brother John when they saw Thompson, in his top-of-the-range Jaguar, force a van into a lamp post, killing the occupants, James Goldie and Patrick Welsh. Both men were bitter rivals of Thompson.
The young Detective Constable got out his own car and ran to a nearby petrol station to phone the emergency services, where he also found Thompson who then sped off.
Two weeks later Joe learned of Thompson’s plans to blow up both his and John’s homes in Glasgow.
As a result, they were given a police guard and their families moved to safety.
Thompson later gave a personal undertaking to the police that he would not harm the two officers.
Three months later, Thompson narrowly escaped death when he was in a car that exploded outside his house. Arthur survived the bomb attack but his mother-in-law Margaret Johnstone was killed outright.
Brothers Martin, George and Henry Welsh, 24, were charged with murdering Margaret and attempting to kill Arthur in the revenge attack.
Thompson in turn was accused of the culpable homicide of Goldie and Welsh.
In dramatic scenes, Thompson and the Welshes both stood trial at the same time at the High Court in Glasgow.
Thompson received a not proven verdict, despite the eyewitness accounts of Joe and his brother.
He then walked the few yards from one court to another to give evidence in the Welshes’ murder trial. In time-honoured tradition, Thompson failed to speak out against the brothers and they were cleared of all charges.
The young cop rose through the ranks to become head of the Strathclyde Police Serious Crime Squad and retired at the rank of Detective Superintendent in 1992.
Joe, aged 80 at the time said: “As far as I was concerned what my brother and I saw that night was murder.
“Thompson’s name was enough to strike fear into anyone who crossed him.
“He was a very violent, ruthless, clever criminal and a real nasty piece of work.
“The eyewitnesses who did not speak up at the trial were not bad people, they were just terrified of Thompson and what he might do to them.”
In 1988, Thompson had another lucky escape when he was shot in the groin in a demolition yard he owned in the East End of Glasgow. The gunman, an IRA hitman, had been hired by a rival to kill him.
Thompson signed into a private clinic in the West End of Glasgow and told police the injury was caused by a broken drill bit. At an identification parade he refused to identify the IRA suspect.
The gangster was always the same dealing with the police.
Even when his own son was murdered outside his own front door, he ordered his family not to give them statements.
Secret reports on Thompson from the late 1960s made public for the first time by the Scottish Government in 2010 present a chilling portrait of the man.
One police file said: “The overall picture of Thompson is that of a violent, vicious and active criminal who will stop at nothing to uphold his position in the underworld as a hard man and to gain his own ends.”
Thompson lived with his family in Provanmill Road in Provanmill, Glasgow, in a garishly converted council house nicknamed The Ponderosa, after the 1960s cowboy TV series Bonanza.
It was rumoured to be fitted out with secret passages, hiding spots, and its own underground tunnel.
Another measure of his influence came after his son Arthur Thompson Jr was jailed for 11 years in 1985 for drug dealing.
The Godfather was able to use his prison contacts to have steaks, alcohol and chocolate delivered to him each day in his cell.
Arthur also enjoyed hobnobbing with celebrities.
In his 2009 autobiography, legendary Scottish football commentator Archie Macpherson revealed he was paid up to £500 a time in the early 1980s to host events organised by Thompson.
On one occasion, the then BBC broadcaster accompanied Thompson to an underworld pub in London.
McPherson wrote: “It was straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie and was full of cockney hardmen.
“But when I was with Thompson I was safe and I could have had anything in the pub that I wanted that night.”
In August 1991, Arthur Jr, 31, was shot dead outside the family home while on weekend leave from prison. On the day of his funeral a month later, the bodies of Joe Hanlon and Bobby Glover were discovered outside the Cottage Bar, a pub they used in Shettleston, Glasgow.
Thompson suspected both men of being involved in his son’s murder and is said to have paid a hitman £20,000 to execute them.
Legend has it that the crime boss later viewed the bodies and shot both men in the chest with another gun.
A few days after the double murder, armed police raided his Ponderosa home looking for evidence but nothing was found.
Friends of Thompson say he was never the same after young Arthur’s death.
He gave evidence against the man accused of his son’s murder, Paul Ferris, in 1992 at the High Court in Glasgow.
However, Ferris was found not guilty of all charges in June that year after the longest-running murder trial in Scottish legal history.
Nine months later Thompson died in his bed from a heart attack.
It was the end of an astonishing era. No one man had dominated organised crime in the city quite like Arthur Thompson – and no one man ever would