Behind The Mask







“Good evening, and welcome to Behind The Mask, where we explore the careers, inspirations and motivations for some of the most prominent members of our community.  Tonight, it is my great pleasure to welcome to the studio two men who possibly need no introduction, given their reputation.  Please welcome to the show Mister Tall and Mister Small, otherwise known as The Gentlemen Robbers.


“Gentleman, welcome to Behind The Mask.”


“It’s a pleasure to be here, John.  On behalf of Mister Small and myself, thank you for the invitation.”


“You have both gained a reputation, both within our community and with the wider public, for the fact you are the ‘Criminals with a Conscience’ as the Mail on Sunday described you.  Mister Small, how did you jointly come to the decision that this was the approach that would work for you - the polite coercion?”


“I guess it comes partly from the people we are, partly from the fact we respect all people, regardless of their race, gender or otherwise, and partly because it means things go a lot more quietly.  You are much less likely to have a woman scream at you if you are polite, gentle and firm, than if you actually physically threaten them.”


“Not to say we do not occasionally show a weapon, but we very rarely, if ever, have to use it.  In your case, Mister Small, I also think your mentor may have had a big influence on you.”


“You may be right, Mister Tall.”


“That brings me to my first question to both of you, which is how you came to take up your chosen profession.  Mister Small, I understand you effectively served an apprenticeship with a master?”


“He would blush if he heard himself called that, but you’re right John.  I had run around with a few street gangs when someone spotted my potential, and started to use me as a lookout for a few small jobs.  I worked with him for a while, and then he suggested taking it on a more professional footing, which was when he introduced me to The Cat.”


“Now The Cat was an equally famous cat burglar in the 70’s and 80’s.  How did it feel to be given him as a mentor?”


“Awe more than anything.  I had read the newspaper reports of his exploits, and the decryptions given by some of the celebrities he had met, but in real life he came over as a very warm, genuine human being, who wanted the best for everyone in our profession.  He taught me a great deal, both about the technical side and also the way we should treat those we visit.”


“Now, as I understand it, this sort of training goes alongside a more normal day job.”


“That’s right - I’m actually a qualified electrician, which came in useful from time to time when we needed to know the layout of a target residence.  I also use those skills today, as I tend to deal with the more electronic side of the places we both visit.”


“Can you tell our viewers something of what was involved in your training - how do you learn the skills required to be such a successful burglar?”


“mainly by practice, John, but you don’t just walk in and start tying people up on day one.  You start by acting as an assistant, learning how to select targets, assess and plan raids, without actually going on one.  Later on, you accompany your mentor and help him out in different ways, all the time learning the skills and knowledge you require.  In time, you graduate to going solo, and eventually he or she deems you are good enough to start on your own, or else to work with as a partner or in a larger team.”


“Turning to you, Mister Tall, I understand you came into the profession by a slightly different route?”


“You may say that, John.  I actually went to university, and graduated with a degree in Art History, before deciding to take a round the world tour.  My parents had died, and I had been left a modest inheritance, so I just packed a rucksack and took off for what I intended to be six months.


“Anyway, I went to the Far East and India, looking at art and picking up some of the local culture - Bollywood movies in particular fascinated me, and they remain a great love to this day.  At any rate, I found I needed to replenish my funds from time to time, and rather than dip into my own resources I discovered a flair for quick break ins - get in, take the money, and out in ten minutes.


“Eventually I found myself in Italy, and I met a lady there, whose name I cannot share.  She saw two things in me - a talent for larceny, and a working knowledge of fine art.  She offered me a most unique position in, shall we say, procurement of certain objects, and it was a position I learned a great deal from.


“Obviously, I eventually returned to this country, and still indulged my talent from time to time - in fact that was where we first met.”


“So you would both say that your approach, the way you conduct yourselves, is as much a product of the training and support you received earlier as of yourselves?”


