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.