Ronnie Biggs, the “Great Train Robbery” convict who became a folk hero to some in Britain when he escaped prison and appeared to carry on a carefree existence in Rio de Janeiro, was laid to rest in north London January 3 — but not before, as British newspapers so colorfully put it, “cocking a snook” at authority one last time.
Always the consummate rebel, Biggs’ funeral featured an escort of 13 Hell’s Angels bikers and, most arrestingly, a large floral wreath in the shape of the rude “two fingers” salute, Britain’s Daily Mirror reported.
The “two fingers,” sometimes called “flicking the V” or, more curiously, “a Harvey Smith,” is roughly the equivalent of the middle finger in American culture. Made by holding up the index and middle fingers spread in a “V” shape with the back of the hand outward — in kind of an inverted peace sign — the two fingers gesture, like the middle finger, is somewhat murky in its exact meaning.
But everyone knows it means something rude and perhaps obscene, making it a favorite of kids, rebels and just about anyone who wants to tell someone else to, shall we say, go fly a kite.
The gesture was a favorite of the outlaw Ronald Arthur “Ronnie” Biggs, not surprisingly. At his last public appearance when he showed up for the funeral of Great Train Robbery gang leader Bruce Reynolds, though Biggs was unable to speak and hobbled by a series of strokes, he still made sure to flip the two fingers gesture at paparazzi snapping his photograph, The Yorkshire Post recalled.
At his funeral, flowers in the shape of the two fingers gesture adorned the hearse carrying Biggs’ coffin. The outlaw, who returned to England to serve out his term in 2001, but was released in 2009 due failing health, died December 18 at age 84, according to CBS News.
Not that Ronnie Biggs was ever shy of the spotlight. While in Brazil, which shielded him from extradition to the United Kingdom, he lived openly and by all appearances well. In 1978, he was visited by two remaining members of British punk rock band The Sex Pistols, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.
The pair recorded a song with Biggs on vocals. Titled “No One Is Innocent (A Punk Prayer),” It was released as a single under the Sex Pistols band name in June of that year. Biggs also gave numerous interviews and even sold “Ronnie Biggs” T-shirts and memorabilia to tourists while entertaining them with stories of the legendary crime, the August 8, 1963 holdup of a mail train packed with cash on its way from Glasgow to London.
The truth is, in Brazil, Ronnie Biggs was surviving largely on a series of menial jobs. He had burned through his share of the Great Train Robbery’s £2.6 million pound (about $50 million in 2013 U.S. cash) haul shortly after his July 8, 1965, escape from England’s Wandsworth Prison.
Ronnie Biggs said that his only regret was that the train driver, Jack Mills, was hurt during the robbery, The Yorkshire Post reported. Mills was struck on the head and was never able to work again.
But Ronnie Biggs lived as a free man for 36 years despite being convicted of the robbery.