Hugh Bonneville interview: ‘The Gold’ star on meeting real detective Brian Boyce

Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville is back on our screens this winter in The Gold.

From the creator of Guilt, the BBC’s six-part mini-series dramatises the true story of ‘the crime of the century’ and the decades-long chain of events that followed the Brink’s-Mat robbery in 1983.

Watch the trailer here:

The official synopsis for The Gold reads: “On the 26 November 1983, six armed men broke into the Brink’s-Mat security depot near London’s Heathrow Airport, and inadvertently stumbled across gold bullion worth £26m.

“What started as ‘a typical Old Kent Road armed robbery’ according to detectives at the time, became a seminal event in British criminal history, remarkable not only for the scale of the theft, at the time the biggest in world history, but for its wider legacy.

“The disposal of the bullion caused the birth of large-scale international money laundering, provided the dirty money that helped fuel the London Docklands property boom, united blue and white collar criminals and left controversy and murder in its wake.”

The Gold premieres in the UK tonight on BBC One, with all six episodes now streaming on BBC iPlayer as a box set.

The series will then launch internationally on Paramount+ later this year.

Here actor Hugh Bonneville chats about playing Brian Boyce in the series:


Describe Boyce to me, what he does and what kind of a person he is.

“Brian Boyce is a trustworthy, by the book police officer who started off in the army. He’s a very skilled and dedicated man, a natural leader and it’s his job to head up the investigation into Brink’s-Mat.

“What makes Brian Boyce good at his job is that he’s determined to be the best policeman he can possibly be. He believes in right and wrong, justice and doing the right thing by society. I think that is at the core of his being.

“He grew up through the war and his father taught him right from wrong, in no uncertain terms. That’s not to say his father was a harsh man, but he was a fair man that had a strict code of ethics.

“In joining the police he soon realised that he was right for the detective side of things and so that’s where he started. He was in Brixton for a long time and then joined Nipper Reid and the famous knocking down of people like Ronnie and Reggie Kray.”


What did you glean from meeting the real Boyce and what was he like?

“I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Boyce, who’s now in his eighties but still as alert as you like and full of fascinating stories about his career. He took me through the story of his policing life which led to him being given charge of this particular operation.

“It’s been documented elsewhere that there was a significant amount of corruption in the police throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – but Boyce was clearly a man who was not going to be corrupted, which is why he was trusted by both the Security Forces and by those high up in the establishment.

“I often think about characters in terms of their pulse rate and one of the main things I took away from my meeting with him was that he has a slow pulse, a calm pulse. He’s a man who considers, reflects and he’s a good delegator.

“He trusted his team, or needed to trust his team when he couldn’t trust those around him and he kept those he could trust particularly close.”


The story is inspired by the real robbery but there are some fictional elements to it as well. To what extent have you based your Boyce on the real Boyce, or have you taken what you need from the script?

“When you’re playing anyone who’s either living or in recent memory, you have an obligation to try and portray them as accurately or as fairly as you can, and obviously meeting him adds a different dimension.

“I got the measure of the way he viewed the world and the way he operated within his team. I got a sense of a man who was fair and considered and wouldn’t speak off the cuff.

“He would think through what he was going to say and what he was going to do. Not a man of impulse, I’d say. It was incredibly helpful to get the measure of the man in that regard.”


What was Boyce’s role in the investigation?

“This was the year of the stereotypical view shown in The Sweeney, and the beer drinking at lunchtime – all going down to the pub and taking their policing as seriously as their pints.

“Boyce put a stop to that: he basically came in and said, ‘Right, everyone’s going for a run every lunchtime’, ‘You’re not fit’. Boyce was a fit man, he was a committed man and wanted his team to be as alert and as dedicated as he was, and that didn’t quite suit all the guys at the time.

“It was a very male, chauvinistic environment. Boyce was a man who wanted to play with a straight bat and when Brink’s-Mat came along, it was decided that a completely separate building, operation, and hand-picked team would be required to undertake the task of trying to piece together what had happened.”


