TV - Hatton Garden

The ‘most spectacular’ British crime of the decade, Hatton Garden comes to ITV next month. Read an interview with one of the stars, Timothy Spall...

Dramatised by acclaimed BAFTA winning screenwriter Jeff Pope, Hatton Garden depicts the real-life audacious jewellery and cash burglary at the heart of London’s diamond district executed by an elderly gang of career criminals. The four 1 hour-long episodes tell the inside story of how the men pulled off the heist which was considered in a class of its own in terms of scale and ambition, and the extraordinary level of planning, preparation and organisation required to penetrate the vault of the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Company.

In the first episode, it’s April 2015 and the start of the long Easter Bank Holiday weekend as the vault in the basement of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company is locked up and closed for business. The light is just beginning to fade as 76-year-old Brian Reader (Kenneth Cranham) watches the front of the building from around the corner, waiting for the building to empty. The last security guard locks up ready to make his way home for the weekend. This is the cue for Reader and the rest of his gang to spring into life.

67-year-old Terry Perkins (Timothy Spall), 61-year-old Danny Jones (David Hayman), 75-year-old John ‘Kenny’ Collins (Alex Norton) and 59-year-old Carl Wood (Geoff Ball) all speed into action, working as fast as ageing bodies will allow. The gang must get past security cameras, alarms and movement sensors, before somehow getting into the concrete reinforced vault guarded by a 50cm tempered steel door. They use a disused lift shaft to get into an airlock after ‘Basil’ (Brían F. O’Byrne), the enigmatic final member of the gang, has first disabled the alarm system. Their solution to getting into the vault itself is brilliantly simple - they bypass the door by drilling through the walls of the vault with an industrial drill. However, on the verge of pulling it off, a piece of equipment breaks and they are forced to get out empty handed. Reader instructs the team to forget about the raid and forbids anybody to return. ‘Whatever we do from now on we’d be making it up, and that’s how you get caught.’ 

Screenwriter Jeff Pope said “This is one of the most high profile crimes of the last decade and we wanted to understand what had happened - and why it had happened. The research threw up some fascinating detail and blew away many of the misconceptions about this story. It was not about a bunch of 'loveable old blokes', many box holders lost everything in the raid and we will reflect this. But the planning was clever and the characters involved unique.” 

Co-written with Terry Winsor (Hot Money, Danielle Cable: Eyewitness, Essex Boys), and directed by Paul Whittington (Little Boy Blue, The Moorside, Cilla, Mrs Biggs), Hatton Garden will air on ITV next year.

Timothy Spall plays Terry Perkins

Q: What attracted you to this drama?

“I was as intrigued by the Hatton Garden story as much as everybody else was when it happened. There’s nothing wrong with your standard cops and robbers story. But it’s easy to glamorise certain aspects of criminality and turn it into sensationalism.

“So what appealed to me about this was, firstly, it’s Jeff Pope who I’ve worked with twice before and is a friend of mine. And secondly Paul Whittington directing it, whose work recently has been amongst the best on television.

“Plus the script itself did not in any way go into the realm of glorification or a celebration. On one level these scripts are a very precise journey through the process of how they did it. The factual side of what happened has been meticulously researched. And you can see the authenticity. So it’s a film about a criminal process that is both audacious, requires a certain amount of skill and a lot of research.

"But what it’s also about is a fascinating connection between the ordinariness of this process, given that these people are professional criminals, and the emotional undercurrent between these characters. Particularly Brian Reader (Kenneth Cranham) and Terry Perkins. Which is both the narrative drive and ultimately leads to their downfall.

“So what you’ve got here is an unpretentious excavation of a kind of criminality that brings itself down. It’s ordinary to them. It’s a job. To an outsider it looks like an audacious thing. But to them, it’s what they do.

“Within that is the minutiae of this emotional journey involving Perkins and Reader that is about status and a breakdown of a friendship. A functioning union between two men buoyed up by the mutual acceptance of their status with each other and their role within that relationship and friendship. And once things start to break down, how that unfolds and ultimately leads to their demise.

“What you get is a very complex - without it ever being discussed - investigation of a very emotional journey between two old blokes whose friendship has broken down. That is the thing that really appealed to me.

“Then working on that with someone of Paul Whittington’s intelligence and desire for detail. It was a real odyssey trying to build as much of this textured character as you possibly can within the mixture of the audacious and the ordinary.

“They are not loveable rogues. They are criminals. And as we all know, criminality requires ruthlessness. That’s a given part of the chosen profession.”

Q: Who is Terry Perkins?

“It’s a bit like playing anybody you don’t understand, like David Irving or the Rev Ian Paisley. People already have massive opinions about them. When you’re playing a criminal, we all have a certain amount of either a glamorous or negative opinion of them.

“But my job is to try and work out what is the emotional and motivational structure of this person’s make up. Why are they doing it? What makes them tick?

“Obviously this man has been a professional criminal for most of his life. He’s served time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Been in and out of jail. People who find themselves in this world, stay in this world. There are very few people who come out of it.

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you commit a crime, get caught, you go to jail, you meet other criminals, you’re going to learn how to be a better criminal. Rather than coming out reformed. So you’re living in a milieu of people who are compounding their situation rather than being liberated from it.

“Having said that, his simple desire is to do one last job because he is skint. Terry has tasted the high life through his ill-gotten gains. And they were all frozen and taken away. “Plus I can only imagine that part of the motivational side of criminality is you get an awful lot for a large amount of effort in a small amount of time. Nice work if you can get it and you don’t get caught.”

