Rockbrat Remembers: Ronnie Biggs 1929 – 2013

Ronnie Biggs – The Great Train Robber is dead. Although his role in the 1963 robbery was minimal, he managed to evade capture for over 35 years, thereby endearing himself to the public with his larrikin spirit, much in the same way that certain Australian bush rangers did in the 1860s – 1880s.  In 1966, after living in Paris and undergoing plastic surgery, Biggs took a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight to Sydney, where he lived for several months before moving to the seaside suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide, South Australia. In 1967, just after their third child was born, Biggs received an anonymous letter from Britain telling him that Interpol suspected that he was in Australia and that he should move. In May 1967, the family moved to Melbourne, Victoria, where he rented a house in the suburb of Blackburn North, while his wife Charmian and his three sons lived in Doncaster East. He had a number of jobs in Melbourne before undertaking set construction work at the Channel 9 TV studios. In October 1969, a newspaper report by a Reuters correspondent revealed that Biggs was living in Melbourne and claimed that police were closing in on him. The story led the 6 o’clock news at Channel 9 and Biggs fled his home, staying with family friends in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Five months later, he fled on a passenger liner from the Port of Melbourne, using the altered passport of a friend. His wife and sons remained in Australia. Twenty days later, the ship berthed in Panama and within two weeks Biggs flew to Brazil (who had no extradition laws to Britain)where he remained until ill health and no money for health expenses forced him back to Britain in 2001. Biggs managed to use his notoriety as a way of making money through interviews  and the like. He was a tourist attraction – good for the Brazilian economy. He always managed to stay one step ahead of the law.  Though several times the law did attempt to return him to Britain. In 1974, with his Brazilian girlfriend pregnant, Brazilian law at the time did not allow a parent of a Brazilian child to be extradited. In April 1977 Biggs attended a cocktail party on board the Royal Navy frigate Danae, which was in Rio for a courtesy visit, but he was not arrested. Though in Brazil he was safe from extradition, Biggs’s status as a known felon meant he could not work, visit bars or be away from home after 10 p.m. To provide an income, Biggs’s family hosted barbecues at his home in Rio, where tourists could meet Biggs and hear him recount his involvement in the robbery, which, in fact, was minor. Around this time, “Ronnie Biggs” mugs, coffee cups and T-shirts also appeared throughout Rio. Biggs recorded vocals on two songs for The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Julien Temple’s film about the Sex Pistols. The basic tracks for “No One is Innocent” (a.k.a. “The Biggest Blow (A Punk Prayer)”/”Cosh The Driver”) and “Belsen Was a Gas” were recorded with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook at a studio in Brazil shortly after the Sex Pistols’ final performance, with overdubs added in an English studio at a later date. “No One is Innocent” was released as a single in the UK on 30 June 1978 and reached number 7 in the UK Singles Chart. The sleeve showed a British actor dressed as Nazi leader Martin Bormann playing bass with the group. In April 1981, Biggs was kidnapped by a gang of British ex-soldiers. The boat they took him aboard suffered mechanical problems off Barbados, and the stranded kidnappers and Biggs were rescued by the Barbados coastguard and towed into port in Barbados. The kidnappers hoped to collect a reward from the British police; however, like Brazil, Barbados had no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom and Biggs was sent back to Brazil. Skyhooks’ Bob Starkie (Bongo Starr) also visited Ronnie Biggs in Rio and made a film about him. In 1991, Biggs sang vocals for the songs “Police on My Back” and “Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)” by German punk band Die Toten Hosen. In 1993, Biggs sang on three tracks for the album “Bajo otra bandera” by Argentinian punk band Pilsen. James Cockington’s book ‘ History Happened Here’ on ABC Books provides a good description of Biggs’ time in Australia.

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