Today’s big news story is the death of Ronald Biggs, who was made famous by the ‘Great Train Robbery’ in 1963.
Like so many crimes and criminals from the Sixties (think the Kray twins in particular), this was sensationalised, glamourised and sentimentalised by the press, films, books, and Biggs’s own subsequent escape from prison and ‘high life’ in Brazil, until it was virtually unrecognisable. In reality, there wasn’t much that was great about the robbery. Yes, the gang got away with a staggering amount of money, but that was pure accident; they were expecting a lot less. In all other ways it was a typical blagging: nasty, brutish, but not particularly short. Biggs’s biographer was interviewed this morning on BBC Breakfast and said it “wasn’t particularly violent for the times”. Hmm. Try telling that to the train driver, who was so badly beaten he never worked again.
Great timing on Biggs’s part, though, if you’ll forgive a sudden injection of gallows humour. He died the very day before the BBC air a two-part dramatization of both the robbery, and the subsequent police case against it. For a man who spent most of his adult life milking publicity, that’s quite a coup.