Beck Eleven: in memory of loveable rouges

WANTED: Big red fat man in regard to burglary on a grand scale.
WANTED: Big red fat man in regard to burglary on a grand scale.

What is it about bad boys and loveable rogues? Smouldering sex appeal?

Not really. Consider the extremely jaundiced Homer Simpson. He's just a rotund cartoon character with a beer belly who gets most everything wrong and yet he is well-loved.

Could it be independence?

Certainly not on its own. Darth Vader went ahead and did whatever he pleased but ain't nobody in their right mind got a secret yearning for him.

Unpredictability? An unwavering sense of masculinity? Again, not really. For instance, I developed a crush on King Kong that I remain pleased could never be consummated.

But combine those attributes with a sense of humour and a bit of cheek, then you're starting to get there. Len Brown is yet to bask in any afterglow of being a bad boy. The lack of a sense of humour prevents his affair from elevating him to loveable rogue. Frighteningly, there's still time.

Perhaps a criminal conviction to boot? Well, as it turns out, yes but it has to be crime that takes on legendary status without directly affecting you. Think the entire crew of The A-Team.

A couple of real life loveable rogues have kicked this mortal bucket recently. Despite acting on the wrong side of the law for much of their lives, it's that cheeky self-awareness that allowed them to transcend hatred and pity, allowing them a legendary status towards the close of their lives.

Ronnie Biggs was the latest to be elevated to loveable rogue when he died in London this week.

And Chopper Read died in Australia in October.

Biggs was one of 16 criminals who pulled a heist on a train carrying [PndStlg]2.6 million (NZ$5.2m) in 1963. It was dubbed the Great Train Robbery and spawned books, films and a TV show on Biggs' life that was due to air the night of his death.

For his part in the train robbery, Biggs was sentenced to 30 years but a couple of years later he escaped from Wandsworth prison before making a new life in Australia. As police closed in, he legged it to Brazil where lawful attempts to bring him back failed as he basked in notoriety, taking money for posing with tourists and charging them for barbecues at his house. It doesn't get cheekier than that. We all know the English can't barbecue to save themselves.

Biggs was finally returned to an England jail in 2002 but he died free, let loose on health grounds. Photographs of the once imposing figure show him being pushed in a wheelchair, poking his tongue out or gurning for paparazzi.

And then there's Chopper. He was never a fantastic criminal, spending just 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38. He spliced and sliced himself and other criminals but it was his sense of humour that allowed people to forgive, and even embrace, his violence. An Australian journalist who had interviewed Chopper several times in jail received a Christmas card one year. It read: "Dear John, May the yuletide log fall from your fireplace and burn your house down. Seasons greetings and jingle bells. Chopper Read."

Which brings us neatly back to the season at hand. Reflect on Santa for a second. He's a bit of a rogue himself. Mrs Christmas won't have a clue where he is later this week. She'll only know that he's pulling an all-nighter from late Tuesday, drinking brandy whenever he breaks into a house. He knows when you're sleeping, when you're awake. It doesn't get more criminal than that.

Merry Christmas to you, you loveable bunch of rogues.

The Press