The Gold Robbers

1969 | United Kingdom

Exciting series centred round the participants in a multi-million pound bullion robbery, and the CID officer who doggedly tracks them down. The officer, Detective Chief- Supt. Cradock (played by Peter Vaughan) is the linking character in each episode - and comparisons with the Great Train Robbery are compounded by the fact that the series' technical adviser is ex- Det. Chief-Superintendent Arthur Butler, the Scotland Yard officer most intimately concerned in that case. 

Major guest stars play the robbers and suspected felons throughout the series, including George Cole, Joss Ackland, Richard Leech, Roy Dotrice, Alfred Lynch, Ann Lynn, Katharine Blake, Jennifer Hilary, Bernard Hepton, Ian Hendry and a pre-Man About The House Sally Thomsett. The series, which kept Friday-night viewers hooked throughout the 1969 summer months, was devised and produced by John Hawkesworth (Upstairs, Downstairs) and won him a BAFTA nomination for Best Drama Series; among a celebrated team of writers were former Z Cars contributor Alan Prior and Doctor Who story editor David Whitaker.

The story opens with a bullion aircraft carrying five-and-a-half million pounds in gold bars, approaching a small airfield in the South of England. Mechanics and armed guards bustle around the plane waiting on the tarmac waiting to unload its cargo of gold bars. Suddenly, above the noise of whining jets and scurrying airport vehicles, comes the crack of a rifle. A police car bursts into flames and as officials and mechanics scatter in confusion an armed gang moves in. In a meticulously timed operation they escape with the gold which is loaded onto a vehicle that in turn is loaded onto a cargo plane and the robbers make good their escape. From his temporary headquarters on Westmarsh Airfield Cradock begins the huge task of working out how the great gold robbery was executed. 

Each episode focuses on a different aspect of the robbery and the criminals involved; from the air traffic controller who was 'supposedly' an innocent victim to the man who fired the shots that destroyed the police car. George Cole stars (in episode 4) as Barry Porter, a second-rate con-man with big dreams, a character not a million miles removed from the iconic Arthur Daley in the Minder series that would eventually make him a household name. Richard Bolt (played by Richard Leech) is a millionaire businessman whose diverse interests include ownership of a travel agency, a London newspaper and an import-export group. It is Bolt's airline that flies the gold into Westmarsh Airport on that fateful day in January on which the robbery occurs. Bolt offers Cradock and his men every assistance but it is clear from the outset that he knows a lot more than he is letting on. Shortly after the robbery it becomes clear to Cradock that this is anything other than a simple gold heist. 

There are several interested parties regarding the investigation and outcome of the case, not least of all the British Government who could face a possible international incident were it to become public knowledge of the origins of the stolen gold, which has been used to unofficially purchase and supply arms to a foreign country. 

The Gold Robbers
Ian Hendry and Wanda Ventham

Interviewed in the TV Times in 1969 Vaughan revealed that he was born Peter Ohm ("like the electricity thing") in Shropshire, but raised in Uttoxeter, in the Potteries. The Ohms were of Austrian origin and, having decided that nobody could become a successful actor with a name like that, he adopted and then adapted his mother's name, Vorn. Acting wasn't his first passion though. He dreamed of playing football for Stoke City. "But when I realised I wasn't going to make it into the professional ranks I started looking for something else to do." The future was charted for him by a supervisor of the Staffordshire Education Committee who saw him in a school play and wrote to the director of the Wolverhampton Rep. "I went for my interview-came out with a script to read and a job!" During the war he spent five years in the army in Singapore, commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals. 

By the early 1950s Peter was with Birmingham Rep. His first London West End appearance was in 1954 in a production of Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire. He stayed in London and landed a few roles in television and film. The role of the policeman Cradock was something of a departure for Vaughan who throughout his career has been cast in roles on the other side of the law. "Luckily I'm not beautiful - otherwise I might have starved," said Vaughan, who is physically large with the shoulders of a rugby forward. He is best remembered these days as playing the menacing crime boss Harry Grout in the comedy series Porridge, but the release on DVD of The Gold Robbers is a timely reminder of one of his most celebrated TV roles. 

Speaking in 1969 Vaughan said that he saw Cradock as a kind of extension of himself. "In the sense that I personally don't believe in heroes and villains-by which I mean that I don't believe anybody is all good or all bad. Cradock is a real human being - a man with human weaknesses, intent on pursuing good. And, of course, Cradock is obsessed with his job, which is why I say he's like me." All thirteen episodes of this much sought-after drama, which stands up remarkably well for a drama that is over 40 years old, as well as the feature-length repeat edit of the final two episodes, are included in this set.

Published on December 19th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus (27 November 2010). Sources of reference and adaptations from original TV articles June, July and Augst 1969. for Television Heaven.

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