Obituary: George Chatham

The lessons which Dick Hobbs adduces from George Chat-ham's sordid career [10 June] include one about television and real crime: both the risks implicit in the former and the morality of packaging the latter as entertainment, writes Pieter van der Merwe.

In 1951, so the story at the National Maritime Museum goes, its then director appeared in an early BBC broadcast showing the famed chelengk awarded to Nelson by the Sultan of Turkey after the Battle of the Nile in 1798. This showy plume of Brazilian diamonds the admiral wore in his hat, where its more-than-oriental splendour added much to his reputation for ungentlemanly vanity: it was of course meant for a turban.

Shortly afterwards a lightweight army ladder appeared overnight against the wall of the then lightly armoured museum, a window was forced, an eight-foot sheet of case glass spectacularly smashed and the sparklers were gone. Thereafter bars and regular security upgrades became the order of the day.

Forty-three years later, in 1994, the BBC did a documentary series on the underworld showing how "crime really doesn't pay in the long term" - except of course for television producers who know its fascination and make it a regular stock in tade. In the course of this, and a related promotional article in the Independent magazine (12 February 1994), the museum learnt that Chatham was the man who claimed (dis)credit for the deed and got "a few thousand" for the diamonds before they were broken up. Then 81, he was still living at some public expense - not this time in jail but in sheltered council housing: in a civilised society "an old and highly respected brigand" (W.S. Gilbert's phrase) also had his rights.

The chelengk and Chatham now only exist in old photographs and legend. It is a small historical satisfaction to record their relationship: none to reflect how television may have provoked theft and can still benefit from it. Of course it all depends whether you believe him or not.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in