Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Great Train Robbery remembered

It's a delicious irony that on the very day that Ronnie Biggs, most famous of the Great Train Robbers, died aged 84, the BBC should screen the first part of its drama about the 'Crime of the Century' in 1963. As a teenager this, along with the Profumo Affair and the assassination of President Kennedy, was the biggest news event of the era. Even though the train driver was badly hurt, the robbers were regarded as heroes for getting away with £2.6 million, at a time when a million really was a million.
Bruce Reynolds, Buster Edwards, Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson, Ronnie Biggs and the rest were household names, and many people, me included, were shocked at the length of their sentences when they were caught. 30 years in prison seemed a hell of a long time for men who seemed to be putting two fingers up to the Establishment. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, most people wanted them to get away with it. And when Ronnie Biggs, who played a fairly minor role in the escapade, escaped from Wandsworth prison many people were delighted.
He went initially to Australia and then to Rio, where he lived the life of a celebrity for 30 years, with
the best efforts of  'Slipper of the Yard' failing to arrange his extradition. The high, or low, point, depending on your view, was when the remnants of the Sex Pistols, after Johnny Rotten had left and Sid Vicious had self-destructed, recorded No One Is Innocent and Belsen Was A Gas, which were included, appropriately enough, on the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle album. No One Is Innocent reached the UK top ten, despite its dubious quality. Ronnie eventually came back to the UK and continued his prison sentence, before being released on compassionate grounds. He was never a hero perhaps, but he was certainly a personality and an infamous one at that.


At 10:15 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Incidentally, I noticed at least two errors in the BBC drama and I suspect there were more besides. In the opening sequence, set in 1962, the Jaguar car bore an A number plate, but these weren't introduced until 1963. Later Bruce Reynolds cleaned the top part of the blackboard when he was outlining plans for the robbery, but a moment later the board was uncleaned. Maybe I'm getting picky!

At 1:13 am , Anonymous Bill Haynes said...

Car registrations were
A 63 B 64 C 65

Was La La La La Stevie Wonder track opening sequence Coppers Story first time on air anywhere ? Taken from same live album that Fingertips was taken for 1963 release. La La La La great favourite La Discotheque Peckham in 63. Bill Haynes

At 9:08 am , Blogger Nick said...

The bit of the programme I was referring to re the number plates was right at the beginning - the BOAC robbery which was stated as being in 1962 - ie before the A plates were released. There were a few other incorrect bits, like single track railway lines being shown for example on the West Coast main line. But overall I thought both parts of the programme were excellent. La la la la la was never released as a single in the UK although it was on the Live The 12 Year Old Genius LP on Oriole. A great little known track. In fact the background music was excellent throughout - Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come at the end particularly poignant I thought.


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