Q: What about the victims of the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary?

“That was another one of the things that appealed to me about the story. It investigates that side of it. And it works as a fantastic juxtaposition. In a sense what the script is saying is, ‘Look at this audacity. There is a certain humour in this because of their situation and age.’

“I think the cleverness of the script is like all brilliant scripts about criminality and dodgy dealing, you go with that story and you cannot but be a part of that story and want to know what’s going on.

“But you are reminded that their actions are devastating. It ruined the lives of ordinary people and small businesses. It shows the consequences. Criminals don’t care about the victims. I can’t speak for them but I suppose they would call it collateral damage. A criminal will always have a victim.

“What’s the difference between Terry Perkins and certain corrupt bankers? It’s a big question. As long as you’re on the right side of the law you’re not a criminal. But some might say the law isn’t always on the right side of humanity. We have the law we have and if you break it and are caught, you go to jail.”

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Perkins and Reader?

“Emotionally and narratively the relationship between Terry Perkins and Brian Reader is as complex as a younger brother of a King trying to usurp the King. Richard III is about a criminal. The Scottish play is about a criminal. So if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for anybody.

“There is a very strong emotional story involving Terry Perkins, this massive tension in his relationship with Brian Reader. But be a bit careful of what you wish for. When Terry becomes the boss, instead of Reader, is he up for it? Can he do it?

“What happens is Terry Perkins and some other members of the group break the golden rule. After a problem with the drill equipment forced the whole gang to give up and leave the vault. They go back to an abandoned job. It’s too tantalising to walk away from it. But in the end this combination of breaking that rule of criminality and interfering with this long term relationship, with this emotional connection between these two characters going sour, leads to his downfall.

“Brian Reader had a big house in Kent and could probably afford to let the job go when it went wrong. So he didn’t go back. But Terry Perkins must have thought to himself, ‘I’m 67. How many more of these can I do?’ He was skint. So he went back to the vault.

“You have to park all of your moral judgements about what they do and play it from the inside. Find as much detail and light and shade about these characters. Because they are human beings with all the hopes, fears and petty triumphs and failures that everybody else has. They’re just engaged in this rather unpleasant pastime.”

Q: Did you visit the real Hatton Garden vault?

“We saw the real vault. It was very strange. The empty room was aesthetically rather beautiful in a bizarre way. The safe door still intact, a beautiful piece of steel engineering, all these safe deposit boxes hanging open and this hole in the wall.

“The other thing that struck me about going to that vault is what it must have felt like to have lost your livelihood. These empty safe deposit boxes. To see your hopes and dreams gone.

“When we were filming them dividing the spoils, although they were props, you’re looking at a pile which amounts to someone's entire life. Keepsakes, pictures, photos, little gifts of love and remembrance. As well as possibly ill-gotten gains. Who knows what was in there? Just a thousand memories in a pile.”

Q: Was it hard work filming the gang at work in the vault?

“We recreated the vault in the studio and in filming our story you realised these were old blokes working very hard in what was very difficult, physical, skilled engineering.

“What became apparent was that for all their petty thoughts, squabbles and ineptitudes in getting there, once they get down to the job they really do it well. This is why they are professional top of the tree criminals in this analogue world, rather than petty thieves. “These men are prepared to research and do this. They’re not shoplifters. These are organised people. They got it wrong in the end. But there is a certain amount of determination and organisation before the job.

“So when we got down to filming the work, you realise how hard it was. No wonder my character and the others were exhausted. They were old. You really got a sense of how difficult it was to drill through concrete with one of those diamond drills. It was a bit like being involved with some bizarre engineering feat.

“It was bloody gruelling. We were running up and down stairways at 3am. Some of it was a bit challenging. But we always had somebody standing by with a cup of tea and a chair. Unlike most people who do that sort of thing.”

Q: Why were they so careful to ensure this was a burglary and not something more?

“They were careful not to escalate it from burglary by using violence. It’s not armed robbery. They were aware of that. Perkins has a history of armed robbery. But Reader had a superior understanding of planning and the consequences. He realised that if any arms are involved and they’re caught it’s another eight years in prison on top of the sentence.

“I don’t know any professional criminals - as far as I know. But the old adage, ‘If you can't do the time don’t do the crime,’ must be very close to the truth. These men knew what the consequences of being caught were. Because they had been caught before and served long stretches in jail.”

Q: What mistakes did the gang make?

“The big mistake they made was going back to the job. At least the ones who did go back. Because it was too tantalising not to return to that vault. That going back also broke the union that had previously been successful. In our story it becomes about someone who is determined to prove they are as good as the person they’ve been in thrall to. That’s a very interesting thing to discover.”

Q: Do you have any theories about ‘Basil’, the member of the gang who evaded arrest?

“None whatsoever. It’s obviously rife with speculation. But who’s going to know? Maybe one day we’ll find out who he really was. There’s all sorts of conspiracy theories. He got away. But we only know he got away because the others got caught.”

Q: How do you reflect back on the experience of filming Hatton Garden?

“One of the products of being around for a long time is you get to work with people you know, like a lot and whose work you respect. I had worked with everybody in that cast before apart from Brian F O’Byrne. While Jeff Pope is a friend and a person at the top of his form. And Paul Whittington is a fantastic director.

“It felt like a massive collaboration of people trying to do something original with a story that has so many preconceptions about it.

“There was no messing about. Nobody playing any games apart from just getting on with it. It was a consummate bunch of professionals. It’s fabulous when it’s like that because all television schedules are tight.

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