‘How to rob a train’ – an attempt at a review.


I read this book lately. It was penned by Gordon Goody with the assistance of one Maurice O’Connor. In case you do not know Goody was a notorious English felon. The title alludes to Goody’s most prolific crime which was the Great TRain Robbery of 1963.

Goody outlines his life. Though born in England he spent his early boyhood in Northern Ireland. He noted that his teacher was a ”bully and like most bullies he was a coward.” The same could be said for G Goody. Goody was 6’3 or 6’4” – he contradicts himself on this point. He used his bulk to intimidate people. He committed countless robberies. Did he ever take on anyone his size? He would carry a cosh while they were defenceless. He also gained favours by organising an illegal abortion. He was a man willing to profit from killing a baby.

Goody was a miscreant and a robber from his teenage years. As he says himself he was no use at school. The ghost writer probably did a good deal of the work on this autobiography. Goody describes many crimes. He does not often delve into detail. It would be more gratifying to read more of the particulars. The books perhaps a little too fast. If he had selected fewer episodes but gone into greater depth about him it would have been a more satisfying read. He seems to have been preternaturally calm. There is very little emotion in this book. There is nary an iota of compassion for his countless victims.

In the late 40s he did various jobs such as being a plumber’s mate and then he was called up for mandatory military service. He describes the harsh conditions of his numerous incarcerations. These started in the 1940s when prisons were very uncomfortable by today’s standards. This is not a plea for sympathy. The book would have been bland and untruthful without a frank account of what it was to be in gaol. However, these disagreeable conditions do not appear to have had a dissuasive affect on his propensity of criminality. He had chosen a life of crime. Long years of imprisonment were an occupational hazard. He whined about receiving a 30 year sentence for the Great Train Robbery. He deserved every day. He was released after only 12 years. He was 33 when he committed this enormous crime and already had a lengthy criminal record. He was not going to reform. He ought to have been kept locked up. It would have saved the public a lot of grief. He trivialised the injuries of Jack Mills the train driver who was hit over the head with an iron bar. As though such a potentially fatal attack on an unarmed and innocent man is something minor.

The Great Train Robbery is the crime he is best known for. Naturally this feat takes up much of the book. The unique selling point of Goody’s tome is that he reveals details of this operation that have never been published before. Could that just be a sales pitch? Perhaps. That said Goody was consistently tight lipped for 50 years. His motives for crime were solely financial. He noted that he dear friend Bruce Reynolds’ was actuated by other inducements. Reynolds craved adulation from fellow offenders.

Goody describes various criminal associates along the way. They are all one dimensional. He took a dislike to Ronnie Biggs. Biggs was the best known but least important of the Great Train Robbers.

Gordon Goody moved to Spain shortly after he was let out of the clink. There he was involved in  cannabis smuggling. At least the people he harmed were choosing to be harmed. He evaded tax on a massive scale but still had the NHS treat him for free.

Gordon Goody writes about the many policemen, barristers, judges and prison officers he came into contact with. This book is surprisingly free of acrimony towards the law. Goody seems to see crime as a gentlemanly sport. The law is just the other team. Astonishingly, he expresses respect and even affection for some of his opponents.

The prose is lucid and not quite sparse. This is an eminently readable book. It is no literary gem. Even with the help of a ghost writer this is not too eloquent and it should not be. Too embroider the vocabulary too much would be to lose Goody’s voice.

Goody died only a few months ago at the age of 86. It is a crying shame that a man so selfish, and violent should have lived so long. So many good people die far younger. There really is very little justice in the world. He seems to have got away with 9/10 crimes he committed. He is the last of the Great Train Robbers.



About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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