The insane true story behind the £26 million heist in BBC drama

Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye with a gold bar in BBC's The Gold.

Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye in BBC’s The Gold (Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais).

Available now on BBC iPlayer, The Gold tells the incredible true story of the UK’s biggest gold heist, the complicated work authorities tried to recover it, and the long-lasting impact it had on the country for years.

However, the real-life events that inspired this six-part drama — starring Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, Preacher’s Dominic Cooper, and Line of Duty’s Charlotte Spencer — are almost too crazy to be taken as fact.

Written by Neil Forsyth, The Gold chronicles the events of the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery, in which £26 million worth of gold bullion was stolen from a security depot near London’s Heathrow Airport. Also involving diamonds and cash, it was regarded as the largest heist of its kind in history, with the sum of £93 million stolen by modern standards.

Read more: BBC hits the jackpot with The Gold

This new adaptation dramatizes these events, with Bonneville and Cooper playing two of the real people involved in the fallout – the former tasked with tracking down and the latter responsible for sneaking back to the market.

However, how much of The Gold is true and how much is a product of creative license? Let’s see.

Is The Gold based on a true story?


Emun Elliot, Hugh Bonneville and Charlotte Spencer in The Gold. (Tannadice Photos/BBC)

As we discussed earlier, The Gold is indeed based on a true story, though it does use dramatic elements to condense this complex story into a nifty six-episode thriller.

To go back to the beginning, the robbery took place in November 1983 when thieves targeting a security warehouse near Heathrow stumbled across a huge amount of gold, diamonds and cash belonging to Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd.

At the time it was the biggest robbery in British history and the events that followed helped to redefine money laundering on a massive scale, while inadvertently financing much of the property boom in the London Docklands.

An archive photo of DCI Brian Boyce walking down a London street.

The real life DCI Brian Boyce, played by Hugh Bonneville in The Gold. (BBC)

Some arrests were made after the theft, but much of the three tons of gold stolen remained at large.

About £1 million worth of gold was later with the Bank of England and by 1996 it was largely believed that more than half of the gold originally stolen had been melted down, recast and re-entered the world jewelery market.

In a strange turn of events, much of this unearthed gold is believed to have returned to its original owners, Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd.

Read more: Brink’s-Mat robbery gets BBC documentary

While it was believed that some of this stolen loot was mysteriously buried somewhere, it is now generally accepted that most people who purchased gold jewelry after 1983 may very well own a piece of gold stolen during the Brink’s robbery- Mat. .

Is the TV series The Gold true?


Hugh Bonneville, Charlotte Spencer, Dominic Cooper and Jack Lowden star in The Gold. (Tannadice Photos/BBC)

Like the show’s stolen goods, BBC’s The Gold ended up using a melting pot of fact and fiction to keep viewers hooked.

Overall, the series tries to stay close to the true events, with series writer Neil Forsyth having also previously co-written a book on the subject with fellow author Thomas Turner, establishing himself as an authority on this fascinating story. As a result, Forsyth probably would have wanted to minimize inaccuracies while bringing this story to the screen.

That said, some things have been streamlined for simplicity. While Bonneville’s character Brian Boyce, the DCI tasked with finding the stolen goods, and Jack Lowden’s Kenneth Noye, the former police informant who was eventually charged with conspiracy to handle them, are based on real people, Spencer’s character Nicki Jennings supposed an amalgamation of three real but different police officers.

Courts Noye filer

A court handout showing Kenneth Noye. (PA/Alami)

Meanwhile, Cooper, playing a lawyer involved in helping to launder the gold in the market, is believed to be based on real-life lawyer Michael Relton, albeit by a different name, Edwin Cooper.

Tom Cullen’s John Palmer, the illiterate goldsmith who melts the gold in the series, was also a real person. In 2001, he was found guilty of “masterminding the biggest ever timeshare fraud”, and is said to have defrauded 20,000 people out of £30 million. He was murdered in 2015, aged 64, shot six times in the chest at his gated home in Essex.

Where can I watch The Gold?

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Tom Cullen as John Palmer in The Gold. (Tannadice Photos/BBC)

All six episodes of The Gold are now available to stream on BBC iPlayer. If the show has you excited to delve deeper into this remarkable robbery case, the broadcaster has also put together an in-depth, one-off documentary that leaves no stone – or gold bar – unturned. The Gold: The Inside Story can also be found on BBC iPlayer.

The Gold is now available on BBC iPlayer.

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