Charles Bronson is also the UK's most infamous prisoner, although he is not the same Charles Bronson as... well, Charles Bronson
. He was born Michael Peterson in Wales and led a placid childhood, although after his family moved to Merseyside
in his late teenage years he fell in with a bad crowd, and started an alternative career as a bare knuckle boxer and circus strongman
. He changed his name to Charles Bronson - then famous for 'The Dirty Dozen
', 'The Great Escape
' and 'Once Upon a Time in the West
', as this was several years before Death Wish
- and grew a handlebar moustache
But Bronson had a temper, and in 1968 prison beckoned, with a charge of criminal damage. With the exception of 124 days of freedom, Bronson has been in prison since 1974. In America, home of the 1,000-year sentence, this is not exceptional, but in Britain it makes him one of the longest-serving prisoners in the country, certainly the longest-serving non-murderer. In that time he has committed more offences in prison than on the outside, and has spent 24 years in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, in over 100 different prisons. If his temper could be tempered he would make an ideal soldier, or timebomb. Or a submariner, or sniper, or any job that involves a mixture of almost total isolation and extreme violence.
In 1974 he was jailed for seven years for armed robbery, although he exhibited behavioural problems - he kept attacking people - and was certified in 1978 and moved to Broadmoor, Britain's most infamous jail, an institution reserved for the criminally insane. Bronson's life took a turn for the worse after that, and although he was moved from Broadmoor in 1981 his sentence was extended by four years for assault, property damage, and a rooftop protest at the conditions in the prison. He was shifted around the prison network incessantly, but nonetheless in 1987 he was released, a free man. For 69 days.
After that he was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery, for which he pleaded guilty, and sentenced to another seven years in prison. He was again released in 1992, despite having taken a guard hostage in 1990. After being free for 55 days he was again arrested for armed robbery and possession of an illegal firearm, and sentenced for eight years this time.
And this was the end of Bronson's freedom. He took hostages again in 1993, 1994, 1996 (four people in one year, one of whom he threatened to eat), and 1998. In 1996 he assaulted the governor of High Down prison, and all of his sieges resulted in damage to prison property. The upshot of these hostage-takings were two extra 7-year sentences and eventually life imprisonment. Assuming all goes well, Bronson will not be eligible for parole until 2010.
Bronson is a cult figure, a peculiar one. He is like Wesley Willis in some respects - his consistency and lunatic persistence. And he is unlike him in many other respects. Physically Bronson is undoubtedly a strong man; even in his fifties he looks like somebody who has done hard manual work throughout his life. Although the conditions in which he has been imprisoned are deplorable, there is no doubt about the legality of his imprisonment; he pleaded guilty to his crimes and there have been no claims that he was framed.
His website reveals that he is very much an old-fashioned British gangster; sentimental, conservative, a good egg, albeit an exceptionally violent one who has threatened people with death, and caused at least one hostage to undergo a nervous breakdown. He ran a charitable fund which donated £1,000 to Winnie Johnson, mother of one of the victims of the Moors Murderers. The conditions in which he has been kept - mostly solitary confinement - have removed all hope that he might one day be integrated with society, and most of his hostage-takings have resulted in him doing more harm to himself than to his hostages.
And in a bizarre move, Bronson is a happily married man, albeit with unconventional sleeping arrangements (his wife sleeps in a bed; he sleeps on a concrete block in a high security prison, many miles away). In July 2001 he married Saira Rehman, a lady from Bangladesh who had been brought to the UK for an arranged marriage which had turned sour. Bronson now goes by the name of Ali Charles Ahmed, although he will always be 'Charles Bronson'.
As for his day-to-day life, he listens to the radio. He reads and writes books. His autobiography, 'Silent Scream', was published in 1998, whilst a second book, 'Solitary Fitness' (which instructs the reader on how to keep at a peak of physical perfection whilst confined to a 12"x9" cell for 23 hours a day), was released in 2002. He paints strange, abstract watercolours, and cartoons, and that is what his life consists of.
As with Michael Jackson, King of Pop, and General Sir Mike Jackson KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen of the British army, Bronson also exists to confuse computer-generated entertainment/news portals, which frequently combine filmographies of the actor with news of the convict, to confusing and surreal effect. This is much less of a problem now that Charles 'Charles Bronson' Bronson has passed away, but the possiblity for confusion is still there (so far, no-one has named himself after Charles Bronson the convict).