Germany's contribution to the Great Train Robbery's fame

In post-war Germany, fiercly divided into West and East until 1989 by the Iron Curtain, people in the western part were following news about the UK much closer than vice versa. And the Great Train Robbery sparked fascination about England in general, as did the Beatles in that same era. As West German TV had been very successful with english-style crime & drama (Francis Durbridge becoming really, really famous), soon the idea came up to put the Great Train Robbery on German screens .

And so did the "North German Broadcasting Corporation" (NDR) in 1965, which - ironically - had been founded by the British Military Government as NWDR in the late 1940ies. The title of the TV-Mini-Series (3 parts) became a dictum in the German Language: "Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse" - difficult to translate in its full sense. "Bitten zur Kasse" means to "cash in", not necessarily in a friendly manner. The title reflects the seemingly aristocratic, upper-class-style of the Train Robbers, as it was widely perceived and over-estimated in Germany.

And in prime-time on Feb. 8th 1966, West-German nationwide TV ARD (the NDR being one of its members) aired for the first time "The Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse". It became an immediate and overwhelming success with a viewing rate of 90%. Even in East Germany, where watching western TV was possible in most areas but politically restricted (to say the least), rates must have been similar. An absolute classic was born, making lead actor Horst Tappert (right on the picture, with Guenther Neutze) famous for good. He later earned worldwide popularity - ironically - in playing a TV detective ("Derrick"), much to the dismay of Bruce Reynolds, who met him after his release from prison in 1978 and several times since.

Even today, there are frequent re-runs of the TV-Series, catching the attention of further generations who weren't even born at the time of the events.

 

How close to reality is "Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse“?

NDR's wonderful blockbuster scored the highest viewing rates ever in German TV history. Horst Tappert, Guenter Neutze (picture) and  many other well-known actors gave a marvellous performance. Among other things, the nice soundtrack and many little "gimmicks" new to TV contributed to the serie's success. E.g., the speaker offers a nice and very sarcastic commentary, and there's that brilliant idea to stop end credits and the end of part three several times, roll them back an tell the audience what had happened in the meantime.

Howewer, one cannot always relate on this first filming ever (!) of the Train Robbery. Script Author Henry Kolarz (he died in 2001) mixed - for some strange reasons - truth and invention. Most visibly, the names of the Train Robbers, allthough most of them were very well known at the time, have been changed. Maybe for some legal reasons, because at the time some of the Robbers were still on the run and hadn't yet been convicted.

Less for legal, but more for publicity reasons, the biographies of some Train Robbers have been brushed up a little. E.g., Bruce Reynolds (born 1931), called "Michael Donegan", wasn't a World War II major, but spent the time like many english children outside London in a rural children's home. Buster Edwards' (aka "Patrick Kinsey") "wig shop" for judges never existed, too.

The names of many locations have been changed as well, allthough they had been in the media worldwide (e.g. "Chilton" instead of Cheddington, "Woodlands Farm" instead of Leatherslade Farm). Later, Kolarz published a book about the Train Robbery that gave at least correct names and places, but many fictonal stuff as well.

The follwing list may help to compare the names in the TV-Series with the real Train Robbers. I made it before I first found Kolarz' Book, but afterwards there were no changes necessary. Even German TV (ARD) used it when they launched it on DVD in 2005.

fictional name actor real person

Michael Donegan

Horst Tappert

Bruce Reynolds

Patrick Kinsey

Hans Cossy

Buster“ Edwards

Archibald Arrow

Günther Neutze

Gordon Goody

Geoffrey Black

Karl-Heinz Hess

John Thomas Daly

Thomas Webster

Hans Reiser

Charlie Wilson

Gerald Williams

Rolf Nagel

Robert Welch

Harold McIntosh

Wolfgang Weiser

Jim Hussey

George Slowfoot

Harry Engel

Roy James

Andrew Elton

 Wolfram Schaerf

Thomas Wisbey

Ronald Cameron

Günther Tabor

James Edward White

Walter Lloyd

Wolfried Lier

Roger Cordrey

Alfred Frost

Franz Mosthav

William (Bill) Boal

Arthur Finegan

Kurt Conradi

Ronald "Ronnie" Biggs

Dennis McLeod

Siegfried Lowitz

Tommy Butler

Twinky

Horst Beck

(„The Ulsterman“, unbek. Informant)

Peter Masterson

Paul Edwin Roth

Brian Field

Inge Masterson

Kai Fischer

 Karin (Karen) Field

Jennifer Donegan

Grit Böttcher

Francis Reynolds

Eilene Black

Eleonore Schroth

Barbara Daly

Sergeant Robbins

Lothar Grützner

Det. Constable Charles Case

Sergeant Davies

Dirk Dautzenberg

Det. Sgt. Stanley Davies

Smiler Jackson

Günther Meisner

(„Peter“, Eisenbahner im Ruhestand)

Montague

Albert Hoerrmann

Det.-Superintendent Malcolm Fewtrell

Vorsitzender Richter

Alexander Golling

Chief Judge Edmund Davies

What do we know abut the making of the Series?

As the NDR did not get permission to work in England, only few scenes with a hidden camera (!) were taken in London. Most scenes were shot in West Germany, the railway scenes were filmed with a German locomotive close to the town of Moringen near Northeim in southern Lower Saxony.

For the UK, an extra british crew was hired, but according to the memories of actor Horst Tappert, the material they provided was of such a poor quality that it was hardly used in the final version.

While filming the series, editor John Olden died on September 12th, 1965 in Hamburg. Claus Peter Witt stepped in.