On 20 March 1966, an audacious robbery was orchestrated at Westminster Central Hall. On show were rare stamps with a total value of £3 million; but these were not the target of the very literal daylight robbery, undertaken under the noses of no less than six security guards. For also on display was the Jules Rimet Trophy, the solid gold prize presented to the winners of the football World Cup, which was to be held in England that summer.
It was the World Cup that had been snatched, and newspaper headlines from the time abounded both with panic and promises of a potential reward. The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported how the ‘FA [were] to replace the missing world cup trophy,’ which had been ‘snatched’ from the stamp exhibition. The same newspaper tells of a £3,500 reward offered by a London loss assurance firm (worth over £60,000 in today’s money), whilst speculating that it might have been taken by students as a prank.
Enter Pickles, the mongrel dog, and his owner, one David Corbett of South Norwood, London.
Read on to find out more about Pickles and his heroic exploits, which helped save the day and bring home the trophy, months before the England team did the very same thing.
It was a week after the Jules Rimet Trophy had disappeared, and David Corbett, a 26-year-old lighterman from Norwood, was about to take his dog Pickles for a walk. The Coventry Daily Telegraph picks up the story:
Pickles and his master were starting out for a stroll along Beulah Hill, Norwood, London, SE, but went no further than the front gate. Pickles, sniffing out a strange bundle under the bush, led Mr Corbett to the solid gold cup which vanished a week yesterday while on show in the stamp exhibition at Central Hall, Westminster.
Wrapped in paper, and hidden under a laurel bush, Pickles had led his master to none other than the stolen World Cup trophy. It was promptly taken to Cannon Row police station, where its identity was verified, and it was found to be undamaged.
Pickles had also led his master David Corbett to another potential windfall. The reward money now totalled £6,100 (equal to over £100,000 today), and so when David Corbett was interviewed, he explained how ‘The first thing we will do with it when we get it is to move house. Pickles will have caviar for a week.’
And it was not just the Corbetts who were celebrating. National and global press went wild for Pickles, the Newcastle Journal running the headline ‘Nation hails Pickles, the World Cup hero.’ The Newcastle Journal highlights how the ‘Pleasure was especially keen in Brazil, who won the Cup in 1958 and 1962.’ Newspapers and radio stations there hailed Pickles, ‘as joy and relief spread around the Soccer-playing world.’
Silvio Pacheco, the Brazilian Sports Confederation Vice-President, who had been part of the delegation who delivered the Cup to London in January, said ‘I always knew it would turn up.’ Meanwhile Annette Rimet, ‘daughter of the cup’s namesake,’ was less certain, remarking how she ‘suffered agonies when the cup was stolen,’ but was ‘tremendously happy’ to find that it had resurfaced.
President of the Finnish Football Association Erik von Frenckell ‘was nearly sure it was a joke,’ whilst the Secretary of FIFA Dr Helmut Kaeser remarked that ‘It really would have been a bad joke if in England such a trophy could be stolen and never found.’
But thanks to Pickles, the ‘inquisitive pet mongrel,’ the FA’s blushes were spared, the solid gold trophy sent to a bank vault, and the World Cup was set to start without any further dramas. But for every hero, there is nearly always a villain, and according to the Daily Mirror, this took the shape of Joe Mears, the Chairman of Chelsea and the FA.
When David Corbett visited the London firm of loss adjusters to discuss their £3,000 reward, he discovered that a claim had already been put in, by none other than Joe Mears. The Daily Mirror relates how Mears had made the claim ‘based on information he gave the police after the solid gold cup was stolen,’ and how he had spent a ‘very worrying week helping the police.’ Mears had been sent the lid of the World Cup, and it seems he was basing his claim on this.
And although Pickles was the undisputed hero of the hour, Joe Mears went on to say that ‘he would not be prepared to share the money with Mr Corbett,’ adding how ‘I am not planning to donate the money or anything.’
As you might imagine, David Corbett was incensed:
I don’t believe it! Fancy him jumping on the bandwagon! He’s a rich man. It’s just not fair.
And the claim had caused ‘uproar in soccer circles.’ Bob Lord, Chairmen of Burnley FC, labelled Mears’s behaviour as shocking, commenting how ‘I would never have considered doing such a thing in his position.’
But Mears was not successful in his claim; David Corbett collected nearly £5,000 in reward money, and bought himself and his wife, and their baby son Dominic, a new house in Surrey. And Pickles too, received further accolades and stardom.
The Torbay Express and South Devon Echo reports how Pickles was due to ‘get a silver medal’ from the National Canine Defence League. The silver medal bore the inscription ‘To Pickles for his part in the recovery of the World Cup.’
And Pickles also found fame on the silver screen, starring in ‘The Spy With A Cold Nose‘ alongside Daliah Lavi and Laurence Harvey. He also earned his place in popular culture; referenced in a David Langdon cartoon in the Sunday Mirror.
Tragically, Pickles passed away just a year after his exploits garnered him international fame and attention. But he will always be remembered as the unlikeliest of World Cup heroes, and sits alongside Bobby Moore and his victorious team in English football’s hall of fame.
Discover more about Pickles, the 1966 World Cup, and much more, by starting your search on the British Newspaper Archive today.