A Look at the Real Heist That Inspired The Bank Job

A Look at the Real Heist That Inspired The Bank Job

Presented by Mosaic Media Group in association with Relativity Media, The Bank Job is a 2008 British heist film that takes an in-depth look at one of the most high-profile bank robberies of the century. In 1971, a group of unknown thieves stole more than 500,000 British pounds worth of cash and jewelry from multiple safety deposit boxes at a Baker Street, London, location of Lloyds Bank. But the motive for this crime proved to be far more than material wealth. In the days that followed, the British public witnessed a scandal that remains steeped in mystery to this day.

The Heist

thebankjobposterDue to the secrecy surrounding the crime, accounts of actual details vary. However, most accounts agree that after at least a month of tunneling, the group of thieves had burrowed approximately 40 feet from the basement of a leather goods shop to the subterranean area beneath the bank vault. After boring through (or blowing up) the floor, the group raided some 260 safety deposit boxes containing a variety of personal effects, from cash and jewels to illicit photographs.

The Bank Job builds on rumors that some of the more unusual contents of the boxes included compromising photographs of a royal family member. Some believe that these pictures belonged to a notorious criminal who had used them as leverage to avoid imprisonment. This has fueled further speculation that the robbery may have been the work not of a criminal mastermind, but of individuals in far higher positions of authority.

The British government’s reaction to this ordeal has fueled speculation about the true motive behind the crime. After a brief firestorm of media coverage, a government order known as a D Notice quelled the story in the press. British authorities eventually apprehended four of the robbers, but they have not made their names or the lengths of their sentences public.

The Walkie-Talkie Robbery

The circumstances surrounding the Baker Street robbery might still be a complete mystery if not for the thieves’ chosen method of communication. The group kept in touch via walkie-talkies as they carried out their heist, and nearby, a ham radio operator happened to intercept their conversation. Once he gleaned that a crime was taking place, he contacted the local authorities. However, the sheer number of banks in the possible search radius—paired with the police force’s initial reluctance to believe his outrageous claims—prevented them from honing in on the radio broadcast’s source. Authorities didn’t identity the target of the robbery until its employees arrived the next morning, after the thieves had long since departed.

Putting the Pieces Together

Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who previously partnered on projects including The Commitments (1992) and Across the Universe (2007), had a lot of holes to fill while compiling an accurate account of the heist. However, they were able to draw on limited media coverage and secondhand accounts of the event to fill in the blanks. Thanks to the vigilance of the local ham radio operator, the writers also had access to the actual conversations that took place between the robbers.

Director Roger Donaldson, also known for films including Dante’s Peak (1997), The Recruit (2003), and The November Man (2014) also conducted extensive research on the mysterious robbery. His attempts to unearth facts regarding the case generated a bit of suspicion in London; the director noted that people assumed he was making a movie about police corruption and were reluctant to speak with him. Regardless, he managed to secure a few noteworthy informants. The director spoke with spoke with a policeman who was involved with the investigation, an MI5 operative, and even the amateur radio operator who overheard the robbers’ conversations. By way of a private investigator, Donaldson also got in touch with one of actual bank robbers, later describing his account of story as “more spine-chilling than what we had put together.” He admitted, “I could never fit it all into the movie.”

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Although the producers of The Bank Job considered filming primarily in Melbourne, Australia, they instead opted to navigate the complications associated with shooting in London in favor of authenticity. Although the ambient noise levels, crowded streets, and gloomy winter weather posed logistical concerns for the crew, it also gave them the opportunity to film from the robbers’ real lookout across the street from Lloyds Bank, presenting audiences with views from the same vantage point that the criminals used while planning their heist.

The production team used various settings around London to create the interior of Lloyds Bank. One scene required them to obtain an authentic locomotive from the 1970’s and film at the busy Paddington train station, a feat that required them to maintain a quick and organized schedule while overcoming a variety of technical challenges. Despite these trials, the crew produced a film that sparked conversation and garnered largely positive reviews—The Bank Job currently has a 79 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.3 out of 10 score on IMDb.

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