As a former professional racing car driver British born director Peter Yates was more than qualified to stage a thrilling car chase through the streets of West London, following what was a well executed diamond robbery in Hatton Garden. This 20-minute sequence at the beginning of Robbery (1967) persuaded American actor Steve McQueen to invite Yates to America to direct his first Hollywood movie Bullitt (1968).
It was Michael Deeley, producer of The Italian Job (1969), who bought the rights to Peta Fordham’s book on the Cheddington Mail Van Raid, better known as the Great Train Robbery when just after 3am on the 8th August 1963 in Buckinghamshire a gang of 15 men attacked a Royal Mail train on its nightly run between Glasgow Central and London Euston and got away with over £2.6 million in used banknotes: the equivalent of over £40m in today's money.
For legal reasons the screenplay was a fictionalised version of the story except the actual 25-minute robbery of the train, which was based on court transcripts. "We had to make sure there was no risk of accidental identification with anyone. The characters involved in the film are in no way based on the characters who took part in the great train robbery”.
The films star and co-producer was Stanley Baker who played Paul Clifton, his wife was played by Joanna Pettet, best known for the part of Mata Bond in the 1967 version of Casino Royale. The main police present’s is represented by James Booth who can be seen in French Dressing (1964), Sparrows Can't Sing (1963) and as Private Henry Hook VC in Zulu (1964). Well known character actor William Marlowe plays Clifton’s second in command and other well known faces include Frank Finley, Barry Foster, George Sewall and a very young looking Robert Powell in his first feature film as a Train Guard.
This British crime drama has been underrated and ignored for years; it was not released on DVD until 2008, and deserves a far wider audience. Shoot completely on location by DOP Douglas Slocombe, another connection with The Italian Job, it’s a very authentic and cleverly executed film with some great period detail right down to the sheepskin coats, the smartly dressed women and the Jaguar Mk 2’s. Watching this film you can sense its influence on other British film and TV police/crime thrillers from the seventies like The Sweeney or perhaps The Long Good Friday (1979). Well worth a look if you have never seen it and a revisit if you have, like me, not seen it since it cinematic release.