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Paul Nelson - Obituary and tribute & funeral notice

Obituary by Jack Foley

THE funeral of Paul Nelson (Ted Rhodes) will be held on Friday, January 23, 2004, in Yorkshire, and will be followed by a memorial service, in London, sometime in the future.

Mr Rhodes' family has issued the following statement to anyone wishing to send flowers, or attend...

Message from Joe Rhodes: "Thank-you all for your kind letters of sympathy regarding Ted's death. All
the family have been very touched by your thoughts.

"Our apologies for not replying to everyone in person. Many of you asked to be informed of any funeral arrangements and as these have just been decided, we are able to let
you know what they are.

"There will be a requiem mass (Roman Catholic Service) at 12.30pm at The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Thornton, nr. Bradford, Yorkshire on Friday, January 23, 2004.

"This will be followed by interment at Thornton Cemetery. Friends please meet at the church. Flowers may be sent to the Brook Chapel of Rest, 43 Market Street, Thornton, Bradford BD13 3EN.

"If desired, donations in memory of Ted may be sent to the Wandsworth

"We are going to be holding a memorial service in South London later in the year, which will be non-denominational and will, of course, keep you all posted as to when that will be.

"We would appreciate it if you could spare a moment at about 1pm on Friday to offer a thought or a prayer in memory of Ted."

INDIELONDON is saddened to bring readers news of the death of its hugely-popular theatre critic, Paul Nelson.

Mr Nelson, who was 69 and lived in Wandsworth, London, died in the early hours of Monday, December 15.

Originally from Yorkshire, Paul studied English at Trinity College, Dublin, and trained to become an actor at RADA. After treading the boards, he turned his hand to writing and script editing, and this was the career which made his name.

He was associated with many major TV series, including Z-Cars, the original Crossroads and All Creatures Great And Small, which starred Robert Hardy, and ran for seven series.

He then enjoyed a brief period teaching at New York University, before taking a job as theatre critic for the Wandsworth Borough News, which he enjoyed for 20 years, before retiring in 2001.

He remained an immensely popular figure on the local theatre scene, about which he cared deeply and of which he never tired. And he was also a popular member of the Wandsworth community, who will greatly miss his terrific enthusiasm and zest for life.

Jonathan Kennedy, who ran the Wimbledon Studio Theatre, paid tribute to the former critic.

"Paul was always a popular figure, both in the main house and Studio Theatre - a real enthusiast for good plays, musicals, cabaret in fact all things showbiz.

"We avidly read his column and reviews in the Wandsworth Borough News for many years and Friday morning's will never be the same without his sharp insight, waspish wit and generous spirit.

"Always larger than life, he will be missed by many theatres around London, but none more so than in Wimbledon, and around the corner from the Stage Door in the South Wimbledon Club."

His family released the following statement.

"Paul Nelson died at home on Sunday, December 14, he was much loved by family and friends and was a father of four and grandfather of two.

"He trained at RADA during the 1950s and pursued a successful career as an actor. It was in the 1960s Paul began working in TV as a writer.

"Latterly his career concentrated on writing theatre reviews where Paul was able to combine his love of language with his love of the theatre.

"Always kind, witty and good company he will be much missed by all who knew him. The family are deeply upset at his loss and would ask people to respect their privacy at this difficult time."

I, myself, feel fortunate to have known Paul for some years, having worked with him at the Wandsworth Borough News, and then on IndieLondon.

He was one of life's great characters, the type of person who enriched the lives of whoever he came into contact with, and who I count myself very lucky to have worked with and shared many a pint with, in jest.

Paul's great passion was for the theatre, and his reviews were always inspiring and well-written, providing many a boon to a budding actors' career, or even some tips for how to improve in the future.

One of my fondest memories is of a time when I joined him in a pub with an actor he had once criticised, who had subsequently learned from the review, and received a glowing notice for a following play. So indebted to Paul was he, that he bought him a pint, and spent the rest of the evening drinking with him.

Paul was also incredibly selfless in his generosity towards others and, indeed, IndieLondon would not be the site it is today, were it not for his sterling efforts, dedicated commitment and constant encouragement when we were getting things started.

He will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him and the world is truly a lesser place without him.

The curtain may have come down on a remarkable life, but through these pages, and his past reviews, his memory and words can live forever.

Rest in peace, Paul, for we loved you dearly.

Anyone who wishes to pass on their respects or to pay tribute can do so by sending an email to any one of the following addresses. Please let us know if you give us permission to post your comments for others to share.


