Gold Robbers (The) (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (8th December 2010).
The Show

The Gold Robbers (LWT, 1969)

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Produced for LWT in 1969, the thirteen part series The Gold Robbers takes its premise from the 1963 Great Train Robbery: one of the series’ technical advisers was Arthur Butler, a former Detective Chief Superintendent who worked on the Great Train Robbery investigation (see Hayward, 2003: np). The first episode, ‘The Great Bullion Robbery’, begins with a wordless ten minute-long sequence depicting the preparations for, and execution of, the airfield bullion robbery that becomes the locus for the investigation depicted in the episodes that follow. This near-silent sequence shows the preparations for the robbery being carried out silently, the robbery itself (depicted in a montage that emphasises the efficient organisation behind the attack – like the armed robbery that takes place midway through Michael Tuchner’s Villain, 1971) seeming almost like an act of guerrilla warfare. A realistic tone is set by the languorous opening shots, which depict a van being given a police escort through the dreary British countryside.

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Subsequent episodes revolve around the investigation into the robbery, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Cradock – played by the great Peter Vaughan. With each episode, Cradock peels away a layer of the conspiracy, revealing the complexity of the relationships between the various people involved in the crime.

Although it is strange to see Vaughan as a police officer, considering his association, in his post-1970s career, with characters on the other side of the law (in particular, Harry ‘Grouty’ Grout in Porridge, BBC 1974-7), Vaughan’s performance in The Gold Robbers highlights what The Encyclopedia of British Film states is ‘his bulky frame [which] can suggest menace, as well as solid dependability’ (Mellor, 2003). Here, Vaughan presents Cradock as a complex man, an authority figure who is an independent thinker – almost to the point of being insolent – but who is also charming and personable enough to persuade reluctant witnesses to offer evidence: in the second episode, ‘Grounded’, Cradock coaxes information about the bullion robbery from Sally Hartford (Sally Thomsett), a reticent and sickly young girl who witnessed the crime.

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Cradock is a forward thinker, critical of traditional police methods; his comments throughout the series are direct in their criticism of the hegemony in relation to the police force’s methodologies. Cradock is not alone: in the first episode, the chief constable who passes responsibility for solving the crime onto Cradock declares ‘Trouble is, the system’s wrong; years out of date’. Later, during the investigation Cradock is interrupted by a senior politician’s demand that Cradock consult him. Cradock attends the meeting with the politician, who tells Cradock that the gold that was stolen represented ‘almost the whole gold reserve’ of Tunisia. In the car on the way back, Vaughan reflects on his meeting with the minister, asserting, ‘Bastards. That’s what they are: supercilious, toffee-nosed bastards [….] When I die and go to heaven [….] I’ll have only one regret: that I had to be part of the system. Oh, damn that top brass, they tarnish it’. In scenes such as this, Cradock has something of the anti-establishment appeal of contemporaneous characters such as Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) in The Ipcress File (Sidney Furie, 1965).

Cradock is also unpretentious about the nature of policework, telling the minister matter-of-factly that ‘My job’s to catch the villains [….] May not get all your gold back for you, but I’ll catch the men who stole it’. When asked ‘What does make a good policeman?’, Vaughan replies, ‘Well, I always think it’s rather like a Bassett hound. I mean, wouldn’t you think a Bassett’s the damned, silly animal to hunt hares with: a great big, round, yellow and white sausage with tiny legs; noise you can hear two miles way, maximum speed four miles an hour. It’s a joke. It’s like trying to hunt professional criminals with a bunch of large men in boots. I mean, any school kid can tell you they’re coppers at fifty yards, whatever clothes they wear. And as well as that, they go around in great big white cars, with flashing lights and wireless sets, and “Police” plastered all over them. But the old Bassett, he just goes on and on and on, until the hare packs it in out of sheer exhaustion – just like crooks. Persistence, thoroughness, organisation. That’s what makes a good policeman, and a good nose for the scent’. His character also voices criticisms of the romantic myths associated with criminals; we might infer that this aspect of the series was intended as a critique of the ways in which the group of criminals responsible for the Great Train Robbery were, by some quarters, glamourised as Robin Hood-style folk heroes. In a television interview, Cradock asserts that ‘There was nothing romantic or brave about this robbery. It was carried out by ruthless, brutal criminals. Now I’m paid to catch those criminals, but I won’t do it without the help and co-operation of the general public’. Later, Cradock earns the trust of Sally Hartford with his patience and candour, and when she suggests that the robbers ‘must have been jolly clever, and brave’, Cradock corrects her by asserting: ‘Clever, yes. Brave, no. They sprayed ammonia over everyone. They tripped and jerked a motorcyclist off his bike with a wire. There’s nothing brave about what they’ve done, Sally: they’re cruel, wicked men’.

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In the series’ dogged focus on Cradock’s investigation, The Gold Robbers has something of the ‘cinema of process’ to it, and this – combined with the sometimes noir-ish monochrome photography – makes the series subtly reminiscent of continental policiers of the 1960s, including Jean-Pierre Melville’s low-key thrillers Le Doulos (1962) and Le deuxième souffle (1965). This is underscored by The Gold Robbers’ jazzy score and its reflective, meaningful dialogue (in ‘Grounded’, Joss Ackland’s Derek Hartford asserts, ‘Good old England, land of no freedom, no glory, no appreciation; taxed out of existence’).

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Disc One:
‘The Great Bullion Robbery’ (50:55)
‘Grounded’ (50:01)
‘Crack Shot’ (52:14)
‘The Big Spender’ (52:15)

Disc Two:
‘Dog Eat Dog’ (51:54)
‘Rough Trade’ (51:26)
‘The Odd Honest Man’ (52:44)
‘The Arrangement’ (52:35)

Disc Three:
‘Account Rendered’ (49:55)
‘The Cover Plan’ (51:13)
‘The Midas Touch’ (50:32)
‘The Man With Two Faces’ (51:38)

Disc Four:
‘The Kill’ (51:08)
Special Features:
‘The End of the Game’ (97:48)
Image Gallery (7:28)

Video

The series is presented in its original broadcast screen ratio of 1.33:1. Shot in monochrome, the series was recorded predominantly on video, with some filmed (16mm) location inserts – including the carefully-choreographed and remarkably well-shot robbery that opens the first episode.

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There is some minor tape damage throughout the episodes – but nothing that should hamper a viewer’s enjoyment of the series.

The original break bumpers are intact.

Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel mono track. This is very clear and crisp.

There are no subtitles.

Extras

The final disc contains a feature-length re-edit of the final two episodes (‘The End of the Game’ (97:48) and a gallery of images from the production of the series (7:28).

Overall

Held together by a great performance from Peter Vaughan, as the mildly anti-establishment Cradock, The Gold Robbers also benefits from a noir-ish tone and some very strong writing. The series features a number of recognisable faces, from George Cole to Peter Bowles. Sadly apparently little-seen since its first broadcast, The Gold Robbers is a truly excellent series that gets a commendable DVD release from Network.

Please note that this release is a web exclusive, available only from Network’s website.


References:
Hayward, Anthony, 2003: ‘John Hawkesworth’. The Independent (25 October, 2003). [Online.] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-hawkesworth-548975.html

Mellor, Roger Phillip: ‘Peter Vaughan’. In: McFarlane, Brian (ed), 2003: The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: Methuen


For more information, please visit the homepage of Network DVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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