Terence Bailey (George Baker) has organised what seems to be the perfect crime – a million pounds in gold bullion, hijacked from a Russian plane. Bailey remains confident that he’s covered all the angles, but then cracks begin to show amongst his gang …..
The Great Plane Robbery is something of a pun title, which would have been obvious to most of the audience at the time (The Great Train Robbery had occurred the previous year, 1963).
What’s remarkable about the plane robbery is just how straightforward it is. There seems to be no security at all, either on the plane or at the airport. They were carrying a million pounds in gold, for goodness sake! You’d have assumed there would have been the odd guard lounging around, but no. So Bailey’s right-hand man, Frank Dobson (Edwin Richfield) and the others are pretty much able to scoop it out of the plane at their leisure. And even when the people in the airport control tower spot there’s a robbery taking place, all they can do is stare through their binoculars and sound the alarm. The police are obviously a long way away, because Dobson and the others are easily able to make their escape before anybody turns up.
Edwin Richfield graced many a series with his presence (UFO, Doctor Who, The Avengers, Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, Adam Adamant Lives!). He’s perfect as Bailey’s trusted second-in-command, who becomes rather disenchanted when a newcomer, Harold (Jeremy Burnham), turns up. Harold is somewhat fey and camp and this doesn’t seem to go down well with Dobson (after Harold rests his hand on Dobson’s arm, he angrily tells Harold that he doesn’t like people touching him). But that doesn’t seem to be the only reason why Harold irritates him – Dobson has enjoyed his time as Bailey’s closest confidant, but now there’s a newcomer who knows more than he does. Their simmering discontent will later have serious consequences for Dobson ….
Jeremy Burham’s something of a renaissance man, not only an actor (including The Saint, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk and The Persuaders!) but a writer as well (Bergerac, Inspector Morse, The Gentle Touch, Minder, The Professionals, When the Boat Comes In, to mention but a few). He helps to liven up the middle part of the episode, which otherwise might have sagged a little.
For me, this is one of the less essential GW episodes, and it only really succeeds because of the quality of the cast (as well as a few entertaining sequences which we’ll come to in a minute). George Baker is certainly one of the reasons why it works as well as it does. Much later he’d become very well known for playing a detective, but in the early part of his career he did a nice line in criminals, as he does here. Bailey is a confident, cultured man. He treats everybody around him with a casual air of indifference – he’s top dog and he knows it. Of course, it’s his air of superiority which makes his eventual comeuppance all the more satisfying.
Memorable moments include young Malcolm and Gideon clashing over the best way to deal with the malfunctioning television. Gideon is convinced he knows best, but Malcolm does know best and manages to restore the picture. As with most of Giles Watling’s scenes throughout the series, this has no impact on the plot – it’s simply a nice character moment that helps to humanise Gideon. Police officers, especially senior ones, with stable home lives are a rarity on television and whilst there’s an undeniable sense that their family set-up is simply too idealised to be true, it works nonetheless.
A quite different sort of family can be seen when we visit one of the gang, Kautsky (George Murcell). His wife (played by Freda Bamford) is a remarkable creation, with big hair and a fag dangling from her lip. And their son, Sid (John Hall), is remarkable too. Although Hall was only in his early twenties when this episode was made, he looks a good deal older – meaning that it’s hard to take him seriously as the rebellious teen he’s written as. His long hair is a bit of an eye-opener too. Long hair for men isn’t really something that we’ve seen too often on GW – as touched upon before, the series has more of a fifties sensibility than a sixties one. However, it’s not really the hair that’s an issue, more of the fact that it just looks so false (it surely must have been a wig). If you can watch Hall’s performance and not think of Peter Sellers in What’s New Pussycat then you have more self control than me.
Not the best that the series can offer then, but it still has its moments.