Ronnie: The Man

Nobody knows more about Ronald Arthur Biggs than Ronnie Biggs himself. Given that this is Ronnie’s own official site (and there are no others), it is safe to say that this is the only place to be if you want the true and accurate story of the life and times of Ronnie Biggs.

If you want the full, detailed and accurate story of Ronnie’s life (which some newspapers still seem to have a problem dealing with), you are going to need to read his autobiography, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw. This you can buy in book or electronic form, or for your Kindle.

And remember, you don’t need to buy the book – although we hope you won’t steal one – as you can always go in to your local library, if you are lucky enough to still have such a thing, and ask them to get the book for you. If they pretend they can’t get it, give them the ISBN number (978-0-9570398-2-7). There should be no excuses.

At 464 pages, and with 32 pages of photographs, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw is far longer and more detailed than we are going to put up here on the web, but let us start by giving you a little flavour of the remarkable life Ronnie Biggs that spanned 84 years, fifty of which he has been a household name for as the most famous of the Great Train Robbers.

Here are just a few highlights from the remarkable life of a truly remarkable man.

• Ronald Arthur Biggs is born in Lambeth, South London on 8 August 1929.

• His first court appearance is in 1945 at Lambeth Juvenile court at the age of 15.

• In May 1947 Ronnie signs up to serve King and Country and joins the Royal Air Force. He served for two years.

• Ron makes his first appearance at London’s famous Old Bailey courthouse in March 1950.

• In December 1959 Ron is released from HMP Wandsworth and makes the decision to give up his mainly unsuccessful life of crime.

• In February 1960 he marries Charmian Powell and looks forward to an honest life of married bliss as a builder and a carpenter based in Redhill, Surrey.

• In June 1963, Ron calls his good friend Bruce Reynolds to try and borrow £500. Bruce does not have the cash, but he does have a job for Ron if he wants it. The “job” is to be a member of a gang that was planing a train robbery.

• Ron becomes a member of the gang that pulls off the Great Train Robbery on 8 August 1963. The robbery takes place on his 34th birthday.

Note: See the Great Train Robbery area of this site for more details of the robbery and Ron’s role.

• On 4 September 1963 Ron is arrested at his home in Redhill and subsequently, on 16 April 1964, he is sentenced to 30 years (10,957 days) in prison. This at a time when there was no parole or early release programme.

• On 8 July 1965 Ron escapes from the high security wing of Wandsworth Prison in dramatic style. Ron literally goes over the wall.

• After three months in hiding, Ronnie is smuggled across the channel from London to Antwerp, and on to Paris. It is Ron’s first trip outside of the UK.

• In Paris Ron is one of the first criminals to ever use plastic surgery to change his appearance.

• On a false passport Ron flies from Paris to Sydney on 29 December 1965 as ‘Terrence Furminger’ and sets up home in Australia.

• Ronnie’s wife, Charmian, and his two young sons join him in Australia in June 1966. A third son is born in Australia.

• Because of the arrests of other members of the train robbery gang, Ron is often in the news and sightings of him are reported all around the world.

• On several occasions Ron thinks he may have been discovered in Australia, but by October 1969 the police are finally convinced that Mr Biggs is living in Melbourne.

• On 17 October armed police miss Ron at his home in Melbourne by a matter of hours as they surround Charmian’s car.

• Ron evades all attempts by the police to track him down in Australia.

• On 7 February 1970 Ron leaves Australia on a cruise ship bound for Panama. From Panama, Ron travels via Caracas to Rio de Janeiro.

• Ronnie arrives in Rio de Janeiro on 11 March 1970. He sets up home but his family, which is constantly watched, remain in Australia.

• On 5 January 1971 Ron’s oldest son, Nicky, is killed in a tragic car accident. News of his death takes a month to reach Ron in Rio. When he hears the news he nearly gives himself up.

• In 1973 Ron makes the decision to return to Britain and serve his sentence. He sets up a deal with the Daily Express newspaper to bring him back from Brazil to the UK.