What fires Boyce up about being actively involved?

“What Neil Forsyth (creator/writer) has brilliantly etched into the character of Boyce is a man who liked to be at the frontline.

“He’s a great example of someone who would only ask his team to do what he would do himself. He’s a man who’s prepared to put himself at the front.

“It’s very nicely etched into the story when his team are on surveillance, the tension is rising and he realises that being in the safety of HQ, behind a desk, is not where he should be. So he heads to Kent to be with his team and of course there he witnesses a major part of the story unfold.”


Did you do any research beyond meeting the real man?

“I’m a great believer that if it’s not in the script, you can’t play it. Our writer, Neil Forsyth, had done an incredible amount of research and had spent a lot of time with people like Brian Boyce and read up on everything to inform his scripts.

“I did watch the documentaries from design and costume point of view. I mean, for me, someone in their 50s, the ‘80s feels like yesterday but this is suddenly a period piece!

“I can remember 1983 vividly, you look at it now – at the fashion and the cars for instance – and you think ‘My gosh it is becoming part of history’.”


What did you enjoy about playing Boyce and about being involved in this production?

“What I found particularly enjoyable was revisiting a story that I thought I knew.

“When it first came up I thought ‘Oh yes, that was that robbery in west London’ and ‘they got more gold than anyone’s ever got before’. But what I hadn’t realised was the surprise of it, that they really didn’t realise they were going to be coming across the amount of gold that they did.

“I believe they thought that it was going to be some cash and a bit of gold. But they found three tonnes of gold bullion and had to work out what to do with it. There’s a fascinating thing of the amateurs, if you like, trying to become professional very, very quickly.

“The storytelling is really the eyes and ears of the audience because we are trying to piece together where all the gold is going and where could potentially it go next. It’s proper cops and robbers. The sheer audacity of what they do is extraordinary.”


How would you describe The Gold?

The Gold is a classic heist. Deceit, corruption, cops and robbers. Good guys versus bad guys. Cat and mouse. Bullion, greed, avarice, people trying to better themselves.

“Everyone trying to climb up the greasy pole in some way, shape or form, be it in terms of their social standing, their economic standing, their career standing.

“How far do people go to try and better themselves? Does greed have its comeuppance? Does good triumph over bad?”


What do you love about Neil Forsyth’s script and style?

“Neil is able to weave terrific dramatic tension with dark humour in The Gold, just as he did with Guilt. You’ve got a big, big story about the nature of society in the ‘80s, shot through with dark humour.

“The sheer audacity of the way that the team operated, the sheer audacity of the way that these individuals came together and unwittingly spread out this network of corruption and gold across the country and across the world is riveting.”


What was it like being on set for The Gold?

The Gold was a really big production. We had well over a hundred characters several different storylines buzzing at once. On set and bringing it to life was a miracle of organisation, so hats off to the production team and logistics and locations and everybody else.

“Any film crew is a big army moving and this is a particularly big crew having to be very nimble on its feet and adjusting.

“The pressure was on, as it always is, but the producers and the directors have given everybody space to explore their characters and the nuances of the story. It was a big machine that was steered with great finesse and style by the directors Aneil (Karia) and by Lawrence (Gough).”


Tell me a bit about Boyce’s costume and going back to the ‘80s. Is it quite amusing to revisit what you might have worn back then?

“Boyce is a relatively conservative character and obviously with his military background, he’s quite neat and tidy. He’s not going to be wearing garish shirts or anything like that.

“What was shocking was when the costume team were pulling out clothes, I recognised some of it that I might have worn back in the day! It was the era of early Simon Le Bon, Bucks Fizz hair and Joan Collins – not that Boyce was wearing Joan Collins outfits.

“Boyce had a particular double-breasted suit that he was photographed wearing at the trial which we had copied and made for me.

“I was actually very comfortable – I think it’s going to make a comeback!”


Hugh Bonneville’s memoir Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru is available on Amazon.