Now a star-studded cast of screen legends has been lined up to play them in an hilarious movie version of the infamous Hatton Garden heist called King Of Thieves.
The daring real-life plot saw a bunch of Cockney pensioners take £14million in jewels, gold and cash from safety deposit boxes in the heart of London.
And veteran actor Sir Michael Caine knew he would get the part of its pensioner ringleader, Brian Reader, if a film was made of the caper, telling his wife: “I bet when they do it, they come to me.”
The 85-year-old Londoner, famous for his role in another heist movie, The Italian Job, is joined by an incredible list of cinema heavyweights playing members of the gang.
“I wanted to go and visit him before we did the film…out of respect!”
Caine, along with co-stars Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Paul Whitehouse, have notched up 433 years themselves!
But the real-life drama and characters they are depicting simply did not need much hamming up…
When police officers originally learned of a massive burglary at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, in April 2015, they initially assumed they were dealing with a group of sophisticated super-thieves.
Dressed as workmen, the culprits had gained access by climbing down a lift shaft into a basement before using a heavy-duty drill to bore a hole through a concrete wall into the vault, measuring just 50cm deep, 45cm wide at 25cm high.
They had then crawled through it to ransack 73 safe deposit boxes – containing gold, diamonds and sapphires, before escaping with the loot in wheelie bins.
At that stage it was believed that the gang might have got away with as much as £200m in what was labelled “the largest burglary in English legal history”.
However, it soon emerged that the group behind the raid, carried out over the Easter bank holiday, were a bunch of OAP career criminals who had been bent on pulling off “one last job”. Despite spending three years planning the heist, they were soon nabbed after police caught them bragging in their cars and at a pub about the raid.
It emerged that some members had pulled out of the burglary when their equipment had broken – forcing them to return for a second night to complete the job.
One of the gang had been foolish enough to use his own car during the heist and some of the stolen jewels were hidden in the graves of relatives.
They had also swotted up on books such as Forensics For Dummies and YouTube clips on drilling.
In the movie version, Caine and his fellow stars play up the geriatric robbers’ bumbling antics as they joke about their illnesses and count out their medication.
In March 2016, seven of the real-life gang members were found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and sent to prison for up to seven years.
However, only one third of the spoils from the heist was ever recovered.
To date, a man involved in helping the gang get into the building – known only as Basil and played by Charlie Cox, 35, in the film — has yet to be brought to justice.
MICHAEL CAINE Age: 85 Plays: Brian Reader, 76 Real-life: Described as a “gentleman” thief he served time for his part in the £26m Brink’s-Mat Robbery of 1983.
Known as The Guv’nor, he got to the scene of the crime using a free bus pass. He was sentenced to six years at Woolwich Crown Court in March 2016 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary.
In the movie: At one point Caine’s Reader shouts out: “You tell a soul about this and I’ll cut your balls off.”
JIM BROADBENT Age: 69 Plays: Terry Perkins, 67 Real-life: Jailed for his role in a £6m Security Express robbery in 1983, he was one of the masterminds of the raid.
Suffering from diabetes and heart problems, Perkins died behind bars in February while serving a seven-year sentence.
In the movie: Broadbent takes his trousers off so another member of the gang can give him an insulin injection!
RAY WINSTONE Age: 61 Plays: Danny Jones, 60 Real-life: The most eccentric member of the gang.
A convicted burglar known for talking to his dog Rocket as if it were human, he was caught on CCTV during the raid wearing striped trousers, a hi-vis waistcoat, red trainers and a navy baseball cap.
Sentenced to seven years in jail. In the movie: The Sexy Beast star actually knew Jones at school and went to see him in Belmarsh highsecurity prison before taking on the role. He says: “I wanted to go and visit him before we did the film…out of respect!”
SIR MICHAEL GAMBON Age: 77 Plays: William “Billy The Fish” Lincoln, 60 Real-life: The gang’s getaway driver, known as Billy The Fish because of his visits to Billingsgate Fish Market on Fridays. He was, by his own admission, “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” and had undergone a double hip replacement.
Sentenced to seven years behind bars.
In the movie: The Harry Potter star’s character struggles with a dodgy bladder.
SIR TOM COURTENAY Age: 81 Plays: John “Kenny” Collins, 75 Real-life: The gang’s lookout man, he was arrested after police found cash and jewellery at his home in Islington.
He later admitted to falling asleep while on watch.
Sentenced to seven years.
In the movie: Described as “wombat thick” and as deaf as a post, Courtenay says: “It was the most fun I’ve ever had on set.”
PAUL WHITEHOUSE Age: 60 Plays: Carl Wood, 58 Real-life: Debt-ridden and suffering from Crohn’s disease he helped plan the heist in the Castle pub in Islington.
He was convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property.
Sentenced to six years in jail. In the movie: The Fast Show comic portrays Wood as a wacky allotment fanatic.
● King Of Thieves hits UK cinemas on Friday