Of all the celebrities releasing autobiographies this Christmas, at least Ronnie Biggs actually has a story to tell.
The Great Train Robber – maligned and mythologised in equal measure – bowed out yesterday, a very old, frail man, surrounded by cameras and TV crews, making what will be his last ever public appearance to promote his new autobiography.
At 82, he can no longer walk or talk after a series of stroke and arrived at the east London book launch in his wheelchair, accompanied by his son, Michael, and friend and ghost writer Chris Pickard. Wearing sunglasses and a suit with jacket draped, Corleone-style, over his thin shoulders, Biggs communicated with the press by pointing to a letter board which with, “yes” and "no" on it, as well as one of his favourite retorts - “bollocks”.
Though he had no recourse to point to his favourite word yesterday, Biggs remained bullish about “misconceptions” about him, which, he claims, were created by the media. The man who spent 8 years in prison as a pensioner, said he felt more animosity toward the British press, than British law.
The book, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw is an update on his 1994 autobiography, with 200 new pages covering his return to the UK in 2001, his second imprisonment, and his release on compassionate grounds in 2009 by then justice secretary Jack Straw. Already, it has been criticised for making profit from criminality.
By law the proceeds cannot go to Biggs, and will instead go to ghost writer Chris Pickard – a friend of the Biggs family for the past 30 years.
“The book is not profiting from crime,” said Biggs’s son Michael, 37, who was born in Brazil and had a successful musical career after becoming a child TV star. “There is a lot more to my father’s life and the book will clear up many misconceptions.”
It is now 50 years since Biggs played his part in the legendary theft of £2.6 million from a Glasgow to London mail train in 1963 – the biggest ever robbery in Britain at the time. He was caught and sentenced to 30 years in jail, but made a dramatic escape from Wandsworth prison in 1965, fleeing to the continent, where he had plastic surgery to hide his identity. He went on to spend a 30-year exile in Spain, Australia and Brazil.
While expressing regret this week for “the hurt caused” by his actions to family and friends and to Jack Mills, the train driver assaulted during the heist, Biggs remains bullish about his legacy in the new book.
“If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, I will answer ‘NO!’,” he writes.
Asked yesterday how he thought the nation would remember him. After a pause in which he pointed out the letters on his word board, his son had the answer: "loveable rogue".
The previous edition of Bigg’s autobiography sold 30,000 copies, though some shops refused to stock it. Ghost writer Pickard was confident that the updated version would be equally successful.
However, the book sheds no light on the last remaining mysteries surrounding the heist. The whereabouts of “Mr Three”, the man Biggs claims was responsible for assaulting Mills, remains unsolved. Asked if Mr Three was still alive, Biggs gave a dismissive shrug.
Equally, the identity of the three members of the 16-strong that got away is a secret that will follow Biggs to his grave. He said he had “no right to” give his old cohorts away.