“I cannot speak for Mister Small, but certainly in my case my employer in Italy demanded - no, that’s the wrong word, commanded respect.”


“So how did you meet - was it true that you both met when you robbed the same flat?”


“Absolutely true - I had followed this woman from the tube station to her flat, waited until she had gone in, and then forced my way and made her take me to the living room.  I secured her, or thought I had, on the couch, left her while I went to search the room, and then...”


“And then you came into the room to find me holding her, her mobile phone in her hand.  I had arrived earlier and had already restrained the other flatmate, but heard Mister Tall come in and went to see if it was the other girl.  As it was, I saved both our skins that day, so we agreed to split the proceedings, and then afterwards to work as a team.”


“Indeed - Mister Small brought the technical and electrical skills, and I brought the muscle.”


“Well, those watching would agree that you have made a formidable team - and your reputation is known far and wide.  Do you find that a help or a hindrance in the work that you do?”


“I guess it’s a little bit of both, John.  IF the people we visit have heard of us, they find it both frightening and strangely reassuring - it’s almost as if they know we won’t hurt them, even when we secure them.  OF course, it can sometimes be a problem for us as well.”


“In what way?”


“Well, recently we were contacted by someone who considers themselves a master criminal, who then coerced us into holding a young lady hostage in order to gain leverage on her boyfriend.  As we entered town to perform the job, much against our wishes or will, we listened to a radio interview with an Ms Sara Philips - I am sure you have heard of her?”


“Indeed, we have, and of the Detective Agency she runs.”


“Well, it turned out our target was with her, but as she came home early we did what we had to, and hoped we could leave early.  Regretfully, Ms Philips and her friends, including the target’s rather intoxicated sister, returned early.”


“What Mister Tall is failing to mention is the person who made us do this job had history with these girls, and suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a rather unfortunate discussion.  Still, in the end, and with the help of some well placed friends, all came right in the end.”


“Moving on to the subject of binding, what are your preferred media for binding and gagging?”


“Well, we tend to prefer using rope, although we have found duct tape - good quality, industrial stuff - to be useful as well.  Normally, we bring enough for the number of people we expect may be at home, but sometimes we have to improvise.”


“As you did at the St Monica’s Vicarage?”


“Heh - for some reason, that is the one job we have done that nearly everybody has heard of and remembers.  How did they describe it in the Sun, Mister Small?”


“Tape, Tea and Sympathy, if I recall correctly, Mister Tall.  At any rate, for gags we always, always use some sort of stuffing, and preferably silk or other scarves.  We don’t want to damage the lips of those we have to keep quiet if we can help it.”


“It’s that level of consideration and care that have earned you the reputation of The Gentlemen Robbers, but has there ever been a situation where either a client or a captive has proved so unco-operative or unpleasant that they've found it hard to maintain their impeccable manners?”


“Oh, now that is a very, very good question.  In the case we referred to earlier, the person who engaged our services insisted on crowing to Miss Philips while she was unable to respond, and that did raise our hackles a little.”


“That is certainly true, Mister Tall - but do you remember that woman we visited once in the outskirts of Chester?”


“The one with the young housekeeper?  Oh yes - now there was, if you will forgive the analogy, an unreconstructed harridan if ever there was one.  She was the very epitome of a Thatcherite Tory, right down to the attitude of ‘If you are not of my thinking, of my breeding, and of my people, then you are less than nothing.’  Not an attitude I find particularly helpful, it has to be said.”


“Indeed - so when she walked in on us, and would not even listen to our polite requests to allow us to continue with our work, it did almost prove the rare time when we had to use force.”


“You say almost, Mister Small - what stopped you from doing so?”


“The young housekeeper in question - I believe she employed the rubber covered handle of her mop?”


“That’s right - by the time her soon to be former employer recovered her senses, we had secured and gagged her, and were tying the now very peaceful housekeeper to a chair.”


“I understand that same level of concern also applies to the beliefs of the people you visit - can you give an example of how that is employed?”


