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Stealing Shakespeare, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Stealing Shakespeare, BBC One

Stealing Shakespeare, BBC One

Dodgy dealer, dodgy documentary

Not long ago a man walked into the Folger Library in Washington DC seeking to confirm that he had in his possession a rare edition of the First Folio. He had come to the right place. Of the 700 originally printed, 231 are known still to exist, and of those, 79 are parked flat on shelves in the Folger Library. Which is why he had also come to the wrong place. “From my perspective”, said the man at the Folger as only Americans can, “there was a problem with this situation.”

Nine of the First Folios counted among the 231 are unaccounted for. The scholars don't know where they are. Of the rest, few are in entirely mint condition. The one submitted for inspection by Raymond Scott certainly wasn’t: scragged and unbound, its market value was half what it might have been, but that didn’t stop Scott from going out into the Washington night to celebrate with Dom Perignon.

bookMeanwhile, calls were being made, and stories being checked. Scott claimed to have come direct from Cuba, where he had acquired the book through a contact. As far as he was concerned, it was clean as a whistle. Unfortunately for him, sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. This First Folio didn’t have one (pictured right), while Scott’s flamboyant manner, penchant for waving Havana smoke in people’s faces and tendency to wear shades did little to distinguish him from a dodgy dealer in second-hand motors.

The Folger called in an expert, who called in another expert, who called in another expert – there were more experts in this story than you could shake a spear at – and it was duly confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that this was none other than the First Folio half-inched from Durham in 1998. Scott had long since scarpered - to Washington, in fact, but the one in Tyne and Wear, not so very far from Durham. In due course the plod, pronouncing "book" to rhyme with "spook", came knocking on his door and found that a man with an international lifestyle, a Ferrari in his lock-up, a fiancée in Cuba to whom he sent extravagant cash gifts to the tune of £10,000 was in fact a petty thief claiming benefits, running up huge credit-card debts and still living in a semi with his old mum deep into his fifties.

The flaw with Stealing Shakespeare was the distance between Scott’s perception of himself and everyone else’s

“She finds it rather incredulous that I should be charged,” he smoothly recalled. At this point the filmmakers got involved. Although the case would have been sub judice, with the trial pending Scott was free to tell his story, presumably hoping that it would be aired after his acquittal. It would be consistent with his hunger for the big time if he made contact with them, rather than the other way round. The film gave him airtime to purvey his cock-and-bull narrative, entirely inconsistent with the evidence of his movements, and claim his 15 tawdry minutes.

imagesThe flaw with Stealing Shakespeare was the distance between Scott’s perception of himself and everyone else’s: it was too wide to make him intriguing. It was clear from the start that Scott is a lonely fantasist, a less than credible Falstaffian pedlar addicted to spinning lies about - and probably to - himself. The Bard would have given him a couple of walk-on scenes and no more. Cutting manically between the various players, the documentary did its best to spin out the suspense. The jury was less fascinated by his flummery. He arrived in court waving victory signs (pictured above left) and was duly convicted of handling stolen goods. A long custodial stretch beckons. One final annoyance: despite the come-on of the title, Scott was acquitted of stealing Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Update on 2 August. This morning Scott was jailed for eight years after his trial at Newcastle Crown Court. It emerged during the trial that he had actually had the book in his possession for a decade before he took it in to the Folger Library. Judge Richard Lowden passed sentence thus: "You are to some extent a fantasist and have to some degree a personality disorder and you have been an alcoholic. It is clear that from the [psychiatric] report you are not suffering from any mental disorder." Scott declined to give evidence in his defence. Full report here.

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This program made me so angry, what the hell is going on at the BBC? who thought it would be a good idea to waste money on giving this CRIMINAL the exposure he wants? Shame on you BBC

I think that you may have missed the point of this programme. The idea was pretty clear to me: you give the man a long enough rope, and he will hang himself. And it seems that he did a pretty good job of that. I think it was a very good insight into the lengths people will go to in order to find happiness. He is clearly a very lonely man who went a bit too far in order to get what he wanted. Quite tragic really that people like this exist in our society. Ronnie Biggs flaunted the UK legal system for years and was considered a hero, do you think the same of the exposure he received over the years? I really enjoyed this doc, it was entertaining and really hung Scott out to dry.

the documentary was quite entertaining, in the sense that mr scotts iddiocy was slowly unravelled and his delusions of grandeur. Quite heart warming to see him sentenced for 8 years. What an idot.

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