Great film robbery as Yorkshire blags BBC rail drama

The Great Train Robbery being filmed in Yorkshire.The Great Train Robbery being filmed in Yorkshire.
The Great Train Robbery being filmed in Yorkshire.
The Great Train Robbery has always been a tale of criminal cunning as Cockney as jellied eels.

But Yorkshire has stolen the show in a new BBC drama based on the Crime of the Century with a stellar cast led by Jim Broadbent as gang-buster cop Tommy Butler.

Other stars include Luke Evans, Jack Roth, Neil Maskell, Paul Anderson, Martin Compston, Del Synnott and Jack Gordon.

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The Glasgow to London train was ambushed at the Sears Crossing in Buckinghamshire in 1963 by two London gangs who hid out 27 miles away at Leatherslade Farm to count the sack loads of bank notes.

Ring-leader Bruce Reynolds went on the run to the South of France, Mexico and Canada. After blowing most of his share, he was recaptured while attempting to lie low in Torquay.

But while the new BBC Worldwide production wants to faithfully retell the story, a shortage of suitable locations in the South led them to move the whole shoot to Yorkshire.

The Great Train Robbery production ended up being masterminded from a base at Studio 81 on Kirkstall Rd, Leeds.

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Locations used included various parts of Leeds City Centre including The Adelphi Pub, The Calls, Briggate, Hyde Park Picture House, and other parts of Hyde Park. The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway doubled as the Sears Crossing while other scenes were shot in Bradford, Shipley, Howarth, and Goole.

And in move which may have left tourism bosses on The English Riviera smarting, Filey upstaged Torquay as the final hide-out of Reynolds.

Yorkshire has been the setting for many other blockbusters. But some productions, such as Harry Potter, only used the area as background.

The stars often stayed in the studio in London delivering blue screen performances added into the Yorkshire footage during post production.

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But for the twin train robbery dramas – A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale – BBC bosses decided to transplant the whole cast up North.

The area has already started to benefit from the tourism loot – expected to run into millions, according to Screen Yorkshire, the agency which champions the region to the film and TV industry.

Chief Executive Sally Joynson said: ‘’The Great Train Robbery is one of twenty major film and TV productions that have filmed in the region as a direct result of Screen Yorkshire’s work.

“It has a significant place in recent British history and we’re very proud to have attracted such a high profile and stylish BBC drama to Yorkshire.

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“It’s been fantastic to have such incredible talent working here in Yorkshire, with more than 100 cast and crew staying locally whilst filming at locations ranging from the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds and Keighley and Worth Valley Railway to Goole and the Filey coastline.’’

The BBC say there was a problem using Southern locations because many of them no longer looked anything like they did in the 1960s.

Leatherslade Farm was demolished in the mid-1990s and was renamed by the owners.

The hide-out, dubbed Robbers’ Roost, was surrounded by open countryside in 1963 and it was difficult to find an alternative in built-up Southern England.

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There was also a problem locating a suitable stretch of railway to film the heist – but The Keighley and Worth Valley line fitted the bill. It then made sense to shoot the entire film in Yorkshire and a collection of farm buildings at Balne, near Goole, provided a match for Leatherslade Farm,

Bradford also landed a starring role with the City Hall reception rooms being transformed into the Home Secretary’s office.

The Bradford Club, dating from the 19th century, doubled as the Grand Hotel in Leicester where Gordon Goody, played by Paul Anderson, was arrested in August 1963.

The Robber’s Tail half of the story centres on Bruce Reynolds, played by Luke Evans.

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In 1968, Reynolds slipped back into Britain from Mexico and rented a Ritzy house in Torquay once occupied by Carry On star Sid James.

Reynolds slipped up by paying his milkmen in five pound notes – which were scarce at the time – and was jailed for 25 years.

The Devon resort has been trying to make more of its connection to the Crime of the Century. But a BBC spokesman said: “Filey is the nearest seaside town to our Yorkshire base that works for the period.

“All of The Great Train Robbery is being filmed in Yorkshire. Filming in Torquay was never an option and Filey represented the most cost-effective and realistic alternative.”

The BBC says they will be shown “before the end of the year” – leading to speculation they will fill one of the prime Christmas slots.