"He was always affable and very much a gentle giant," said Bruce Reynolds. "He was one of the old school," agreed one of Reynolds's colleagues.
Gentlemen publishers? Art dealers? Well, Reynolds has a small antiques business in South London these days, but he was being quoted in his capacity as the mastermind of Britain's Great Train Robbery. His colleague is a rather less eminent member of the United Kingdom's criminal class. And the man they were eulogizing was Slipper of the Yard—Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper, the last British police detective to become a household name. If "Slipper of the Yard" sounds vaguely like a 1950s British movie—black-and-white crime thriller, decent old stick of a copper, girlfriend one of those burly English birds radiating health rather than sex, you catch it late at night in some motel and stick around waiting for the gunfire to start but it never does, except for a single shot in the final reel when the sweaty, rodentlike villain panics—well, Jack Slipper certainly looked the part of the Scotland Yard man. Ex-RAF, he was a tall man with copper-sized boots (size 12 in Britain, 13 in America) and a bristly pencil moustache. The 'tache was standard issue for police detectives when he started, though his was a rare survivor by the time he retired, in 1979.
If Slipper was indeed an old-school copper, Reynolds and Co. were old-school robbers, remnants of not exactly an age of innocence but a time many Britons now look back on fondly: the cops didn't carry guns, and neither did the robbers; the former were known as the "Old Bill," the latter were "diamond geezers"; and when the Bill collared one of the ne'er-do-wells, he'd say, "You're nicked, chummy," and the geezer would respond, "It's a fair cop, guv." The moral contradictions of this era of British crime are summed up in misty Cockney reminiscences of the psychopathic Kray twins: lovely boys, proper gentlemen, always treated everyone with perfect manners—well, except for the people they killed. Years ago I used to date a nurse at the Royal London Hospital, and after her shift we'd go for a drink round the corner at the Blind Beggar, an East End landmark famed for one night in the sixties when Ronnie Kray strolled into the pub and shot his gangland rival George Cornell between the eyes. The jukebox was playing the Walker Brothers' No. 1 hit "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." "The sun ain't gonna shine for him anymore," said Ronnie.