Sunday, November 06, 2011

The miraculous life of Ronnie Biggs.

Participator of the Great Train Robbery who voluntarily gave himself to British authorities in 2001 has become a national hero. The legend of his life and his “work” – avoiding to be caught – is alive even today. 

He robbed a train full of money, became a national hero, spend the best years of his life in Brazil as a free man, and received a lifetime achievement award for his services to crime! This is, in short, the miraculous life of Ronald “Ronnie” Biggs, one of the most famous thieves of all times, and participator of the Great Train Robbery that took place in England, on 8 August 1963. And that’s not all, in 2001, Biggs turned himself in to British authorities.

On his 34th birthday, along with 14 of his "colleagues", Biggs intercepted a train at Bridego Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire. With well planned action, experienced thieves stole £ 2.6 million, which was amazingly large sum of money at the time (equivalent of around £40 million or US$67 million today).

So, what is necessary for a quality, successful and lucrative train robbery like the one Biggs and his team pulled out?  First, you need an informant, an insider so to speak, who will alarm the gang when the train is full of money. Bruce Reynolds, the man who devised the whole robbery, met with a certain Ulsterman (men whose identity was never uncovered), who gave him an information worth of gold – schedule of trains that are carrying mail and bags full of money on the line Glasgow - London. The robbers were probably expecting to find around £ 300,000 in the wagons, which was the amount of money that was averagely transferred by train. However, Biggs’ lucky star venerated him on his birthday with a much larger sum – it turned out that banks in Glasgow didn’t work for several days because of holidays, and the wagons were filled during that time with almost £ 3 million.

Around three o’clock in the morning, at a place known as 'Sears Crossing', the robbers covered the green signal light and then reconnected the wires in order to switch it to red signal light. When the train came and stopped because of the signal light, the robbers very quickly took control over it from the regular train operating staff.  The only person who got hurt in this robbery was a train driver Jack Mills, who refused to move the train some 800 meters further. After that, he accepted. In 30 minutes, the money was taken out of the train and then brotherly divided. Each robber got around £ 150.000. They managed to spend most of that money, and only around £ 400,000 was eventually recovered by the police. 

During the following months, robbers were arrested one by one – almost the entire crew. Discrete roguish hero, Ronnie Biggs, was among them.

British Justice severely punishment the robbers – they were sentenced around 30 years each. The criminal biography of each robber would probably be interesting for the story (along with three robbers that have never been arrested). But Ronnie Biggs, the man who played just supporting role in the original plan of this great robbery and was responsible to do something only if the train driver refuses to start the train, has managed to escape. 

In July of 1965, along with a group of convicts, Ronnie Biggs escaped form HM Prison Wandsworth. He escaped through the window, with the help of homemade rope ladder.  Thanks to the loot from previous robbery, he was able to pay a trip to Paris and underwent plastic surgery.

When he got his hands on false documents and a new face, Ronnie bought a plane ticket and went to Australia. With this trip, he started a journey on which many of us would envy him. His wife and two sons joined him in Melbourne. Enjoying the Australian air, Biggs expanded his family with one more child.

The police had already given up on him, but the always-curious journalists didn’t. Thus, Reuters reported that Ronnie is in Melbourne. Being aware of that, he left his wife and children, traveled by ship to Panama and then to Brazil. Scotland Yard was at his heels, but wise Ronnie took advantage of good old legal loophole - Brazil had no extradition treaty with England. 

Sweet freedom, spiced with socializing with beautiful Brazilian women, was for the first time interrupted briefly in 1974. Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper who, like in some movie, devoted his career to hunting down Biggs, arrested him in Rio de Janeiro. Ronnie got away thanks to his womanizing skills – he was already a father to a boy that emerged from his extramarital relationship with one Brazilian dancer. Also, during his fugitive years he filed for divorce from his wife.  And Brazilians were not ready to extradite a father of Brazilian child to the British authorities. As far as the town carnivals was concerned, he was a free man.

He was in some sort of house detention, but that didn’t prevented him to organize parties where his fans were coming to listen to his anecdotes about the famous robbery. Joyful and enterprising people of Rio figured out that they could make some money on their illustrious guest, so they started making T-shirts and mugs with Ronnie’s image. 

In 1977, Ronnie almost fell into the hands of the law while sipping a drink on the British ship in the harbor of Rio.

Quiet days in Rio were once again interrupted in 1981, when Biggs was kidnapped and taken to Barbados (even in chains the old thief couldn’t avoid exotic locations). Former British soldiers who kidnapped him hoped that they would take the money from the prize that was offered by British police for Biggs’ head. But… Neither Barbados had an extradition treaty with England. They were forced to return him to Brazil, to the mother of his child, Raimunda de Castro, whom he married in 2002.

Decades went on and on, and Biggs enjoyed his life on the beaches of Atlantic. But then, at the age of 72, he decided to return to his country. On 7 May 2001, British tabloid "Sun" paid £ 20,000 for Biggs’ transport in a private plane to London, where he was supposed to pay his debt in front of justice. Of course, with that money they also obtained exclusive rights to the story.

Ooops, I almost forgot. Why did good old Ronnie surrendered himself? There is only one explanation – he squandered all the money from the robbery and he was unable to pay for his health insurance, so he figured it out that the English prison could be a solid option of a nursing home for an old thief like him.

Biggs himself, who was adorned by media for many years, said that the reason behind his decision was nostalgia.

My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter.

He spent the next eight years in prison. During that time, he persistently asked for a reduction in sentence on the basis of poor health. He was supposed to serve 28 years – that was his original sentence. But, eventually, he was locked up just 8 years. Two days before his 80th birthday, the state took pity on Ronnie, who was already a severe heart patient, and freed him. 

In 2011, tabloid newspaper "Mirror" gave him lifetime achievement award for his services to crime... They thought he had only seven days left to live. The last news about Ronnie Biggs was the release of his new and updated autobiography, "Odd Man Out: The Last Straw". The old thief is still alive...

The conclusion? When I grow up I’m gonna be Ronnie Biggs. Just an irrelevant player in a great train robbery. And then, I am heading strait to Brazil.

Biggs as a singer, author and pop icon

It is difficult to enumerate all of those who have honored Biggs. This train robber was most famous during eighties, when he was practically a pop icon. He attracted the attention of the greatest punk band of all times, "Sex Pistols". In 1980, for the film “The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle”, Biggs recorded vocals for the song "No One is Innocent" in collaboration with guitarist and drummer of already disbanded "Pistols"

A bunch of books is written regarding the character and life of this charming thief. Biggs himself wrote his biography, and his son Michael (from the relationship with the Brazilian dancer) wrote a confession of his father. Also, writer Mike Gray wrote Ronnie’s version of the Great Train Robbery. British television filmed two documentaries about Biggs, in 2003 and in 2006. It0s needless to say that most of the participants in the robbery attempted to capitalize on their fame through confessions and books.

Biggs has also collaborated with the German punk band Die Toten Hosen with whom he sang the song "Carnival in Rio".

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