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Movie Review - A Tale of Two Thieves - The Great British Train Robbery (2014)

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This film consists principally of an interview with Gordon Goody, one of the robbers responsible for the Great British Train Robbery in August of 1963.  Although the interview is totally in the first person, this review tells the story in the third person.  The interviewed investigators who helped to unmask the leader of the crime are also portrayed in the third person.



                                                                Train - Wikimedia

Gordon Goody

Gordon Goody is now 84 years old and has served time for his many offenses over the years.  In the film, he related the story of something he and fourteen others did fifty years ago.  The heist netted the perpetrators an amount which would be the equivalent of 85 million pounds today.

Gordon Goody claimed to be just an ordinary thief, not a gangster.  He never looked for fame as a criminal.  Because he was very tall with blond hair and blue eyes, he knew that he stood out in a crowd, and would easily be picked out in a lineup.  Gordon was born in London but moved with his parents to Ireland when he was two days old.  He has no idea what made him go down the criminal road he pursued, but he and a friend stole chickens when they were children.

Gordon never had any sort of training, but his father wanted him to be a plumber.  Gordon wanted to be a burglar.  He and his father had serious problems, so he left home.  His mother would bring him food and give him money.  At one meeting with his mother on Putney Bridge, his father drove there and said “I want you to come home.”  He did go home, and from that day on, he and his father had a great relationship.

Gordon joined the Merchant Navy where he was given a Seaman’s book, which would give him free passage anywhere in the world.  He was then vested for a life of crime.  He had three or four years of stealing everything in the West End.  The Black Market was thriving; merchant transactions were paid in cash.  It was not a regular work week; a job might come up every six weeks or so.

Martin Young, P.I.

Martin Young, a private investigator, was interviewed concerning the Ulsterman, the mastermind behind the famous heist, who provided Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards with inside knowledge of the postal service.  Without the Ulsterman, The Great British Train Robbery would not have been possible.  The trains had made thousands of jobs without any mishaps; it was thought that it might possibly have been an inside job.

Gordon’s First Prison Term

On an earlier job, Gordon and a lay-about named Jimmy the Yank had robbed a firm and were immediately caught.  They even took away his Seaman’s book.  A friend told him he could get it back for him for 800 quid.  Gordon was sent to Wormwood Scrubs Prison in London for 21 months.  He noted that the first time in prison was quite a shock.  He was beaten by the screws (the guards) who were mostly ex-military men.  It did not stop him; he continued on with his thievery.

Gordon met Buster Edwards at a Sammy Davis Show at the Palladium.  He met Bruce Reynolds, a train robber, around that time also.  Bruce was not a violent man; he used stealth.  He was part of a country house gang.  The men thought they could do anything.  They succeeded in stealing $70,000 in an armored car robbery in Chelsea.


Heathrow Airport

                                                     Heathrow Airport - Wikimedia

The Heathrow Robbery

Charlie Wilson joined them for the Heathrow robbery.  They also hired two getaway drivers for the heist.  $400,000 in wage packets was being transferred from a bank over to Heathrow.  The men could see the van being loaded.  They used bolt cutters to access the wage packets.  Bruce and the others carried the money away.  Even though he had died his hair for the Heathrow job, Gordon was identified by a security guard.  He had left his Donegal hat behind him also.  A stranger told him that for 2900 quid, he would trade Gordon’s hat for a much bigger one.  The hat he tried on in court was three sizes too big.  The case collapsed.

Planning the Train Robbery

Gordon said there were no leaders in the train gang.  They were just a group of determined thieves.  His concern was how to stop a train and where to do it.  They got involved with a group of thieves known as the South London group.  They all realized that they could only stop the train at Sears Crossing.  Gordon looked for a hideout.  A farm house nearby was for sale for 500 pounds.  They came up with the money among themselves.

Their plan worked perfectly.  The train slowed down at the bridge and stopped.  The windows were broken with an axe, and the engineer was overpowered.  They were able to remove 120 sacks of money from the train.  At the farm house, Gordon stayed awake all night long to protect the sacks of money.


Site of the Great British Train Robbery

              Site of the Great British Train Robbery - Attribution: Rob Farrow - Wikimedia

Gordon Identified the Ulsterman

Gordon had to pay the Ulsterman 200,000 pounds.  Everything he told them was right.  Gordon found out who he was.  Only Buster and he knew.  The Irishman didn’t want anyone else to know who he was.  Gordon kept him away from the others involved.  Gordon and Buster had met him earlier in Kensington Gardens.  When he went to get some ice cream, the Ulsterman’s coat was lying on the floor and his glasses packet fell out with his name on it.  The name was Patrick McKenna.

Martin Young, the P.I., had hired a female social worker, Ariel Bruce, who was a tracer of missing persons.  They learned that somebody had joined the train at Carlyle, was involved in the heist and had an Irish connection.  He was never on anyone’s radar.  They narrowed their candidates down from 152 to 1.

Confirmation of the Identity of the Ulsterman

Ariel Bruce related that there were originally two men in Ireland they wanted to look at, one was Peter, the other was Patrick.  The second one was Patrick McKenna.  He fitted the age they had surmised, and he was born in Belfast.  He was employed by the post office.  The postal service had eight people named Patrick McKenna.  One of those was married in 1949 and lived about 12 minutes from Finsbury Park.

Gordon Goody had met the Ulsterman in Finsbury Park.  He said that the man he met was probably in his late forties or fifties at the time.  He disappeared with the money Gordon gave him.

The Robbers are Sentenced to 30 Years

The mailbags at the farm proved that the farm had been their hideout.  In retrospect, they felt that they should have burned the place down.  Gordon was convicted because yellow paint was found on the sole of his shoe and on the pedal of the jeep, which Gordon did not drive.  The judge sent the men away for 30 years. 


Prison Bars

                                                               Prison Bars - Wikimedia

Rationale for the Heist

Ariel Bruce continued on about her research.  Patrick McKenna was a family man, who married and lived in Manchester.  He worked at the post office in Manchester.  The information about the train had come from the Manchester post office.  McKenna was a very religious man who went to church every week.  He retired with a bad heart when he was 74.  He passed away in 1995.  There is no money in the family profile; no conspicuous wealth.  It was surmised that Patrick McKenna may have given his share of the money to the church.

The reasoning was that there was anger among the post office staff because they were not protected; there were no internal telephones if they needed to report trouble.  Perhaps Patrick McKenna wanted to teach the post office a lesson.

Gordon is 100% Certain

Martin Young and Ariel Bruce showed Gordon the most recent pictures they had of McKenna.  Gordon said “I’d give you a 99.”  He said that for the sake of the man’s family, who saw their father as a church-going family man, he wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.  “But it is 100%,” he said.

Gordon related that he has had a happy life.  He is now married to a good woman and they live in Spain.  He was happy to contribute to the solution to the identity of the mysterious and elusive Ulsterman, who enabled The Great British Train Robbery.

The Great Train Robbery: The Untold Story from the Closed Investigation Files
Amazon Price: $17.95 $2.83 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 24, 2016)


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