Who is who in BBC One’s “truly smart British crime drama” The Gold? Our guide to the real life cast
When Happy Valley ended, it felt like nothing would ever be good enough to fill its coveted Sunday night spot. But that was before the BBC released The Gold, its brand new gripping drama.
The six-part miniseries from Neil Forsyth, who also wrote Scottish thriller series Guilt, has been pulling in fantastic reviews all round. The Standard called it: “a truly smart British crime drama with a classic feel and a knockout cast.” Sergeant Cawood who?
The Gold brings views along the thrill-ride which is the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery, Britain’s most famous heist. Six armed-robbers went to steal £1-3 million in cash from a unit in Heathrow, but stumbled on £26 million (about £90 million in today’s money) in gold bullion and uncut diamonds. The disorganised gang then had to work out how to convert their haul into cash, all while racing against the clock with the police hot on their tails.
The thrilling story is not only absolutely true, but is full of the ‘vibrant’ personalities of old school London geezer criminals. To make it even better, all the mayhem is going on against the backdrop of the bold and brash Eighties. Here’s our guide to the real criminals behind the ‘crime of the century’.
Hugh Bonneville as Brian Boyce
Chief Supt. Brian Boyce was the officer in charge of leading the Brink’s-Matt robbery investigation. Born and raised during the years of the war, Boyce joined the army before enlisting as a police officer, and cut his teeth in Brixton before helping to take down the Kray brothers alongside Nipper Reid.
Boyce was renowned throughout the force as a man with a strict code of ethics: who valued honesty and fairness above everything. To that end, when the robbery happened he was hand-picked to lead the team charged with taking those responsible down.
To research for the role, Bonneville actually met with Boyce, who is now in his Eighties, to discuss the robbery. “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. He trusted his team, or needed to trust his team when he couldn’t trust those around him and he kept those he could trust particularly close,” he said.
Interestingly, Boyce went on to become Head of Corporate Security for the Hill Samuel Bank, but in 1995 volunteered to assist with the Macpherson enquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death. Outraged by the poor way in which the initial enquiry had been handled, Boyce went on to personally gather evidence for the case that was eventually used by the Lawrence family to seek justice.
Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye
Kenneth Noye is the closest thing that The Gold has to a villain, and is the person that Micky McAdams turned to, to handle the huge amount of gold bullion stolen from the Brink’s-Mat warehouse. Though Noye officially called himself a “builder from Kent”, he was actually a skilled fence – and had previously been a police informant, before turning to handling stolen goods. Noye, with his underworld connections, figured out a way of processing the gold: by smelting it with copper to disguise its origin, which he did so successfully that most of the gold has never been traced or found.
When undercover police officer John Fordham entered Noye’s property as part of the investigation, Noye stabbed him to death – a crime of which he was later acquitted on the grounds of self-defence, though he was then found guilty for his part in the Brink’s-Mat robbery. After gold bullion was found at his home, he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and ultimately fined £500,000.
Noye later gained notoriety for his murder of Stephen Cameron in 1996, stabbing the motorist after an argument by a motorway slip road in Kent. Noye fled to Spain to avoid imprisonment, but was tracked down, extradited and jailed after a massive police operation in 1999.
Dominic Cooper as Edwyn Cooper
Edwyn Cooper is one of the more morally grey characters in The Gold: a suave lawyer who falls down a well of corruption and easy money. Though he’s not strictly a real-life character, he appears to have been loosely based on Michael Relton, the real-life lawyer who was ultimately convicted of helping to launder money from the robbery.
In the show, Edwyn starts off as a successful solicitor in a legal firm, with a seemingly perfect life and perfect marriage, however that all starts to unravel once he starts working with criminals like Noye in pursuit of money. “I don’t feel sorry for him, I think he’s a fool, but I’m enjoying portraying someone who is given a choice and made a decision. Unlike the other characters, Edwyn is in a lot of different positions – he doesn’t have one focal point so he tries different techniques to get out of the situation he’s in,” Cooper says. “He’s really checkmated and I love that it’s all a lie, yet he’s got a façade of an absolute cool, held together, clever, witty, extravagant man. It’s fun peeling away those layers.”
In real life, Relton was responsible for setting up off-shore accounts and companies, laundering money through Lichtenstein and Jersey. It was through Relton’s deals that money started to flow into the London Docklands, regenerating and ultimately transforming the area into the business hub it is today.
Tom Cullen as John Palmer
John Palmer was one of the two underworld crooks (the other being Kenneth Noye) that the Brink’s-Mat team turned to, to try and fence their stolen wealth.
