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‘Max The Forger’ Specialized In Faking Famous Art | Fakes, Frauds & Scammers

Even when I was in prison, I asked the governor,
“Can I have a single cell?” because I wanted to paint. I was actually doing fakes in there. The governor said, “Max Brandrett, I hope you’re not doing any of
those dodgy pictures in there.” I went, “No, Governor.
No, Governor, I’m not.” I was doing Samuel Palmers. I’ll paint any subject
they throw in front of me, anything. Well, I’ve been doing it
for 45 years, you know? My name is Max Brandrett,
alias Max the Forger. I’m not gonna say I’m the greatest
forger, but I used to love doing it. In fact, one of my pictures turned up
on Antiques Roadshow. Yeah, I thought, “That’s mine.” [Max the Art Forger] Well, I was born in Brighton,
one bedroom flat, food was scarce, it was poverty. It was real poverty. In those days, the authorities would
just take you away to a home. The first Barnardo’s,
I arrived in 1955. After the homes,
I came to 15 years old and we were allowed out. Unfortunately, my mum was living with
not a nice person. He beat me up one night
and I decided to do a runner. I got the Evening Standard
and it said, “Men wanted for circus.” So I got up to Chipping Norton, there was a guy standing there,
and he said, “What you want, son?” I said, “Any jobs?” And he took me in to this tent
with 12 elephants all lined up and he said, “Do you want to
look after these, then?” I said, “Yeah, I don’t mind.” He said, “You’ll be raking out,
you’ll be washing them down, and so you’ll be sleeping in
a corner with the camels.” There were some bloody camels
in the corner there. Lillia, Mary, Camela, Suzie, Dalia, Dana, Rani, Sita, May, Mabel, Janey, and Sally. I did that for two years. Then I went to London. I’ve always, always painted. I’d start looking for old canvases,
I’d clean them all off, I’d rub them right down, prime them, then I’d think, “What shall I do? A picture of George Washington? Nelson? Napoleon? Shipping scenes?” I did the whole lot. There was an antique dealer
but he was a con man, asking me did I do the pictures. He thought they were prints,
he thought I’d retouched them. I said, “No, I paint them.” We teamed up. And he came up and said,
“Look, I think we could do well.” I’m gonna tell you
a little trick that we did. The bee glue comes in dried form, you soak it overnight in cold water, the next morning, you’ve got a jelly. Put it on the stove
and then it’s a liquid. It’s like a varnish,
so you get your picture, you varnish it over, you go to your heater and you circulate the painting so the heat goes all over
where the varnish is. You can actually hear it cracking. So then you think, “Right,
I’ve got enough cracks in that.” Take it to your tap, wash the bee glue off, you’re left with the cracks. Empty a hoover onto it, rub it in, dust it all off, all your cracks are filled
with dirt and black. Old nails back to where
they should be, old varnish on top of that. Under glass, you couldn’t tell. Unless it’s taken out of the frame
and goes under X-ray, you couldn’t tell. That was it,
that’s how we used to do it. The buzz in the auction room, right turn on, you know? So, as soon as we got them in the
auction, we would go to the preview. You know that picture’s
only a week old and it’s dated 1790. And you listen to the comments. I loved it, I’d watch it go up and then… Yeah, it was great. I used to love the selling side. I got about ten pictures together,
only small ones. I went down to Portobello Road, set up my little pitch, I had a blanket with my pictures on. One day this young kiddie came down,
beautifully dressed, suit. He said, “Can you do one picture
for my friend?” Got this photograph, it was a photograph
of a lady about 50. So, I did the picture, framed it,
took it back the following week. He came down and said,
“My friends are at the pub up there.” I open the door, recognize
straightaway Ronnie Kray and Reggie. Ronnie gets up
and he comes over to me. He goes, “Here, Reggie,
have a look at this. Have a look at this, Reggie. Ain’t that mum? That’s mum innit?
He’s got it, innit?” “Oh dear,” he said,
“It’s mum all over,” and he kept saying it. He turned around and he said, “Have a drink,” and I sat with him,
sandwiched in between these two– they were big guys. It was frightening. That was in 1967. A few months after that, they were nicked
for the shooting of George Cornell. Then I met Tom Keating. I teamed up with him and we started
to do the real naughties. You know, the big moneys. We were hitting big galleries,
making big money. Samuel Palmers were our best bet. He was good at Samuel Palmers, but I was better at the oil painting,
doing the marines, you know? I could do Constable or Albert Derby, old fishing scenes, seascapes,
you name it, I did it. Tom was selling in one antiques shop, I was selling in the other. He was so sloppy when he had a drink. The bottom of the sea was still wet, so it came off in his hand. We had to charge down
Arundel High Street and we couldn’t find the car. We’ve got these two antique dealers
chasing us, going, “Oh, you wait,
we’ll get our hands on you.” In the car and gone. So many things happened,
it was wonderful. Tom passed away in 85. And I carried on
faking Keating’s work as well. He was much sought-after. I used to sign it, “Tom Keating.” I was hitting all the auction rooms
on that. A member of the fraud squad
wanted to nick me. I got 18 months. This is me in the picture here. I did this painting,
it’s a Van de Velde. I got nicked for this picture. Five days after that,
I was in a holding cell in London. The next time I got nicked,
I said to the judge, “I’m sorry, it’s like drugs,
I get withdrawal symptoms. I see an old canvas and my fingers
start to shake, I’ve got to do it.” Do you know what it’s like
to be released at eight o’clock in the morning, when those big doors open
and you walk out? Great, great feeling.
That’s why I couldn’t do it again. I’m in a good place now. I paint what I like, you know? I love being surrounded
by my work here, I love it. OK, I went off the rails slightly, but I’m back on track now. Oh, I like that bit, yeah. True stories, every one of them.
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