Paul Nelson - Ave ET Vale, by David Munro (IndieLondon theatre critic and close personal friend)

The horrifying death of Paul Nelson has shocked all his friends and readers. I can claim a more personal loss as Paul, or Ted as he was to me and as such will refer to him hereafter, was a close personal friend, whom I had known for many years and had hoped to know for many more.
I am writing this in Scarborough, a town in Yorkshire, the county that gave him birth, and with which he always maintained a connection.
I have just seen a play which I know he would have enjoyed. For Ted was, fundamentally, a man of the theatre. He did not suffer fools, nor bad performances, gladly, and this was shown in the more caustic of his reviews.
He did, however, love the moment in a play or musical which gave him that certain thrill which he recaptured and commemorated in his reviews.
We had seen together many plays and musicals and enjoyed the delights of praise, or the even greater delights of analysing and crucifying, an inadequate or pretentious performance.
Nothing gave him greater pleasure than a good, or great evening, in the theatre, for he understood and appreciated the skill of acting and the thought and work that went into a good performance, whether at the Haymarket, or a small little theatre club, in the outer reaches of East London.
We both had an inordinate love of the musical, and our record collections vied with each other for the esoterica of the medium.
In fact, in this he was more than generous in that he gave me records to fill the gaps in my collection, as though his collection was the source on which I could draw with impunity when the need arose, as it did on many occasions.
As a man and a friend, he was an everlasting source of joy, pleasure and bewilderment (and at times exasperation).
His voice could dominate the nosiest room if he felt there was a point to be made, or, I regret to say, a pomposity to deflate. In a restaurant, he would dominate and yet charm the waiters whom, whatever he may have said or done on his last visit, welcomed him back as though he was a long lost friend.
As a writer he was a supreme craftsman, an editor par excellence who could take an inept script, see where the weakness lay, and rectify it, so producing a professional result for which others got the praise.
His last great wish was to see a production of a Harold Arlen/ Truman Capote musical, 'House of Flowers', mounted in London.
When I pointed out that the book was weak, he said that he could remedy that, and I have no doubt he could have, despite the objections of the Capote estate.
His talents were inestimable but they were always expended in helping or promoting others, never himself.
Words and language meant a lot to him and he was forever decrying the slack use of syntax in modern prose. He and I had battles which lasted to his last days, as to correct usage, I suspect that he was usually right but now I shall never know, as the voice on the telephone and the author of the corrective e-mail is stilled forever - more's the pity.
I shall miss the pleasure of slipping in obscure theatrical references into my reviews, or articles, and hearing his appreciative chuckle at the other end of the phone as he picked them up.
In his last days, he was cursed with an illness that involved periods in hospitals and the use of a stick which he brandished like an avenging spear.
Yet, despite the pain and discomfort, his zest for living was undiminished and he would laugh off the inconveniences his body imposed on him.
Happily for him, he believed that this had come to an end, as the last e-mail I got from him gloried in the fact that he was now free from the doctors and could live his life again, free and untrammelled by medical restraints. Sadly, this freedom was short-lived.
He was, to misquote Chaucer, a 'gentil parfit' man, a great companion and a loyal friend whose passing I will regret for the rest of my life.
Nonetheless, no matter how much I will miss and mourn Ted, I will always be comforted by the happy memory of having had the privilege of being his friend.
As one of his favourite lyricists wrote: "Who can ask for anything more"?

Dear Editor,

I'm in a state of shock after hearing about Paul's death. I first met him in the Sixties, when he was a floor manager for Thames Television, and I was an actor. We worked together a lot, especially on the Sexton Blake TV series, but on other programmes too. This is before he became a writer. I loved Paul to bits then and I still did when I got to know him again as "Paul". Jack Foley's obit really does capture the generosity and spirit of this delightful man. He's one person I do want to meet again in Heaven.

Best wishes,
Roger Foss



I was deeply saddened to hear that Paul died on Monday. I run the venue at the Halfmoon, Putney and he has been an enormous help over the years both professionally and personally. I too first met him at The WBN when I joined the sales side of things. He always made me feel so welcome and we have stayed in touch ever since.

The Halfmoon will miss him so much. He really helped us in our battle to save our license a few years ago, mustering up so much support for our cause.

Paul was a wonderful mixture of intellect and real wit. His tales could be truly outrageous! Jazz on a Sunday at The Halfmoon will never be the same without him. We will all raise a glass to him this Sunday. Here's to Paul, God Bless.

Carrie Davies,
Halfmoon, Putney


A tragic event for all of us, and I would like to add that I was his doctor in America, and we had kept in touch for 30 years.
Somehow, when a great person dies, he is reborn in our lives, as so it is with Paul.
His living lexicon of the English language, coupled with his incredible intellect, made life electric for those around him.
His life is an honor to the greatness of England and I often told him that his theater reviews seemed better than the performances which we could not enjoy from over here. I wish I had saved them all.

