Thursday, 5 August 2010

'A diamond pin in his tie'

Nice little anecdote illustrating how the craft of the historian is similar to that of a detective. Here's Richard Cobb playing Sherlock Holmes (more credibly than Benedict Cumberbatch was able to given the plot in the last episode: like antiques from china, it was very far-fetched):
At 4'o'clock one morning in a tabac in the rue du Four, I met a very drunken couple. One was a civilian pilot, who was to fly the next morning, and who had already been threatened with removal of his licence after a drunken landing. The other was a very well-dressed, rubicund man, with neatly brushed black hair, a hat with a dark band, well-kept hands, and a diamond pin in his tie. He looked professional and was at first reticent. But by 5 o'clock he was anxious to speak of himself, and gave me a number of hints. 'I am a Belgian; I come to Paris for the summer; I only work here in July, August, and early September; I only work in the XVIe and the XVIIe. My work in involves me with Post Offices, female servants, and chauffeurs.' It did not seem very difficult; I told him he was a professional housebreaker. He was delighted, opened a handsome pigskin bag, displaying some hundred instruments on runners. He was a man who enjoyed his work, but he also like talking about it, and needed an audience.

They seem to have had a better class of burglar in the old days (this was probably in the '50s) - just look at the Pink Panther films for corroboration. And housebreaking has so much more class than burglary, don't you think?

What took the practice so downmarket? Drugs?

5 comments:

Brit said...

The Gentleman Thief is a persistent legend in popular culture, isn't it? I'm not sure I believe a word.

Yes that Sherlock was highly silly, though it's amusing enough and Benedict Cumberbatch is great. I've said before that I would want him to play me in my biopic - we don't look alike but what a fab name on the credits.

Gaw said...

I agree it's probably more myth than reality - but isn't it true that the myth is no longer current? Something happened to the perceived social status of this form of thievery. There's probably a short social history to be written on the subject.

Brit said...

I would say the myth is still alive and well where it blends into the heist/con artist genre. Ocean's 11, Hustle, New Tricks etc.

malty said...

Basil Rathbone has been a hard act to follow and as yet none have succeed. The relationship between the cop and the criminal is fascinating, from the idea of an honest crook, wearing a striped jersey, carrying a bag marked swag and talking with a cockney accent through to the crooked politician Benoit in the French series Spiral.
The most entertaining ones are those where the cop gets into the robbers head and vice versa, Conan Doyle's Holmes being a good example.

Simenon's Maigret however is the ultimate, a writer who has you in there sitting on shoulders, the dark, wet streets of Paris, the cold office in the Quai des Orfèvres, the pipe smoking, stove filling, the constant mind games with both suspect and examining magistrate, fascinating stuff and only effectively recreated by Rupert Davies although Gambon did make a decent fist.
If you haven't already, try Maigret meets a Milord, set on the Marne canal at Epernay.

Gaw said...

Brit: Heist/cons are different categories of thievery.

Malty: Cobb raves about Maigret. I've never even tried one as I'm not a fan of detective/police fiction or thrillers. But I really should try one and thank you for your tip, which sounds a good place to start.