This fantastic drama documentary was on BBC2 last and can be seen again on BBC iPlayer, and I highly recommend you watch it.
Starring the fabulous Liz Smith as Olive, this dramatisation of real life events made fascinating viewing.
It’s based on a forgery racket which rocked the art world, especially so when it was discovered that an elderly couple and their loner son were behind it. They’d been selling off art forgeries and in the process, had conned millions of pounds out of some of the world’s most renowned art experts.
Shaun Greenhalgh – son of octogenarians George and Olive – had successfully copied paintings, jewellery, ceramics and statues in his parents garden shed, selling them to museums and dealers for thousands of pounds each. They were only found out when Shaun made a spelling mistake on some Assyrian reliefs that the family had tried to sell.
The Greenhalgh family gave every appearance of being average, working class people. They lived modestly and quietly on a council estate in Bolton but, hidden away in their garden shed, Shaun was creating amazingly accurate fake paintings – such as the Lowry pictured on the right – antiques and an assortment of other items that duped the art world out of a total of around £10 million!
Olive and George, who’s played by the wonderful actor Peter Vaughan, concocted elaborate back stories for each forgery and their trump card was a fake Egyptian statue, supposedly passed down from George’s grandfather. They sold this ‘artefact’ to Bolton Museum for nearly half a million pounds and despite their now being very rich, the Greenhalgh family continued to live their frugal lifestyle while revelling in the knowledge that they’d deceived world renowned art experts.
Shaun is played by Jeremy Swift and his portrayal of this quiet rather sad man made me sympathise with him utterly and I was devastated when Shaun was sent to prison for four and a half years. The fact is, the man’s a genius with an incredible flair for art. In other circumstances, he would be exalted as one of the country’s leading artists but instead, he’s now branded a criminal. And to be fair, he is, but what a waste of talent!
The whole drama was excellently played out by all the key characters and the casting of Liz Smith was the piece de resistance as far as I’m concerned. I love Liz Smith; she has to be one of our most diverse and versatile actresses and she’s utterly brilliant in everything she’s in. She’s especially convincing as unassuming Olive who, despite her mild mannered and Nana-like qualities was a driving force in pulling off these audacious cons.
And to be honest, good on ‘em I say. Yes I realise of course that what they did was illegal but nobody got hurt – other than them – and I couldn’t help but grin when some of the most inflated egos of the upper echelons of the art world were brought down a peg or three by a little old lady, her hubby and her son.
You can read about the original real story here