Behind The Mask 2
Good evening and welcome to another edition of Behind The Mask, where we talk to noted members of our profession about their lives, influences and memories. Tonight, we are incredibly honoured and delighted to be joined by three women whose reputation has made them a household name to the world at large - despite never knowingly speaking in public. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to Behind The Mask the China Doll Gang.
Thank you, John - it is a great honour for us to be here as well.
I should point out at this point that your answers to the questions are going to be typed onto a subtitle screen now for the benefit of everyone, in order to preserve your anonymity.
Indeed - and we ask for the audience’s understanding and patience in this.
So I wonder if I can start with asking you how the three of you first met - without going too much into the details, of course.
Of course, John. We first met when we house shared in the suburbs of London.
So you were students together?
Not as such - but we all answered an advert for rooms in a house to the north of the city. We got on well together, and for a while there were no real problems - except for the fact our landlord was also a fence for the local criminal fraternity.
Indeed - and the first we knew of this was when some of his ’friends’ decided to reclaim the money he owed them by robbing our house. They were quite forceful about it, and we spent most of that evening very tightly bound and gagged in our underwear.
As you can imagine, that was not the most - comfortable of experiences, but for one of us in particular it fuelled a need for revenge.
Would it be imprudent to ask which of the three it was?
None of us, actually - it was our fourth housemate. When she eventually freed herself and then us, we were going to call the police, but she stopped us and told us she knew who had done this - that they were professional colleagues of her. She then asked us if we wanted to get revenge.
Well, we were all for that, so she told us the best way to get back at them was to “do unto them as they did unto us” to misquote scripture. The next night, we were surprised to find ourselves visiting the house of one of the men, and robbing it.
I presume you were not fully fledged Dolls at that time?
<Laugh> No, we were not, but our flatmate made us all wear boiler suits and balaclavas, and she bound and gagged the wife and mother while we retrieved our stuff. What we did realise then was that we liked the thrill of the event, and also that we got a great deal of satisfaction from it, so when we returned home we asked her to teach us more.
As you know, we always ask for questions for our guests, and as you can imagine a lot of people are very curious as to how you came up with the motif and style of your working. Perhaps we can start with the costumes and masks - how did you choose them?
The idea for the grey bodysuits actually came from my drama studies - we had been doing a lot of work in mime, and I was struck by two things. First, the simplicity of the body suit, and secondly how it makes everyone look alike, particularly when you hide your hair under the hood.
It is also incredibly practical - more than once we have entered a target building dressed in normal clothes, then stripped off to the bodysuits, and within five minutes we are ready to begin.
I’m sure the audience can understand the usefulness of such an approach - but what about the masks?
Ah - now that came from a couple of sources. The first was again myself - I watched a Kabuki theatre demonstration, and was struck at how much emotion you had to convey in movement and gesture when your face is hidden.
The other, believe it or not, was an old graphic novel I picked up called V for Vendetta - the title character in that wears a Guy Fawkes mask, both as a symbol and as a very effective disguise. There were comments there about how the detection methods in the novel would not work - and the gears in my mind started turning.
So it came from a real desire to hide who you were behind a recognisable disguise?
In a way, yes - the choice of the white masks came really because they were cheaper, but also because when we all wore them for the first time we were struck by how alike we looked in the garb - so we felt it was perfect.
The other very real part of your image is, of course, the silence - was that something you adopted at the same time as the costumes?
No - at first we used a voice modulator, to disguise our voices, but we tried to use printed instructions and speak as little as possible. After all, if the people we visited realised we were three women, they may be tempted to resist more.
There was one family we visited - the husband was the manager of a local supermarket, mother stayed at home, kid was at private school - where that worked extremely well. We went in, grabbed the wife, grabbed the daughter when she came home, then got the wife to call the husband.
Forgive me for saying this, ladies, but that does sound very similar to a certain Peter Fonda film.
Well, the daughter was 17, not 10, but yes that was an influence on our approach. At any rate, we got the cash, but at the point of handing over the modulator on my mask failed, so I had to put my fingers to my lips and stay silent. I noted the look of fear in the man’s eyes, and told the others when we got home. That was when we decided that, in the future, we would remain silent whenever we were at work.
Before we discuss that most striking aspect of your reputation, I just want to go back to the fact that at the beginning there were four of you - and yet, with only a few exceptions, you have been reported as a trio. Can you explain that a bit further?
As we developed our style, we found four was a little too many people, so we initially always had one of us planning and acting as a driver or back up. As we grew in confidence, our friend turned her considerable talents to planning our targets, scouting out locations, and suggesting stratagems for approaching and securing the occupants.
It was also her who suggested we study the Chinese style of rope work - she had read how it was a fast and efficient method for securing anyone. We tried it on ourselves, and had to agree it was a good approach - one we have adopted to great effect ever since.
I see - and are you at liberty to say what happened to her?
She was approached, after a target we visited in the North Nottingham area, by a man who was her mentor with an offer to join a large organisation. She now works as the personal assistant for the head of that organisation - but she left knowing she could teach us no more.
To return then to your style of approach to the people you visit, the number one question we had in our poll was simple - how did you manage to stay silent for so long?
Of course - but there has been fevered speculation in the press as to your approach. One theory is that you actually gag yourselves with tape before donning the masks. Another has that you place a sponge or some sort of cloth in your mouths, but have disciplined yourself to keep it there. Still another has that you almost dare yourselves not to speak. While I can understand you may be reluctant to say exactly how you do it, is there any or no truth to any of these rumours?
