The World of Stupid Criminals

Beginning soon on Five is a brand new series that sees comedy writer Chris Rowe scour the globe for footage of the most extraordinary acts of stupidity in the criminal fraternity. In the first instalment, Chris encounters a Chinese cable guy who got the shock of his life; a pair of cretinous Kiwis who chose to film their illicit activities; and two nincompoops from El Salvador who tunnelled their way into the middle of a busy road.

Chris Rowe is on a mission. Having been granted access to a secret archive of feeble felons and hopeless hoodlums from all walks of life, he intends to discover “what makes the thick tick”. During his investigation, he will attempt to prove that the only factor uniting criminals the world over is their fundamental stupidity.

Chris’s first subject this week is Larry Bynum of Fort Worth, Texas. During one warm summer’s night, Larry set his greedy sights on a local off- licence and attempted a daring break-in –all of which was caught on CCTV. Displaying cat-like agility, he leaps onto the top of the wall outside the shop, before falling back and landing on his face. Undeterred, he tries again and eventually clambers onto the roof where he makes his silent way into the shop –crashing through the ceiling onto a stack of bottles. Having grabbed a couple of drinks and a packet of cigarettes, he then tries to flee, but is unable to open the door. After several hilarious attempts to climb back through the ceiling, Larry eventually decides to sit down on a barrel, light up a cigarette and await his inevitable fate.

“Stupid criminals don’t think they will get caught,” explains Chris. “But they get caught because they don’t think.” This is certainly the case with his next dense delinquents –a pair of Kiwi robbers who targeted a tourist coach in Auckland. All seemed to be going well for the thieves –they had burst onto a coach full of people and made it off with lots of cash, airline tickets, booze, jewellery and cameras. But their mistake was to film themselves celebrating their haul on one of the stolen video cameras, then to abandon the incriminating videotape after a drunken joyride. Local police could not believe their luck when they found the footage and wasted no time in making the arrests.

The next example of nefarious ineptitude takes Chris to El Salvador in Central America, where two would-be bank robbers went to great depths to get their hands on some cash. Having bought a house near their chosen depository, these two blockheads put into action an audacious plan to tunnel below ground for 14 metres, in order to return to the surface within the bank’s vault. Unfortunately, the miscreants failed to account for the intense heat below ground and soon lost their bearings. They ended up travelling underground for some 80 metres, before eventually resurfacing –now completely naked owing to the heat –in the middle of a busy bus lane.

The heat, explains Chris, seems to make stupid criminals even stupider. ln Shanxi Province in rural China, a village was plunged into darkness when a reckless thief attempted to steal a length of high-spec galvanised steel cable. The bandit may have been successful, were it not for the fact that the cable he was after was part of the village’s electricity supply and was still carrying 120,000 volts when he grabbed it. Ten hours later, the thief was still quivering as he was taken away by local police. “He’s well and truly charged,” says Chris.

Elsewhere this week, Chris examines a dim-witted American who tried to rob a bank dressed as a tree; a couple of Mexicans who stuffed their trousers full of rare snakes in order to smuggle them through customs; and a fast-food junkie who tried to break into a restaurant via an air vent, only to get stuck halfway.

Chris tells us a bit about your new series “It’s a lot of stupid criminals from around the world caught on CCTV or bits of video from mobile phones or archive stuff. My team and I track them down and explore what makes the criminal stupid – what it is that triggers the different actions in different people.”

So is there a scientific aspect to your work?
“Yes – we look at the effects of alcohol and of heat and see what happens to the stupid criminal’s brain –not that they necessarily had much of a brain in the first place! There is that element to it – a few mathematical equations and stuff like that. ‘Science’ is a word that has been bandied around, though scientists may not be happy with that!”

How do you find being in front of the camera?
“It’s very exciting to finally be doing it on telly for something this big. I’ve been writing for a long time for lots of other people and it’s a great thing to write a joke and see people laugh at it. To actually do it yourself is even better.”

Is this something you would like to do more of?
“Yeah, well hopefully – as much as is humanly possible! It’s hard work doing all this stuff – this is a lot harder than I think any of us expected. We are constantly calling out all over the world – to China, El Salvador and all sorts of places. When the stuff comes back we have to get it translated and work out what’s actually going on, et cetera. There’s a lot of work but it’s well worth it – and I really enjoy speaking to camera.”

A lot of the footage in the series comes from the states. do you think there are more stupid people there than anywhere else in the world?
“Well I mean, you know – there are more people in the States than there are in the UK. That’s a very good question –I may well have to dodge it. There are an awful lot of Americans and therefore a greater percentage of them are stupid!”

Do you think stupid crime is on the increase?
“I certainly hope so –so we can get a second series out of it!”

Do you think the comedy mishaps in the series will deter people from committing crime?
“I knew that was coming! I think films like ‘Oceans 11’ glamorise crime beautifully. The one thing The World of Stupid Criminals does is pillory crime and the stupid criminals and say, ‘Please don’t do it because you might end up doing something very stupid which you’ll regret!’ I want people to laugh at these stupid criminals more than anything else.”

Coming soon on five

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  • BBC Two
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