Originally starting out as a tiler, Palmer eventually founded a gold and jewellery company, Scadlynn Ltd, alongside business partners Garth Chappell and Terence Patch. In her memoir, his wife Marnie describes him as being “in love with cash. Often, with a wry smile, he would hold his earnings up to his face and breathe it in. ‘I love the way it smells,’ he would say.” Two years after the Brink’s-Mat robbery, these same partners were arrested for helping to melt down the gold – but Palmer fled to Tenerife before he could be arrested.
Though he was extradited back to the UK, Palmer managed to avoid a jail sentence by arguing that he wasn’t aware the gold was stolen (he earned the nickname “Goldfinger” as a result of this). After numerous other brushes with the law (and amassing an estimated £300m fortune) Palmer was shot in his Essex home in 2015; nobody has ever been charged with his death.
Charlotte Spencer as Nicki Jennings
Charlotte Spencer’s character Nicki Jennings was created specifically for The Gold, as an amalgamation of several real-life women working on the case at the time. Described as coming from a working-class background, Jennings’ father was a career criminal on whom she turned her back when she joined the force. She works in the Flying Squad, a branch of the Serious and Organised Crime Command unit in the Police Force. “There were actually lots of women in the Flying Squad because, as women, they were least suspected when on surveillance,” Spencer says; despite this, her character has to contend with the rampant sexism present in the force at the time.
“What I found the most difficult about playing Jennings is that I find a lot, women come in and play a feisty character, and in doing so they try and emulate men,” Spencer adds. “I didn’t want her to be that, I thought it was very important that she’s still feminine. You can still be powerful and feminine.”
A lot of her scenes are alongside Emun Elliot, who plays Jennings’ partner Tony Brightwell. “The three of them – Jennings, Brightwell and Boyce – are completely different characters and that’s what makes it work,” Spencer says. “Boyce oversees the whole thing. Jennings is the quick, clever one that always wants to get going and Brightwell basically… Brightwell’s really chilled out. He’s been doing it such a long time that he calms Jennings a lot of the time.”
Stefanie Martini as Marnie Palmer
Marnie Palmer was John’s long-suffering wife. The pair married in 1975, and would stay married for forty-odd years until John’s death in 2015, living in their country house near Bristol. However, the marriage wasn’t an entirely happy one: over the course of their marriage, Marnie attempted to divorce her husband several times.
“Her and John both had difficult upbringings and pasts and have got to a place by the time where we start the show where they have kids and are quite well off and John’s business is doing well and they have both worked very hard for what they have,” Martini has said. “There are some lovely moments and sad ones. She is sort of unsuspecting of it all and it was a nice thing to me for play, because everyone else is in a cop show and I’m in a romance.”
However, Palmer herself has also spoken out about her unhappiness with the police force’s investigation into her husband’s unsolved murder. “I have given up on hope that the case will be solved,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “So much of what we have been told by Essex Police has been hogwash... the scene of the murder was simply too convenient. John was found in the only spot where he had not installed CCTV.”
Emun Elliott as Tony Brightwell
Tony Brightwell is a police officer in the Flying Squad and the working partner of Nicki Jennings. A calm and unflappable man, Brightwell was a private investigator who specialised in fraud and money laundering. He was also one of the first men to get a lead in the Brink’s-Mat case, extracting a confession from the gang’s inside man Peter Black, who had given them the tip-off about the warehouse.
After the events of The Gold, Brightwell stayed in the police for some time, before eventually moving to the private sector and working in security.
Frankie Wilson as Brian Robinson
Then there’s Brian Robinson, one of the six main figures involved in the heist, and one of the few men who received a lengthy sentence. This was probably because this was by no means his first offence: he was a career criminal who had already spent years in and out of jail. According to The Sun he was nicknamed The Colonel because he was one of the heist’s bosses, and he was even apparently on a Flying Squad list of “London’s 20 most prolific armed robbers”.
His name was given to the police by none other than his own brother-in-law, Anthony Black, who was a security guard on the day of the robbery. Black was waist-high in the crime – he had apparently provided them with a key to the main door and details about the bank’s security systems – so police were able to put pressure on him. Robinson went down for 25 years for the robbery, but was released after 16 years in 2000.
Adam Nagaitis as Micky McAvoy
Nicknamed ‘The Nutter’, McAvoy was the ringleader of the heist gang. The Heathrow robbery was not his first rodeo. McAvoy was such a prolific criminal that he had conducted another large-scale robbery just three years before the Brink’s-Mat robbery.
According to The Sun, ex-Scotland Yard chief Roy Ramm said: “McAvoy was one of the most violent and prolific robbers of his generation. He was feared among his peers and had been a top target of Scotland Yard for years. When he was eventually imprisoned for Brink’s-Mat there was a sense of a job well done and relief.”
