The star talks about playing real-life crook Terry Perkins in ITV's huge new drama about the infamous heist, which starts tonight at 9pm

Amid the dust and debris, TV Times peers through a hole in the concrete vault of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, to get a glimpse of the gold, jewellery and diamonds scattered inside.

We’re on set for ITV’s gripping new drama Hatton Garden, inspired by one of the most audacious heists in British history, in which a gang of pensioners stole £25million worth of valuables in a raid that made headlines all over the world.

The story opens as the gang 
break in on Thursday 2 April 2015, after everyone has gone home for the long Easter weekend, and centres upon Timothy Spall’s character, diabetic 67-year-old career criminal Terry Perkins, who’s doing one last job before retirement.

Yet as this four-part series, 
penned by award-winning writer Jeff Pope (Cilla, Mrs Biggs, Little Boy Blue), unfolds over the course of this week, starting this evening, old rivalries between Terry 
and the gang’s leader, Brian Reader (Kenneth Cranham), soon come to the fore and things start to go wrong.

During a break in filming, Timothy Spall, 62, tells us more about the real events behind ITV drama Hatton Garden, which starts tonight at 9pm…

So, Timothy, how would you describe Terry Perkins?

TS: “He’s at the end of his career as a professional criminal and he’s on his uppers, but he has a daughter and wants to leave something behind for her. He needs a job because the law has frozen anything he’s made from past endeavours, so he’s in the last chance saloon. When things go wrong, Brian Reader decides they need to walk away, but Perkins knows how close they are and secretly persuades the others to come back with him the following night. Reader could afford to walk away, but the others needed the money a bit more than he did.”

The gang mid heist

The gang mid heist in ITV’s Hatton Garden

Tell us about the rivalry between Perkins and Reader…

TS: “The pair go way back, but it’s a bit like a younger brother-older brother relationship. Perkins feels like he’s a bit underestimated and talked down to by Reader. When Reader walks away, Perkins needs to prove he can run things himself and get the job done. As to whether he’s up to it, 
that’s another matter…”

What do you think it was about this story that captured the public’s imagination?

TS: “When it first happened, everyone thought that it must have been a sophisticated group of international super-criminals or something, so everyone was surprised when it turned out to be a bunch of old 
boys with bus passes. It’s been described as an analogue crime in 
a digital age, so in many ways they were the last old-fashioned crooks. The public seemed to enjoy that, 
but I think it was also due to their audacity, and perhaps the misnomer of it being a victimless crime – with no weapons being used in it and no one being hurt physically.”

We do love a heist story in this country, don’t we?

TS: “Well, it goes right back to Robin Hood, doesn’t it? I think it’s because we have a very strong establishment and justice system; people enjoy 
the courage of people who have 
the audacity to take that on.”

A 2017 movie was also based on the story with Larry Lamb as Brian Reader, and another, King of Thieves (starring Sir Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Sir Michael Gambon), came out last year. What’s different about this version of events?

TS: “What I liked about this four-hour drama was that you get a chance to tell more of the story. We’re able 
to reveal what went on within the group over that weekend as well as each character’s story individually.”

Had you worked with any of your fellow cast members before?

TS: “Yes, many of them are good friends 
of mine. Ken and I have been close for a few years now and I’ve worked with Geoff Bell before [in the 2012 film Comes a Bright Day, which was also about a robbery]. It’s great when you look around and realise you are surrounded by some of the country’s finest character actors.”

The vault seen in the drama is an exact replica, and the hole in the wall is so small that it must have been hard to get through…

TS: “I wouldn’t have got through it a few years ago, but I could now because I’ve lost a bit of weight. In our story, it’s David Hayman’s character who goes through and he’s a trim fellow, so he fitted through no problem.”

If you could have spoken to the real Terry Perkins (who died last year), what would you have said?

“I’d be interested to know how he got on in jail. I like to think I played him with as much depth as possible, and I hope I’ve done him justice.”

Hatton Garden begins at 9pm tonight on ITV.