ROBBERY

GB
1967
1hr 50mins
Dir: Peter Yates
Starring: Stanley Baker and George Sewell

A criminal gang plan to rob the Glasgow-London night mail train

Although using fictional characters and plot situations, the actual robbery sequence is clearly based on the Great Train Robbery of 1963. The film sees a train stopped by a red signal, then driven forward to a point where it is relieved of £3 million. The film even uses the same type of diesel locomotive as the real robbery four years earlier, a Class 40. The only difference is that the film uses disc-headcode example No.D318 when in fact the actual loco that hauled the infamous train was D326, a split-box example (see Buster). The actual robbery sequence was filmed at night, although there are a couple of day time shots as the police examine the loco and stock. These were filmed east of Theddingworth on the Rugby-Market Harborough cross-country line which had closed in June 1966. There are some excellent shots of D318 throughout the robbery and in the opening credit sequence, with run-bys and a tracking shot filmed from the rear of a preceding train. Look closely at the scenes were the robbers arrive at the location and a Class 24 or 25 can be seen ambling past in the distance on a mixed freight. This mixed freight is seen in the opening tracking shots (but not the loco) as identified by the Bedford lorries on some of the wagons. This suggests that the freight train too, like the 40 and its mail coaches, was brought to the line specifically for filming. The scene of the mail train leaving Glasgow Central was in fact filmed at London Marylebone and there is also a scene filmed at London Victoria and a shot of one of the entrances to Charing Cross Underground station. Finally, there are a handful of scenes filmed in a genuine signal box, though it is not known which one was used for filming. It was quite daring at the time to produce a movie based on the Great Train Robbery so soon after it happened, and although the film was quite successful in the UK, where the robbery was still fresh in people’s minds and the film won a best original British screenplay award, in the US it was hardly a hit at all. However, time and culture have not been kind to Yates’ film despite it actually being a well worked production, and it has, to a very large extent, been relegated to a mere footnote in British crime cinema. Incidentally, to avoid legal problems it was decided to write a script where the details in the 25-minute robbery sequence were taken entirely from court evidence, the remainder of the film being wholly fictitious. A couple of brief shots from this film including one of the 40 where reused for the opening title sequence of the 2018 crime film King of Thieves (qv). As the sequence represents high-profile robberies of the 1960s, they have been de-colourised to black and white.

For fans of Class 40’s this is a good film to watch. There are many decent tracking shots like this throughout the film.
In this second shot a freight train is passing with a couple of Bedford lorries in the consist. More on this later.
This is the Strand, with the entrance to Charing Cross Underground on the left
Joanna Pettet and Stanley Baker on the forecourt of London Victoria station
This is the scene of the crime, a bridge just east of Theddingworth on the Rugby-Market Harborough line. The bridge and embankment are still extant today, but they are both heavily overgrown.
Stanley Baker on the track bed, recording cine footage of the area chosen as the site of the hold up. The double-track route is still intact and looks to be in good order despite it having closed in June 1966. This would have been about the time of filming though, as the film was released in the UK in September 1967.
The loaded mail train pulls away at the start of its journey. This is London Marylebone.
The gang arrive at the bridge just as a freight train crosses with either a Class 24 or 25 on the front. If it is a Class 24, then it is one of the later batch with roof mounted headcode boxes that made them nearly identical in appearance to the Class 25’s. Impossible to tell from this shot.
There are those Bedford lorries again that were seen earlier…
The mail train comes to a stand at the red signal with the gang lying in wait
The secondman makes his way down to the track to make a call to the ‘box. This is a fabulous shot of D318, the Class 40 used for the film
The gang lie in wait as the train is drawn forward to the bridge. A very similar shot to this briefly appeared in the 2018 film King of Thieves, but in black and white.
This is probably the best shot of D318 in the whole film
The morning after the raid and the train is now a scene of crime. The exact location is a place called Bunkers Hill, just off the A4304 east of Theddingworth between Husband’s Bosworth and Market Harborough in Leicestershire.