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1 January 2003
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Rogues Quiz

Nelson Gabriel - Confidante or Con man?

Jack May

Listeners have voted Nelson Gabriel (played by the late Jack May, left) the greatest rogue in Archers history. There's a brief biography of the character below.

Jack May was almost as much of a character as the man he played. Some of his Archers colleagues remember him.

Ambridge Rogues - the poll results

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Nelson was the only son of Walter and Annie Gabriel, descendants of an ancient Ambridge family. He did his National Service in the RAF and then signed on as a regular and served abroad, reaching the rank of Sergeant. He returned home in 1961 with an incongruously fruity accent and (with a friend and some of Walter’s money) set up an engineering business in Borchester. Then in 1966 he and Tony Stobeman opened a casino and betting shop - an absolute mint which allowed Nelson to live in some luxury in Borchester.

Mail Van Robbery

Nelson was doing so well that he took his dad on a cruise but he left Walter and took a flight home. The plane was reported missing and to Walter’s horror, Nelson was assumed dead. While he was missing in 1967, there was a notorious raid on the Borchester mail van. After the robbery the police raided Paunton’s Farm and said that fingerprints found on an empty scotch bottle were identical to prints taken from Nelson’s flat. Could this mean that Nelson was still alive? Walter said that Nelson would never be so heartless as to fake his death and so break his father’s heart.

In January 1968 Nelson is returned to England, having been tracked down by Interpol (no one knows where he had been in the interim). He appeared before magistrates in Borchester where they were told that he had visited Paunton’s Farm the night before the robbery and had been referred to as "Boss" by criminal Charles Brown. Nelson was committed for trial at the Assizes. They moved him to Gloucester jail where Walter visited him. Nelson convinced Walter that he was innocent and had been framed. And indeed, at his trial Nelson was found not guilty and freed.

By 1977 Nelson had moved to London and then Spain where he had some villas built. His fortunes were volatile, but he always seemed to recover and would visit Walter from time to time either staying at his flat, Grey Gables or The Bull - depending on the state of his finances at the time.

The Wine Bar Years

In 1980, Nelson returned to Borchester, buying an old warehouse which he converted into a wine bar - the eponymous Nelson’s. In 1981 the shop next door came up for sale. He planned a sauna, asking Clarrie to be a masseuse but furious Eddie forbade it. As his initial business plan didn’t work out, he opened an antique shop instead - a natural alternative use (!) Over the next four years, Nelson was occasionally accused of involvement in antique dealers’ price-fixing rings, but no charges ever stuck to Ambridge’s Mr Teflon.

Regulars at Nelson’s included Shula, Mark, Caroline, Nigel and Elizabeth. Nelson proved a valiant confidante to all the young people at this time - especially Elizabeth, perhaps his favourite. But in November 1984, Nelson shut up the wine bar and vanished. There was a rumour that he had been seen on a television a news report from South America, but only a few months later he was back.


Nelson had been a friend of Julia Pargetter since she was a patron of his casino along with The Goodmans. In 1992 when Elizabeth and Nigel were finding Julia difficult, Nelson came to the rescue and they spent more and more time together. In 1996, Julia had had enough of Elizabeth and moved into Nelson’s spare room. She started to take over his life, telling him what to eat and how to decorate the wine bar. In one of the most hilarious and memorable episodes in Nelson’s life, Julia became very understanding when she discovered a pair of red high-heeled shoes (Nelson’s size) in his closet. He strung her along until eventually revealing that he was playing an Ugly Sister (alongside her son) in the village panto.

Julia’s far-from-ugly sister Ellen joined them and his little cottage became very crowded as the two women vied for his attention before eventually returning to Ellen’s home in Spain. Nelson joined them for Christmas 1997 and that was the last the village saw of him.

Mystery to the last

The wine bar closed, despite (or perhaps because of) Kenton’s caretaker management, Honeysuckle Cottage was repossessed, and eventually in March 2001 came the news that he had died in Argentina. The circumstances of his death were as mysterious as much of his life.

He was the rogue with the heart of gold. When he was 57, he pretended to be over 60 in order to take Mrs Perkins to the Over 60’s tea dance at Grey Gables. He planted beetroot in his garden at Honeysuckle Cottage even though he hated the stuff, because Tom Forrest had insisted that Walter, who had died five years previously, would like it if beetroot continued to be grown in the garden.

And Nelson thought that it amusing that, when you are dead, people remember you as virtuous… Perhaps not in his case, but oh boy is he remembered.

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