Ron, a south London criminal who wanted to remain anonymous when he spoke to The Guardian in 2001, said that the plan for the Brink’s-Mat robbery had been circulating in London’s underworld for a while: “Mickey McAvoy, a young hardman, and an old blagger called Brian Robinson had put the word out that they were looking for a couple of sensible lads to help them with an inside job.
“They had heard there would be £3 million in cash in the vault and the plan was to split it five ways. It was only when they got there that they found the gold. They hadn’t expected it at all. They were so disorganised that they didn’t even have a big enough vehicle to deal with it. They had to go and get a van. They were supposed to be in and out within minutes but the job ended up taking nearly two hours.”
But McAvoy and Robinson didn’t lie low once they’d scored the extra bullion, making them easy targets for the police. Just weeks after the robbery they both bought mansions in Kent using cash, leaving their council flats behind. McAvoy received a 25 year sentence for his crime, despite unsuccessfully trying to cut deals with the police. He was released in 2000 and died 23 years later.
Sean Harris as Gordon Parry
Gordon Parry was apparently the mastermind of the money laundering scheme and worked closely with Michael Relton (the man Edwyn Cooper was based on) and colleague Patrick Clark.
Originally a property developer, Parry worked with Relton and Clark to launder the money by transferring it through offshore accounts and bringing it back to be invested in the UK, sparking the Docklands building boom.
Parry went on the run to Spain to avoid arrest but was ultimately caught and extradited back to the UK. In 1992, he was convicted for his part in handling £14m worth of stolen goods from the Brink’s-Mat robbery.
James Nelson-Joyce as Brian Reader
Brian Reader is a legendary name in criminal circles. Originally starting out as a lieutenant of Kenneth Noye, Reader’s job was to get the gold moving after the heist had taken place. He didn’t do it too successfully: he was sentenced to nine years in jail for conspiracy to handle stolen bullion.
However, he doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson, because in 2015 he was behind another huge crime: the 2015 Hatton Garden heist. Here, Reader masterminded a group of six men who stole £13m worth of jewellery by entering the lift shaft of the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Company and drilling through a wall to where the boxes were kept.
Though Reader was again convicted and sentenced to prison, he was released in 2019 after only serving three years, pleading ill health.
Lily Knight as Jackie McAvoy
Jackie McAvoy was Mickey’s wife. She becomes particularly important to the plot when her brand new massive house raises the suspicions of the police. But not only had McAvoy purchased the property for Jackie, but he bought a similarly huge house just one mile down the road for his mistress Kathy Meacock. According to The Sun Meacock showed off her pile in Country Life, and reportedly also had two alsatians which were called Brinks and Mat. Then, to complicate matters further, Brian Perry – a close associate of McAvoy’s – was spotted by police, who were obviously closely monitoring the situation, frequently visiting Jackie. Apparently the duo had started having an affair.
Dorothy Atkinson as Jeannie Savage
Jeannie Savage was a tobacconist from West Kingsdown, Kent who was one of four people successfully prosecuted for laundering the gold in 1992 – nine whole years after the robbery. She was 48 years old when she was given the five-year sentence.
Ellora Torchia as Sienna Rose
Sienna Rose is Cooper’s extramarital love interest. While it’s difficult to discern whether she was a real person, she nevertheless plays an important role in the show. Speaking to the BBC, Dominic Cooper said about Rose, “Sienna comes along at a time when Edwyn’s marriage is becoming a bit difficult, so he just jumps ship. I think that’s completely pathetic of him. So when very attractive young lady is selling him property he just thinks “oh here we go”.
“But, what’s beautiful about it is you actually do see him happy. Like really happy and actually a glimpse of what he would probably would have really wished his life to have been. He stupidly and naively thinks that maybe that can happen and he can escape to France with this lovely, young woman but it’s all a lie. He hasn’t told her anything so it ends and falls to pieces. It’s a shame as there is a glimpse of something wonderful between them, but again the whole thing is a façade.”
Although you won’t be seeing Brian Perry on screen – his role has been split and taken on by other characters – it’s worth making a note of him when constructing an idea of the real Brink’s-Mat robbery. He played a pretty integral role, as one of the people who McAvoy entrusted with his money when he was arrested, and it was apparently Perry who brought Noye onboard to help shift the gold.
Perry was a minicab firm owner from Biggin Hill in Kent, who was convicted alongside Parry, Savage and former nightclub owner Patrick Clark, who also became involved in the case in 1992. All denied the charges for the duration of their trial.
During sentencing, Judge Henry Pownall said: “You must have known you were playing for very high stakes indeed. There can hardly have been a more serious case of handling than this.”
Perry was assassinated when he was 63 years old: a man ran up to his car and shot him three times in the back of his head.
The Gold is available on BBC iPlayer