Is BBC drama The Gold based on a true story?

The real events that inspired one of the world's biggest robberies

Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye holding a gold bar in BBC's The Gold.
Jack Lowden plays Kenneth Noye in The Gold. (Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais)

Available now on BBC iPlayer, The Gold tells the unbelievable true story of the UK’s largest gold heist, the complicated work authorities underwent to try and recover it, and the longstanding impact it had on the country for years afterwards.

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

Written by Neil Forsyth, The Gold chronicles the events of the Brink's-Mat robbery in 1983 where £26 million of gold bullion was stolen from a security depot near London’s Heathrow Airport. With diamonds and cash also taken, it was considered to be the largest robbery of its type in history, with the amount stolen equating to £93 million by modern-day standards.

Read more: BBC hits the jackpot with The Gold

This new adaptation dramatises these events, with Bonneville and Cooper playing two of the real-life people associated with its fall out — the former charged with tracking it down and the latter responsible for helping to sneak it back into the market.

However, how much of The Gold is true and how much is a product of creative licence? Let’s take a look.

Is The Gold based on a true story?

Emun Elliot, Hugh Bonneville and Charlotte Spencer in The Gold
The cast also includes Emun Elliot, Hugh Bonneville and Charlotte Spencer. (Tannadice Pictures/BBC)

As we’ve previously discussed, The Gold is indeed based on a true story although it does use dramatic elements to condense this complex story into a handy six-episode thriller.

Going right back to the start, the robbery took place in November 1983 when thieves targeting a security warehouse near Heathrow stumbled upon a huge haul of gold bullion, diamonds and cash belonging to Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd.

At the time, it was the largest robbery in British history and the events that took place afterwards helped to redefine money laundering on a large scale while inadvertently funding much of the property boom on the London Docklands.

An archive photograph of DCI Brian Boyce walking on a London street.
The real DCI Brian Boyce, played by Hugh Bonneville in The Gold. (BBC)

Following the theft, some arrests were made but much of the three tonnes of stolen gold remained at large.

Around £1million worth of the gold was later located at the Bank of England and by 1996, it was largely believed that more than half of the gold that was originally stolen had been melted down, recast and re-entered the world's jewellery market.

In a strange turn of events, much of this resurfaced gold is believed to have ended up back in the hands of its original owners, Johnson Matthey Bankers Ltd.

Read more: Brink's-Mat robbery getting BBC documentary

While some of this stolen haul was believed to have been mysteriously buried somewhere, as of today, it is widely assumed that most people who purchased a piece of gold jewellery after 1983 could very well own a piece of gold stolen during the Brink's-Mat robbery.

Kenneth Noye in a court handout
A court handout showing Kenneth Noye. (PA/Alamy)

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

By and large, the series tries to stick closely to actual events, with series writer Neil Forsyth having also previously co-written a book on this very topic with fellow author Thomas Turner and establishing himself as an authority on this fascinating story. As a result, it's likely Forsyth would have wanted to minimise inaccuracies while bringing this tale to the screen.

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

Meanwhile, Cooper, who plays a solicitor involved with helping to launder the gold back into the marketplace, is believed to have been based on the real solicitor Michael Relton, albeit with a different name, Edwin Cooper.

Tom Cullen's John Palmer, the illiterate goldsmith shown smelting the gold in the series, was also a real person. In 2001, he was found guilty "of masterminding the largest timeshare fraud on record", and is reported to have swindled 20,000 people out of £30m. He was murdered in 2015, aged 64, shot six times in the chest inside his gated home in Essex.

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

All six episodes of The Gold are now available to stream on BBC iPlayer. If the show leaves you eager 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 available now on BBC iPlayer.