BBC One’s The Gold: the incredible true story behind the real Brink’s-Mat Robbery

 (BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)
(BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

With its star-studded cast and heist-themed plot, BBC show The Gold has already been garnering a fair amount of interest ahead of its launch on February 12.

The events in the show were actually based on an infamous real-life crime dubbed the Brink’s-Mat robbery. In it, a staggering £26m in gold and uncut diamonds was stolen from a London bank, but despite the high-profile nature of the theft, only three people were ever jailed for it, and most of the money was never recovered.

With the TV show shaping up to tell the story in full, here’s everything you need to know...

What was the Brink’s-Mat Robbery?

The Brink’s-Mat Robbery, or Brink’s-Mat Bullion Heist, has arguably shaped the world of crime to this day. Taking place on November 26, 1981, six armed men from south London broke into the Brink’s-Mat warehouse (owned by the now-defunct Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd) in Heathrow for what one detective working the case dubbed a “a typical Old Kent Road armed robbery”.

The team – led by Mickey McAdams and Brian Robinson – were expecting to find £3m in cash. Instead, they stumbled upon a staggering £26m in gold bullion and diamonds instead: 6,800 gold bars and £100,000 worth of uncut diamonds.

What started as a straightforward heist quickly became a mission to liquidate the gold and diamonds before the police managed to track them down. It took them two hours to load all the gold into a getaway van and they made their escape at 8.15am; 15 minutes later, a guard raised the alarm but the team were already gone.

After the robbery

The next big challenge was finding a way to dispose of the gold in a way that wouldn’t be traced back to them, and by all accounts they succeeded. Two days after the robbery, police were called to Somerset as some locals had spotted a crucible being operated in a neighbour’s back garden; however, the police failed to follow up on the tip-off and it was never definitively linked to the crime.

It later transpired that one of the thieves recruited a fellow underworld figure named Kenneth Noye to dispose of the gold, which he did by smelting it with copper to disguise the purity of the original bullion. However, he was eventually informed upon and when police officer DC John Fordham entered his garden to investigate, Noye shot him dead.

Though Noye was – incredibly – found not guilty for the shooting, he was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in the Brink’s-Mat robbery, in 1986.

Alongside Noye, two others were eventually jailed for their involvement in the robbery: in 1984, Mickey McAvoy was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for armed robbery, while the security guard who had tipped them off, Anthony Black, was hit with six years.

What impact did the robbery have on the UK?

Despite the police’s best efforts, much of the gold was never recovered. Though McAvoy tried to strike a deal to give back his share of the money in exchange for a reduced sentence, the deal fell through when it emerged that he’d managed to offload much of it, and he was eventually released from prison in 2000.

Most of it actually re-entered the gold market after being sold on by the criminals involved. Today, popular legend has it that anybody who bought jewellery after 1996 is likely wearing Brink’s-Mat bullion.

However, the biggest impact of the robbery was arguably on the way the police viewed crime in the UK going forward: it exposed the workings of the British underworld and revealed just how sophisticated money laundering operations in the UK actually were. Given that the stolen gold likely also went onto finance the UK’s property market and burgeoning drug trade, ramifications from the robbery are still being felt today.

How much of this will we see in the adaptation?

The makers of the show have clearly done their research: The Gold is the result of years of research and interviews with those involved in the initial heist.

Though much of the plot is yet to be revealed, the show’s synopsis promises a faithful retelling of the “crime of the century”; indeed, Hugh Bonneville actually met the real Brian Boyce for the role.

“He took me through the story of his policing life which led to him being given charge of this particular operation. It’s been documented elsewhere that there was a significant amount of corruption in the police throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – but Boyce was clearly a man who was not going to be corrupted, which is why he was trusted by both the Security Forces and by those high up in the establishment,” Bonneville says.

“I often think about characters in terms of their pulse rate and one of the main things I took away from my meeting with him was that he has a slow pulse, a calm pulse. He’s a man who considers, reflects and he’s a good delegator.”

The synopsis states that the show was “inspired by extensive research and interviews with some of those involved in the events, The Gold is a pulsating dramatisation which takes a journey into a 1980s world awash with cheap money and loosened morals to tell this extraordinary and epic story for the first time in its entirety."

According to the synopsis, the show will also focus on the aftermath of the heist: as it explains, “the disposal of the bullion caused the birth of large-scale international money laundering, provided the dirty money that helped fuel the London Docklands property boom, united blue and white collar criminals and left controversy and murder in its wake.”

Gripping stuff- and it’s been adapted by Scottish writer Neil Forsyth, who created the recent Mark Bonnar drama Guilt (and also wrote the hit film Eric, Ernie and Me, about comedy duo Morecambe & Wise).

What have the cast and crew said about the show?

The show’s cast have been open about how little they knew about the Brink’s-Matt Robbery before beginning the show.

“Funnily enough, I grew up in South London and I have no recollection of this robbery although many, many people of my age do,” Dominic Cooper says. “I read a lot about it to prepare for the role and couldn’t believe this hasn’t been made before, quite frankly.”

“What I found particularly enjoyable was revisiting a story that I thought I knew. When it first came up I thought ‘Oh yes, that was that robbery in west London’ and ‘they got more gold than anyone’s ever got before’,” adds Hugh Bonneville. “But what I hadn’t realised was the surprise of it, that they really didn’t realise they were going to be coming across the amount of gold that they did.”

“There’s a fascinating thing of the amateurs, if you like, trying to become professional very, very quickly... the sheer audacity of what they do is extraordinary. “

Bonneville is also keen to emphasise the sheer scale of the show. “The Gold was a really big production. We had well over a hundred characters several different storylines buzzing at once. On set and bringing it to life was a miracle of organisation, so hats off to the production team and logistics and locations and everybody else,” he says.

Charlotte Spencer (who plays new character Nikki Jennings) agrees. “ I love the eighties look, particularly the amazing power suits!” she says. “The set design completely immerses you into the world, which is helpful as I was born in the nineties! I’m a little bit obsessed with the wired phones - I kept picking them up, and pretending, like a child, to talk on them like I’m at playschool because I just love them so much.”

“1980s London will be forever intoxicating and attractive,” Jack Lowden agrees. “It’s never not fun to dip back into that and the ridiculousness of the time. But also, I think it’s important that people get to see that some of the Docklands came from dodgy money. And the real horrible underbelly that that period had, a real ugliness that came with all the flamboyance. I think it’s very important to be reminded of that because there were some pretty horrible things done.”

Who is starring in the show?

Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye (BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)
Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye (BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

The Gold has an all-star cast of actors playing the criminals and hapless police officers.

Hugh Bonneville will be taking the lead as Brian Boyce, who was the head of the Scotland Yard investigation into the robbery. On the other side of the tracks, Jack Lowden is Kenneth Noye and Dominic Cooper will be playing dodgy lawyer Edwyn Cooper, while the role of Mickey McAdams will be going to Adam Nagaitis.

Joining them are Charlotte Spencer as Nicki Jennings (a character inspired by one of the criminals), Tom Cullen as John Palmer (a local jeweller who becomes involved with the crime) and Emun Elliot as Tony Brightwell.

The Gold itself has been directed by the Academy Award-winner director Aneil Karia (who also directed The Long Goodbye) and Lawrence Gough.

When can you watch The Gold?

The first episode of The Gold will air on BBC One on February 12.