• The paper and the reporter double cross Ron and tell Scotland Yard what they are doing and where he is. While telling his story to the Daily Express, Ronnie is surprised and arrested by Detective Chief Inspector Jack Slipper of Scotland Yard on 1 February 1974.

• Ron discovers his Brazilian mistress is pregnant with his child. As the father of a Brazilian child, even an unborn one, he cannot be deported and Slipper returns to the UK without him. Ron is held in a Brazilian prison where he has as a cellmate one of the world’s great art forgers, Fernand Legros.

• Ron is released from Brazilian prison on 6 May 1974.

• His “Brazilian” son Mike is born in Rio on 16 August 1974.

• Now discovered in Brazil and no longer having to hide, Ronnie becomes a popular figure in the British and global media. Brand “Ronnie Biggs” is born.

• In April 1977 Ron causes a minor diplomatic incident (“major” according to the press) when he goes aboard a British naval ship, the HMS Danae, in Rio.

• Ron meets and records with the Sex Pistols. In June 1978 they have a big hit with No One Is Innocent (A Punk Prayer) written by Ron and with Ronnie on lead vocal.

• In April 1979 there is a first attempt to kidnap Ron. The kidnappers pretend to be the second unit working on James Bond’s Moonraker, then filming in Brazil. They nearly succeed. Ron is only saved after a tip off from a couple of British journalists. The kidnappers escape from Brazil as the Brazilian police have little to charge them with.

• 1980 sees the release of Julien Temple’s The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle that features Ron’s time in Rio with the Sex Pistols.

• Ronnie meets and interviews France’s most wanted man, Albert Spaggiari, for French TV.

• The kidnap gang return to Brazil and violently kidnap Ron on 16 March 1981 as he sits in a restaurant in the shadows of Sugar Loaf mountain. They tell Ron if he does not cooperate they will kill his son, who they claim they have also kidnapped.

• Put in a body bag, Ron is flown on a small plane to the north of Brazil and transferred on to a yacht.

• The yacht sails for the Caribbean but due to a technical problem has to land in Barbados, not its original destination.

• Ronnie is arrested and due to the island’s close links to Britain, it is assumed he will now be sent back to prison in the UK. Awaiting trial Ron is kept on the island’s Death Row.

• On appeal Ronnie’s lawyers find a legal loophole that means Ron must be released in Barbados and can return to Brazil.

• The Brazilians – public and government – have been demanding that Ron is returned to Brazil after his seven year old son’s emotional appeal on TV for his father’s return. There is an equally emotional reunion between Ron and Mike at Rio Airport on 24 April 1981.

• Mike, Ron’s son, is signed by CBS Records to be part of a new children’s band, Turma do Balão Magico (The Magic Balloon Gang). The Magic Balloon become a massive hit and are given their own daily TV show on TV Globo. In Brazil Mike is as famous as his father and the group sell over 10 million albums.

• Financially secure, thanks to Mike and not the train robbery, Ronnie finally buys an apartment in Rio.

• Many famous people, as well as his friends and fans, come calling on Ronnie in Rio.

• In 1986 Ron is approached about making a film of his life. Instead of telling the true story, the director turns to fiction and the film, Prisoner of Rio, is a critical and financial disaster.

• With no more money coming in from the Magic Balloon Gang, Ron has to make a living to survive, and put food on the family table. Ron makes his living out of being “Ronnie Biggs”.

• Jack Slipper, the police officer that tracked Biggs around the world and to Rio, but who is now retired, pays a social call on Ron in Rio.

• In the UK the British government still tries to get Ron extradited back to Britain, but still with no success.

• Ron takes the time to write his autobiography, Odd Man Out. It is published in January 1994 and is a best seller. With Chris Pickard, who helps him with the book, he goes on to write the novel Keep On Running.

• In 1996 Ron’s partner in Brazil, Ulla Sopher, dies suddenly. As do his dogs.

• Ron is honoured in 1997 at Rio’s famous carnival as the subject of the theme of one of the samba schools.

• On 16 March 1998 Ron suffers a first stroke and his health starts to deteriorate.