Forgive us John - we too have heard so many of these rumours as well. Let me say this - any and all of these suggestions have a small grain of truth to them, but honestly the only real answer we can give is practice. Some questions are perhaps best left unanswered for now.
Of course - perhaps we can move on to discuss some of your experiences. You have taken very great steps to preserve your names and true identities, but has anyone ever come close to discovering anything about you that may have led to your unmasking?
There have been occasions, yes, but by and large they have been unsuccessful. The few times people have come close we have taken steps to make sure they cannot use that information.
Indeed - there was one reporter who started to ask about us, and got a little too close for comfort.
What happened on that occasion?
We kidnapped her and took her to visit the home of her editor - made her do some of the binding and guarding for us, and made sure she was photographed doing the work. To make it worse, we dressed her in a spare outfit, and gagged her so that she could not talk. As a result, she was confronted with the dilemma - tell all, and be charged with aggravated burglary, or stay silent. So far, she has stayed silent.
A very effective approach, I am sure. Are there any toher occasions you are at liberty to talk about?
Well - there is the time we met our apprentice.
Oh yes - we visited a woman who ran a very successful internet jewellery business, and trussed her and her housekeeper in our usual manner. Then one of us waited for a shipment of gems we knew was been delivered that day - when a couple of teenage girls decided that would be a good house to “steam” as it is called.
Thanks for reminding me - I ended up bound and gagged on the couch while they ran upstairs. Both of you were making sure the real woman was safely stowed, so I can only imagine the look on your faces when you found me.
Would you care to share now?
It was one of those moments that came close to our breaking our vow of silence. Anyway, we released her, she changed, and we decided to surprise the young ladies. We trussed them, took them in our van, and left them in a deserted warehouse with a little note for them.
The notes are another way you communicate that has been widely reported. Are they prepared in advance or on the spur of the moment?
It depends on the situation - that time, it was spur of the moment. We wanted to see if they were possible new members of our craft - one was, the other was not. The first approached us, and actually did a form of work experience with us.
That would be one of the rare occasions when four dolls were reported - the raid on Meier Jewellery?
And the young lady in question?
Is currently working for the same person as our former colleague, completing her training.
One of the more recent visits you made has been widely reported, as it involved a very prominent publisher and a potentially embarrassing set of revelations. I was wondering if you could take us through your preparations for that visit, to illustrate the way you work.
Well, as much of our part in that night is public knowledge - we were asked by a lady of our acquaintance to visit the home of the publisher, and retrieve the contents of a certain lap top, in return for allowing us to take anything else we could find there. As is our way, we spent time researching the man - his wife, his daughter, and his habits - and we were informed that he and his wife would be away on this one particular night.
We approached the house and parked on the kerb, then slipped to the side door. We could see the lights were on, and as we left the van we thought we could see someone looking out. Not unusual however - as we gained entry to the kitchen.
As we closed the door - this girl who was obviously slightly tipsy walked in. We recognised her as the daughter - small, auburn hair, wearing a short red dress with spaghetti straps and very high heels.
To say she was surprised was to put it mildly - it was a simple thing to grab her, put a gloved hand over her mouth, and get her attention with my gun. We walked her into the front room, and found five more girls, all of a similar age waiting there.
We had expected a party of some type - the research had shown that particular night was the daughter’s 18th birthday - so we split them into two groups. One group we invited to sit on dining chairs, and the other three we gave rolls of tape to and made them secure them in place.
So you did not employ your usual rope tie?
Not at first, no - it was important that they were secured quickly. One of the three doing the taping was the daughter, but one of the others interested us greatly.
That would be Miss Sara Philips?
Indeed - I recognised her, and she us. Her words said as much, as she tried to calm the others down. Anyway, three were taped to the chair, and then the fourth as I took the birthday girl out of the room. You then brought Sara to the bedroom, and it was while we were retrieving the information that she began to - annoy us.
Annoy is one word - we gave her a perfectly polite and sensible warning, and she chose to be angry with us. So we felt compelled to bind her tightly, before we returned her to her friends. We felt we behaved with admirable professionalism.
We retrieved the information, took what we could find, and left the party to enjoy the rest of their evening. Of course, it was not what they had planned, but we hoped it would be an experience for them.
That it was an experience was evident from the blog post that Sara Philips made a few days later. I’d be interested in what you think of this young woman, given she has also been visited by other associates of yours recently.
Miss Philips - is a most remarkable and determined young woman, but we did warn her that she may find herself in serious trouble one day if she continued. It may sound strange, but we admire her tenacity and skill. We warned her in good faith, and we hope she still sees the sense in the warning.
She did report that you would return if you felt it necessary. Would you carry out that threat?
If we still felt it necessary, then yes.
Moving on, have there been any occasions, since you fully adopted the China Doll persona, when you have had to take a different approach?
One - and like our good friends Mister Tall and Mister Small, it was an occasion when we met a very great and skilled lady who we are not at liberty to talk about. As a result of that, we had the opportunity to have one visit where we could be vocal - although we spent the second half of that evening in our normal guise, visiting a certain well know soap actress and her partner.
Was it a pleasant experience?
For us, yes and very profitable. For the two women - well, that is a story for them to tell.
We seem to be coming to the end of our time, so let me ask how you relax when you are not Dolls - what do you do in your downtime? If we go from left to right...
Well, I still maintain my interest in theatre and drama, and take part in an amateur dramatics society. I find it helps hone my skills. Apart from that, a good book
For me, I design clothing for friends - one recently wore a gown of mine for her wedding.
Finally, I work out and run triathlons.
And your plans for the future?
Ladies, thank you for being with us today. Join us next time on Behind The Mask, when our guest will be John Jacobs. Thank you and good night.