Today, the Daily Mail’s tedious and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn is reminiscing, something not unknown to his unfortunate readers. The subject, though, is a little off-beat for the Dacre hackery, because Dick has shown a fondness towards the criminals of the past. Because, he tells, crims today aren’t a patch on those of half a century ago.
So we get the obligatory reference not just to the Kray twins, but also an acknowledgement that Littlejohn once saw the Monty Python send up of them – The Piranha Brothers – so he talks of “nailing people’s heads to coffee tables”. Maybe Dick is unaware of the ability of today’s organised criminality to be just as violent as Ronnie and Reggie in defending their territory.
But it’s when he gets to the Great Train Robbery that Dick sells the pass: “The Great Train Robbery was like a military operation, carried out with immense precision and chutzpah,” he eulogises, continuing “The robbers may have been violent criminals but they captured the imagination”. I don’t know what planet Littlejohn is on, but here on Earth the robbers were seen as, well, robbers.
And the sheer amateurishness of the heist is the stuff of legend: the rigging up of a rogue red signal meant that Driver Mills of Crewe didn’t see a yellow caution aspect first. So the gang were immensely fortunate that Mills managed to stop his 133 tonne locomotive and its 420 tonnes of mail train. The idea that the robbers mugged up on signal sighting and stopping distances is laughable.
After the mail train stopped came the next amateur moment: the replacement driver, recruited by Ronnie Biggs, had not signed a main line diesel locomotive of any kind, and couldn’t figure out how to get the train moved to where the van was waiting. The coshing of Mills in an attempt to get him to move the train was equally amateurish: Mills never fully recovered.
Even after the van had been loaded, the gang made the mistake of lying low at nearby Leatherslade Farm, instead of getting some distance between themselves and the crime scene. But the robbery did ensure that security was stepped up on mail trains, and when the gang were made an example of at their trial, that was what really captured the imagination.
Littlejohn really ought to do some research once in a while, although I’m sure lounging by that Florida pool is preferable. But his column does have one nugget of information: “Once, the remote barns and lock-ups of Kent and Essex groaned with high-end swag” he tells.
They did? Perhaps Dick could help the Met cold case folks with their enquiries.
Littlejohn glamourising gangsters? Has he become black?
In general, agreed. But while the Train Robbers were a daft bunch of tossers, I'm not sure it's fair to say Mills 'never recovered'. He got better from the bashing, but developed the leukemia (of which bashing is definitely not a recognised cause) that killed him not long afterwards. He was a man of deeply shitty luck, but that's not really the daft bunch of tossers' fault.
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