James Bannon’s story has all the ingredients of a good novel: a down-to-earth setting; some very shady characters, some good guys and some dumb ones; a developing plot; plenty of suspense, some romance and a mounting climax to a staggering ending. Except it’s not fiction, and for that it is even more remarkable: so much so that it became the Number One True Crime Book of 2013.
It’s a nerve-wracking yet gripping seventy minutes.
Like many good stories it’s very simple. As a raw, young recruit to the Met, Bannon at the age of eighteen had just become used to his uniform when he was put into plain clothes. Within two years he was chosen to be an undercover officer tasked with infiltrating the widely feared Millwall hooligan firm The Bushwackers. For those not familiar with the period, the late 1980s was a time of rampant football hooliganism and violence in the UK both on and off the terraces. Leader of these gangs were like mafia bosses, but Brannon had to befriend them and they were about to become his drinking companions for the next couple of years until the operation was closed down.
It’s a nerve-wracking yet gripping seventy minutes. Each scene is vividly created and the anecdotes pour out in a stream of events. Despite the gravity of the subject, the show is billed as comedy and it certainly lives up to that. The humour in many cases comes from situations that could have gone disastrously wrong, the other officers totally unsuited to the job and the staggering lack of support from senior officers. There are also moments of sadness and pain told with a tear in the eye, for this is also a moving story of how the life and loves of a man were were put on the line for the sake of the job.
There are storytellers and raconteurs. James Bannon is both, but the latter is the simple description that sums up a style that only a few people seem to possess naturally. He exerts a huge presence on the stage and his powerful voice can be both fiery and mellow. There are times when you call almost feel the adrenalin pumping through his veins as he relives those days and gives us a rare glimpse into what at times seemed liked another form of a one-man show.