‘The Gold’ Real-Life Characters: Brian Boyce, Kenneth Noye, And John Palmer, Explained

Neil Forsyth of “Guilt” fame brought us the mini-series of six episodes dramatizing the greatest heist of the previous century, “The Gold,” on the BBC. The six-hour-long series captures the events as they transpired following the armed robbery of three tons of gold from the Brink’s-Mat warehouse near Heathrow airport in 1983. At the time, the gold was valued at 26 million pounds, and it was smelted and redistributed into the market, and this started a several-year-long chase for the stolen gold and the criminals with DCI BrianBoyce at the head of the investigation. Although some of the characters have been created for narrative purposes, the following are the major characteristics of the non-fictional characters portrayed in the mini-series:

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Spoiler Ahead


Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville)

Suave, courteous, and stiff-upper-lipped, DCI Brian Boyce had all the traits of a British gentleman and the mind of a razor-sharp detective who could see through the intermittent lies that a criminal might web. The Brink’s-Mat robbery investigation starts picking up pace only after Boyce comes onto the scene and immediately puts people to work. This sense of being a military general but with a care for his underlings comes directly from Boyce’s background in the army, which has shaped him to be a strict but honorable man. His strictness can surely be witnessed when he admonishes Detective Tony Brightwell for not being in his best shape. He becomes the pillar of strength who uplifts the spirits of the ones he’s in charge of and spends the entire duration of the investigation, despite the events stretching over several years, displaying unwavering courage and confidence.

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Dealing with criminals and the men he’s responsible for in a military fashion, Boyce cares deeply about the lives of the ones he was responsible for, which is why detective John Fordham’s murder makes him pull out all the stops in an attempt to persecute the men guilty of Fordham’s death. He bears sole responsibility for the death of the detective, and his efforts invite the attention of the powerful section of South London. However, never the one to cower in the face of a threat, Boyce stands with his chest puffed out outside the police station as the line of defense against the horrors of the night, reminiscing about his days on sentry duty.

Boyce’s larger-than-life persona really hit the mark because of Hugh Bonneville’s screen presence, as the reverence that his underlings showed his character definitely seemed to go beyond mere acting. Putting honor, loyalty, and integrity above all else, Boyce refuses to bow down even when the defense attorneys, as well as the criminal masterminds, try putting pressure on him, and he makes sure his men follow suit. Not only does Boyce value integrity in his own life, but he makes Brightwell pay back the 80p worth of beer someone had bought him at a bar to ensure the detective’s honor can’t be besmirched. In real life, the man himself valued the law with immense pride and offered to help the family of murder victim Stephen Lawrence pro bono after the man was murdered in 1999.

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Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Noye (Jack Lowden)

A lowly thief in a rich man’s clothes with the brain of a shrewd conman, Kenneth Noye was the man who dealt with the stolen gold and the mastermind behind the entire procedure. Kenny never apologized for being a contemptible criminal and saw no harm in treating people like pawns in the empire he was building. When Brian Boyce approached him in the prison’s visiting room for the gold’s location, Kenny retorted with the question of how much money Boyce had saved away before sharing his dreams of retiring early to Spain with millions of pounds waiting for him to live out the rest of his days lavishly.

Underneath the expensive watches and suits, however, Kenny has a sharp wit that keeps him off the hook because he knows exactly how to mask his steps. Having spent his formative years in the lowdown areas of London, he knows the workings of policemen. He asks his wife, Brenda, not to pay attention to the fact that the police are pressing charges against them in response to the investigation against Boyce by the higher ups because of all the feathers his investigation has started rustling. Most of all, though, Kenneth knows how to play his audience. With his working man speech, Kenny wins over the jury and with his sob story of how he was just a helpless man defending his family against a stranger who came into their home (John Fordham), he’s quickly declared not guilty of murder. 

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This honest businessman ploy does fall flat towards the end, however, and Kenny admits that he was in charge of organizing a smuggling route for gold and how he got rich off of it. He also cries foul and pulls an unfair treatment card because of his lower-class background, claiming that was why he was targeted by the police, but frankly, he was every bit of the petty thief that Boyce had described him as. In the end, though, his brazen pride over his illegitimately made wealth and his nature of lording it over the jury members themselves earns him the verdict of being guilty of handling the stolen gold bullion. His response is plainly a wish that the jury members contract terminal cancer. Even inside prison and facing 14 years ahead of him, Kenny tries maintaining the aura of mystery when Boyce asks him what became of the rest of the unaccounted for gold. Perfectly aware that he never had the full 3 tons to start with, Kenny still tries to be an enigmatic criminal who shall be remembered for pulling off the greatest heist of his century.

Kenneth Noye, the man whose character Jack Lowden plays, was as ne’er-do-well as Boyce portrayed him. He came out of prison after serving 8 years of his 14-year sentence and stabbed a man only two years later, in 1996. He had fled to Spain, thereby fulfilling one of his dreams, but was dragged back to the UK in 1998 and served a 20-year sentence. He’s currently out after serving the sentence, but he lives his life as an animal on a leash, always in fear and probably wondering if being a smuggling emperor was worth all this.

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John Palmer (Tom Cullen)

Palmer was a meek gold jewelry store owner with a face that evoked sympathy, and his backstory of being an illiterate man who innocently played into a criminal’s game made him a pitiable character. Palmer plays the role of blissful ignorance to perfection, so much so that he threatens to sue the policemen who are searching his house. He even plays along as a family man who loves his wife and children and has a photo shoot done about how much he cares for his wife.

In front of a jury for the final court hearing, Palmer paints himself as a Solihull kid, one of the seven children to a single mother, and all he has known in his life is smelting gold. He admits to having unknowingly smelted the stolen gold from Brink’s-Mat, but he couldn’t have known that – he’s illiterate, after all! This puppy-eyed appeal to the jury wins them over, and Palmer is acquitted. Although he doesn’t see the inside of a jail cell again for the crime of stolen gold, his personal life suffers. His wife, Marnie Palmer, grows distant from him and later tells him that they’ll never be able to go back to being how they were.

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John Palmer, the man, enjoyed life in Spain for a while and the nickname “Goldfinger” that came with his stint as the smelter of Brink’s-Mat gold, but as the 2000s rolled in, his luck turned for the worse. Palmer spent a few years in prison for various charges and had to file for bankruptcy; he was murdered in 2015 by a gunshot to the chest. Everything about this pointed towards being a “hit job.”


Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott)

Never the one to turn down a jug of beer, Tony Brightwell wasn’t the most agile and athletic officer in the force, but he was a very smart detective. Additionally, he was fiercely loyal to his teammates, so much so that he tried turning down the command to head to Sierra Leone to learn about the illegal gold trade when his partner Nicki Jennings was not allowed to accompany him. Brightwell’s skills as a detective come in handy when he guilt-trips Edwyn Cooper into cooperating to explain the workings of the smuggling ring by using Detective Fordham’s death. Tony Brightwell had remained with the force for a while after the Brink’s-Mat robbery case, and today he’s 74 years old.

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Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

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