How to Rob a Bank (Part 1)
10 March 2003
A carefully researched, two-part series exploring the history of organised crime and armed robbery, in particular the “golden age” of “across the pavement artists” who flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.
When British banks and their security advisors developed the burglar-proof safe in the 1950s, they unwittingly created the era of the organised bank robber. How To Rob A Bank tells the story of the tit-for-tat war of technology and psychology that followed.
The 1960s saw the birth of the “project crime” – sophisticated and increasingly violent attacks on the banks, their staff and their money. We trace the robbers’ pursuit of cash from safe-cracking through to hold-ups in the banking halls and the military-like assaults on cash in transit. The banks fought back, turning each branch into a fortress and protecting their staff with screens and cameras. Sometimes this made things worse – one cashier was killed by flying fragments of the security glass meant to protect her. But the cameras did the trick – as the first man ever arrested on the evidence of a British bank camera recalls.
As the banks developed better ways of deterring professional robbers from targeting their branches, the villains instead perfected their assaults on cash in transit trucks. Bernie Kahn, of the Chainsaw Gang, tells how his men defied the banks by attacking an armoured van with specialist cutting gear. The van makers fought back, inventing airlocks and interlocking doors which further delayed the villains’ getting their hands on the loot. Other inventions tried to render the cash too difficult to steal – from octopus arms which shot out of the cash bag making it hard to carry (a flop) to armoured bags which ruined cash by dyeing it red when tampered with (a great success).
In the end, though, it was intelligence-led policing and the willingness of the police to fight fire with fire by arming officers which had a profound effect on the career criminals’ desire to keep attacking the banks’ money.
Associate Producers: Adrian Gatton; James Oliver
Series Consultant: Paul Lashmar
Director: Jonathan Jones
Exec Producers: Steve Boulton