Sincerely yours,
Donald T. Evans, M.D.


Dear Editor:

Like all of his friends here in New York City, I am terribly shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Paul Nelson.

Paul and I were friends for well over 30 years, starting out at London Weekend TV, at its inception in the Sixties. He was a complete original. His knowledge of the Broadway and London theatre was second to none. I remember sitting in his study, in London, in the early '70's, spellbound as I listened to albums of distant and obscure B'way shows that I had never heard of.
Paul, of course, knew all about them and didn't hesitate to give me lectures on all of them. We were both graduates (although at different periods) of BBC TV.
I learned a lot from Paul. He could be enlightening, terribly funny, extremely kind and utterly maddening - depending on his frame of mind. He is someone I will never forget and who I will miss horribly. Only a couple of weeks ago, he sent me some bitterly funny and waspish comments on Bush's visit to the U.K. He was pretty merciless!

Although I have lived and worked in the US for many years now, we continued to correspond through the miracles of email - and in the last few years it was a dull week when I didn't hear from him at least once. There are so many stories I have about this remarkable guy that it is not possible to even begin to tell them all.
Suffice it to say, my life would have been much duller had I not known him. I was privileged to do so and am devastated by his passing. My heart goes out to his family, friends and colleagues.

Mathew J. Maine


Paul has been a strong supporter of the Wandsworth Oasis Trading Co which raises money for people affected by HIV/Aids. Only a week before his death, over lunch in San Pieto (a favourite restaurant of his, in Garratt Lane), we discussed our forthcoming carol service at the Army Hall. He also offered to be a trustee of a Community HIV/Aids Relief Fund, operated by the Army.

I found him an amazing man, an entertaining man, a man of principals and a man with an amazing knowledge of Wandsworth and the theatre.
I shall miss his advice andhelp. God bless his memorey.

Patrick, Company Secretary, Wandsworth Oasis Trading Co, who found shaving mugs for Paul



We are all so shocked and saddened to hear of Paul's death; he was only here a couple of weeks ago, with his daughter. He is such a character, and a great boon to the companies who've visited here over the years with his constructive, witty, well-researched and intelligent reviews.

Once again, it really has brought a lump to my throat, we'll miss Paul with much affection,

Debbie Vannozzi & the team at Oval House



It's always hard to say goodbye forever to anyone we knew and care about, but having to say goodbye to someone in the Christmas period makes it even more sad.

As in this season we do celebrate the rebirth of life itself.
My condolances to his family, friends and all who know him and like him.

May the pain of this farewell partly be replaced by the good memories he left us all.
Anne-Marie Caluwaert


Dear Editor,

I am so saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Paul Nelson.

He was such a lovely man and he had so much knowledge of the theatre, that I could listen to him for hours!
I want to thank you, Paul, for all your encouragement, your generosity, your wonderful, wonderful reviews, and your fantastic laugh... rest in peace with all your stars of the musical stage.

Linda Edwards
The Landor Theatre


Dear Editor,

An actor friend of mine called today, Christmas Eve, to tell me Paul had died. I have read the tributes and can only add my heartfelt endorsement of the sentiments expressed.
I had read his reviews for years and wrote to him asking him if he might come to a reading of a play of mine.

Not only did he come, without me knowing, as we had never met, but he gave me a wonderful review in the Wandsworth Borough News.

All who knew Paul will know that he was no sycophant and a good review from Paul was genuine.

Woe betide the unlucky author whose work he didn't like!

Subsequently we kept in touch and he came to all my readings and performances, giving me unstinting support and encouragement, as he did for many writers and actors.
He sent me an email, just recently, in typical vein, lambasting me for not writing more and suggesting that we get together for a drink.
Sadly, that cannot be now. It must, I hope, be a comfort to his family that Paul, or 'The Weg' as I called him, touched so many people's lives and made them feel better about themselves.
I know that Paul did rage against the dying of the light, but I pray that, in the end, he went gently into that good night.
Rest in Peace 'The Weg' and thank you.

Richard Morris

Dear Editor,

May I add my tribute to the late Paul Nelson. Considering journalism came third in Paul's choice of career, after actor and scriptwriter, he made a damned good job of it. Always the complete professional, Paul had that 'old fashioned' approach to writing - it had to be grammatically correct, properly punctuated and accurately spelt. He was also a stickler for deadlines.

If he was asked to have his crit ready by 10.30am, you could bet your month's expenses that it would be. And it always was. If advert sizes on his entertinament pages changed and there was a sudden last-minute demand for a couple of 150-word pieces, Paul could always find something of topical interest to his readers. But any sub who slashed his copy indiscriminately would get a verbal assault that would leave him (or her) groggy for the rest of the day.
He, however, could take out 60 words in seconds. For a sub editor Paul was a joy to work with and I consider myself lucky to have spent a couple of years working alongside him.