•  Having recovered from his stroke, Ronnie is persuaded to hold a major party to celebrate his 70th birthday on 8 August 1999. He plans to semi-retire after the event.

•  Over 150 friends pack in to Ron’s house for the celebrations, including a number of special guests from the UK, including Bruce Reynolds and Roy Shaw.

• In September 1999 Ron suffers a second stroke, followed by a much stronger third stroke that robs him of his speech. As a result, Ron attempts to kill himself but is saved by Mike.

• Realising that he is destroying his son’s life and family, Ronnie decides to finally return to Britain.

• Ron looks for one last payday to help his son and family and does a deal with The Sun newspaper for his return to the UK in 2001.

• Ron’s return to the UK on 7 May 2001 becomes one of the stories of the year in the British press.

• After being hunted around Rio by the media, Ronnie returns to UK on a private jet. He has been on the run for 13,068 days.

• Arrested on landing, Ronnie he is sent to Britain’s most high security prison, HMP Belmarsh, where he is held from 2001 to 2007. Belmarsh normally holds Britain’s terrorists and most dangerous prisoners.

• As the UK authorities try to throw Ron’s son out of the UK as a Brazilian, Ronnie organises to finally marry Mike’s mother in Belmarsh and to get Mike a British passport. The wedding takes place on 10 July 2002. Ron does not make it to the reception!

• In failing health, Ronnie is moved in 2007 to a more open prison, Norwich. A prison that in the 1950s Ronnie had helped build the roof of.

• Lawyers work out that Ronnie will be eligible for parole and early release on 3 July 2009. The parole board agree.

• A week prior to his expected release, Ronnie falls over in prison and is rushed to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. It looks as if he will become a free man from his hospital bed. Not that Ron minds.

• Two days before Ron’s scheduled release Britain’s Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, refuses to sign the release forms saying that Ronnie is “wholly unrepentant”. This despite Ron having expressed regrets in various articles and even on film.

• Ron’s health deteriorates further and Mike is twice called to the hospital when the doctors believe the end is close for Ron.The doctors and Mike agree not to revive Ron if he has another stroke or seizure.

• On 6 July 2009 the Justice Secretary announces he will release Ronnie on the following day on “compassionate grounds”.

• On 7 July 2009 Ronnie is finally released. He had served 3,875 days for his part in the Great Train Robbery out of a sentence of 10,957 days.

• Ron becomes a free man while sitting in a hospital bed. The first person he calls as a free man is his first wife, Charmian, in Australia

• Proper treatment by the hospital helps Ron to recover enough to be transferred to a care home in Barnet, close to Mike’s house.

• It takes Ron two years to update his autobiography and fill in the missing 17 years and previously unknown facts from his first autobiography.

• On Thursday, 17 November 2011, Ron holds his first ever UK press conference at the launch of Odd Man Out: The Last Straw in Shoreditch House in East London.

•  There is massive press interest in the book’s launch and as well as the UK press there are journalists from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scandinavia, the US and Canada, in attendance at the press conference.

•  In September 2012, ITV start screening a five part “factual drama” called Mrs Biggs. Ron had nothing to do with the series, but offered to check the facts. ITV declined the offer or to discuss the series with Ron, as a result the series was full of factual errors and pure dramatic fantasy. In episode one, Mrs Biggs could not even get the day and date of the Great Train Robbery right!

•  Ron attends the funeral of Bruce Reynolds on 20 March 2013 at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield.

•  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery on 8 August 2013, the event that acted as a catalyst for the rest of his life, Ron published The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary:1963-2013. A 132 page bookazine with a RRP of just £6.99.

•  On the day of the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery on 8 August 2013, Ron attends a memorial ceremony at Highgate Cemetery for Bruce and Angela Reynolds followed by a celebration at a near by pub.

•  In the early hours of Wednesday, 18 December, Ron sadly died in his sleep in Barnet General Hospital. He was 84.

•  The funeral took place on Friday, 3 January at Golders Green Crematorium. His ashes will be spread in Australia, Brazil and the UK.