Bellman and True is a 1987 film based on the novel of the same name by Desmond Lowden. The film was written and directed by Richard Loncraine. It stars Bernard Hill, Derek Newark and Richard Hope.
The title comes from an old Cumberland song titled "D’ye Ken John Peel," specifically the lyric:
Yes, I ken John Peel and Ruby too.
Ranter and Ringwood, Bellman and True.
From a find to a check, from a check to a view,
From a view to a death in the morning.
The title uses a pun in the term Bellman which in the film’s case refers to a criminal who specialises in disabling intruder alarm systems.
Hiller (Hill) arrives at Paddington station with The Boy (O’Brien) following a stay in Torquay. As they arrive they do not realise they are being followed by Gort (Bones) who tails them as they check into a hotel near the station. A few days later The Boy is kidnapped by Gort and Hiller is also captured and taken to a derelict house in central London where he meets up with Salto (Hope). It transpires that Hiller is a former computer programmer who stole a computer tape for Salto containing details of the security system at a bank near Heathrow Airport. The Boy is Hiller’s wife’s son and he looks after him after The Boy’s mother ran away with another man.
Hiller and The Boy are kept captive in the house while Hiller is forced to decode the information on the tape. When he succeeds Salto realises that he has all the information he needs to rob the bank. Salto obtains the necessary finance for the robbery and recruits The Guv’nor (Newark) to mastermind the robbery. During the planning stages, The Bellman (Howell) identifies that the alarm system for the bank is very sophisticated and that it has a number of safeguards to prevent it being interfered with. Hiller is able to advise on how to beat the countermeasures and is recruited as the new Bellman for the robbery. The gang decide that they will rob the bank just before Christmas when it will hold one of the largest amounts of cash in its vaults.
On the night of the robbery the gang intentionally trigger the alarm to fool the guards sent to investigate that the bank has been broken into. The guards assume the call is false whilst the gang actually use a small window of time to enter the bank allowing The Peterman (Whybrow) to determine how to access the basement area. They utilise the fact that after the fourth callout, the guards will remain in the bank with the alarm disabled until the following morning whilst the gang are in the basement breaking into the vault.
The gang use a thermic lance to cut through the vault door and steal approximately 13 million pounds in cash. They leave the bank by releasing tear gas canisters to disorientate the guards and escape in a getaway car driven by The Wheelman (Dowdall). They manage to escape to a changeover point where they abandon the car and change to a van. On the journey to an unspecified location they hear that the security guard dog handler has died. The Guv’nor is frightened that he has broken a criminal code of conduct that no one gets hurt and he is afraid that the identity of the gang will be made known to the police. He changes his plans and the gang travel to the beach next to Dungeness power station. Salto later arrives with The Boy.
At the beach The Guv’nor informs Hiller that The Boy and others will leave to travel abroad in a private plane and that Hiller will stay in the UK while it is arranged for him to have plastic surgery. The Guv’nor actually intends to kill Hiller but before he can do so Hiller steals a gun and runs into a nearby building where he earlier created an Improvised Explosive Device using a propane gas cylinder which blows up after he has escaped. The explosion kills the Guv’nor and the others in the gang and Hiller escapes in the van with Salto driving. They make it to the plane pick-up point but Salto was mortally wounded after he was shot following the explosion and dies in a pillbox by the beach.
The plane sent to pick them up does not land and Hiller and The Boy use the van to take them to Heathrow Airport. They use the false passports intended for their getaway and arrive for a flight to Rio de Janeiro already booked for them. On board the plane Hiller is tense and thinks he is likely to be arrested when he sees policemen come aboard the flight. It transpires that the plane is being used to transport human organs for transplant and the film ends with the plane taking off.
The film gives very little clue to the complete identity of the characters. Very few names are used and the characters are referred to by either their first name or surname only or by an alternative term. Terms such as the Guv’nor (boss), Bellman (alarm disabler), Peterman (safebreaker) and Wheelman (getaway driver) are used to hide the identity of the characters.
First billed cast:Bernard Hill as Hiller
Derek Newark as Guv'nor
Richard Hope as Salto
Ken Bones as Gort
Frances Tomelty as Anna
Kieran O'Brien as The Boy
John Kavanagh as Donkey
Arthur Whybrow as The Peterman
Jim Dowdall as The Wheelman
Peter Howell as The Bellman
Kate McEnery as Mo
Anne Carroll as Pauline
Richard Strange as Man with Walkman
Peter Jonfield as Security Sergeant
Andrew Paul as Young Security Guard
Filming took place mostly in locations in London. The opening scenes were filmed in and around Paddington Station and the hotel where Hiller stays is near Praed Street. The scene where Hiller is being chased was filmed in Bayswater with Redan Place and the then closed Whiteleys department store visible in shots. The scene where the Guv’nor threatens Hiller by the side of the motorway was filmed on the M25 between junctions 14 and 15 next to the Colnbrook bypass overbridge. The scenes following the robbery were filmed at Dungeness Beach next to Dungeness Power Station. The closing scenes were filmed in Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport.
The film was produced jointly by Handmade Films and Euston Films, the drama making subsidiary of Thames Television. The production was originally a three part series made for television with an approximate run time of 150 minutes. The film version has been edited to 112 minutes.
The 112 minute film version is available on DVD.