“Well, on one occasion we visited a house, and it was obvious when we were searching the premises that the family staying there were Anabaptists - a particular sect, one of whose more charming foibles is the fact the women must wear headscarves to cover their head.  A rather literal adaptation of Paul’s admonishment to the church in Corinth, but anyway.  When we found the daughter of the family at home, and then her mother and aunt arrived, we knew they would not try to fight us, but at the same time we could not use the scarves they were wearing for gags.”


“Indeed - we left them bound, in a circle, praying with napkins for the gags, if I remember correctly.  There was another occasion, when we visited a home in the outskirts of Manchester that belonged to a Muslim family, and when the matriarch of the family returned she was veiled.  Now, of course, some Islamic groups do not allow a woman to be seen unveiled by other men, so we had to use her veil as part of the gag.”


“I trust she was not left upset by that, Mister Tall?”


“Resigned is probably closer to the point.”


“To move on to another topic, you are also well known for almost never targeting houses where there may be children present.  Is that a conscious decision on your parts?”


“It was one of the first things we discussed when we formed our partnership.  To be honest, the idea of binding and gagging children is one we both find a little upsetting, and we try to avoid it if at all possible.  In fact, if we are unfortunate enough to find children present, one of tends to take them to a room and stay with them until we are finished.”


“Mister Small, do you agree with that?”


“Hmmm - oh yes, in the main I totally agree.  I was just thinking of a recent visit we paid to Holderness Manor, where we found a group of friends indulging in some games involving ropes.  There was one girl...  But anyway, yes, by and large children are avoided by us.


“That’s no tot say we haven’t bound and gagged our fair share of mothers and daughters - it’s just that they are older and more capable of coping.”


“What have been - well, the most amusing situations you have found yourselves in?  Mister Tall?”


“The Women in Grey - just before Christmas, we visit a house and three women from the same family walk in, all dressed in grey.  Somehow it tickled my fancy.”


“For me, and Mister Tall may kill me for this, it was a home we visited in Leicester where the elderly mother did not speak English.  Neither she nor her daughter realised he could speak the language, so when they were talking to each other he understood every word they said.  Me, I heard enough to know they had certain fears, which we quickly allayed.”


“The one we both agree on, however, was when we were asked to retrieve an object from the private museum of a lady we are not at liberty to name.  She employed only female guards, and eh recollection was - well, eclectic is not quite the right word.”


“Have you ever been caught, or come close to been caught, by the police?”


“Thankfully, no - but we did on one occasion get surprised by the woman we visited.”


“Surprise is not quite the word, Mister Small - I’m told the look on my face when her booby trap hit me was a sight fair to behold.  We cannot, however, say more than that - she was a unique and exceptional woman.”


“So what do you do outside of your jobs to relax?”


“Well, I sing in a Gilbert and Sullivan society, but I had to stop myself in a recent production of the Pirates of Penzance.”


“Really, Mister Tall?  What happened?”


“Well, I was playing one of the policemen, and during a certain song I found myself singing

 When there’s burgularly duties to be done, to be done,

A robber’s lot is not a happy one, a happy one...

As you can imagine, not the best way to fluff your lines.”


“Indeed, and for you Mister Small?”


“Literature and watching a good movie on the television.  I am nowhere nearly as refined as Mister Tall in my musical tastes I’m afraid - The Clash are amongst my favourite bands.”


“One final question, if I may - you are best known for your visits in the UK, but have you ever visited abroad, or have you any plans to visit abroad?”


“Well, I know Mister Small has spent some time in the US, and I’m sure he spent at least some time there visiting some houses there.  I also return to Italy from time to time, but together?”


“Well, let us just say we cannot discuss our future plans, for obvious reasons.”


“Of course.  Well, our time is nearly up, but I’d like to thank you both for joining us today and telling us something of yourselves on Behind The Mask.”






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