David Wilson,

Former Deputy Group Editor, Dimbleby Newspapers


Dear IndieLondon,

A friend has emailed me your obit about Paul.

I first met him when I was a student in a screenwriting class at NYU Film School in the late 70's.
He appreciated my writing and subsequently hired me to come to work at the BBC, which was the beginning of my years as a TV writer. He went far beyond his obligations as an employer, making it easy for me to live and work in a foreign country.
He taught me how to use an English pay phone, pay a London taxi driver ("get out and give him the money through the front window, darling, NOT from the rear seat"), get around on buses and on the Tube and where to buy everything I needed for a good price.
Needless to say, he taught me the countless quirky differences between 'King's English' and 'American English' I needed to know to write credibly in Britain. In other words, he made my path smooth in more ways than I can even begin to unnumerate.

As you know, no one was kinder or more fun. He was a faithful ally to the underdog and a loyal friend to folks in all circumstances. His was a large, generous, joyful spirit, and he is irreplaceable.
I remember vividly asking him to explain the meaning of the English phrase, 'to be gathered', which he did.
Now that he's been gathered, I know he's waiting on the other side and will greet me with his customary enthusiasm and warmth when I get there.
I expect he'll show me the ropes, in the same way that he did all those years ago, when I arrived in London.

Leslie Elizabeth Thomas,
New York

Dear editor
I was extremely saddened to hear of Paul's death, although I had not seen much of him in the past few years, he was someone I felt I could have always just bumped into, in a Wandsworth pub, and picked up where we'd left off.
I got to know Paul when I was starting out as a reporter on the Wandsworth Borough News.
I have to say, initially I was terrified of this larger than life character, who would roar his disapproval of something (generally someone's bad grammar or spelling) with no warning... often followed by a wicked chuckle.
But I soon grew to love him, though, and he became something of a mentor. He always had extraordinary stories to tell of the places he'd been to, and famous people he knew, but I never once felt he was trying to impress, merely trying (and succeeding) to amuse.
In fact, having read his obituary, and learning for the first time of some of
the things he did, I would say he was rather modest.
I'm sorry I won't be able to sit in a pub with him again and hear a few more of those tales, but his memory
will live on and my grammar will never be the same again!

Sarah Passmore


A tribute to Paul Nelson
What dreadful news to receive just before Christmas (well, at any time actually, but especially now).
The death of Paul Nelson came as a shock, followed by anger when you learnt of the circumstances.
Never a man to keep quiet when something upset him, it appears he had a row with a cyclist on the pavement which led to an altercation, and a day or two later, to his death. At only 69.
To coin a cliche, but a most apt one, he will be much missed. To coin another, he was a man who didn't suffer fools gladly.
Although . . . this fool was suffered, apparently gladly, because he invariably greeted me and my wife with a roar of welcome, to be followed by a clutch of stories about plays he had just seen, and shows that he urged us to catch at soon as possible. His enthusiasm never flagged.
But we had better clear up the question of name, because Paul was known to many of us as Ted.
He was actually Ted Rhodes, who wrote under the name Paul Nelson - some said it gave him the chance to call his piece Nelson's Column. That is possibly apocryphal, but was typical of the man, seizing the chance to offer a neat little joke.
Ted, or Paul, was a man who made his mark on south-west London mainly through his theatre reviews for local publications.
He was a passionate man of the theatre. He would seek out shows not only at major theatres, like Wimbledon, but also fringe productions at the tiniest of venues, so small that sometimes you would fear for the place if Ted was in one of his more uproarious moods.
He was rarely quiet when he enjoyed something.
Come to that, he was rarely quiet when he didn't enjoy something. His enthusiasm would be all-embracing, just as his conviviality and story-telling would tend to engulf his audience, whether one person sharing a drink or a crowd of (sometimes bemused) onlookers.
His knowledge of musical theatre, in particular, was encyclopaedic; Stephen Sondheim was a special favourite.
Given the right company, and a little liquid refreshment, he would regale his audience for hours about the shows he had seen, both here and in New York.
Others have mentioned his career, as an actor in younger days, and writing for various successful television series later.
His writing had style, insight, and wit. His criticisms, though occasionally biting, were never vicious, and invariably constructive. His innate love of the theatre shone through the paragraphs, and made his reviews a must-read (my, how he would have bellowed at me for using such an awful term as 'must-read'. Sorry, Ted).
But the writing was only part of it. He was a loyal, sometimes riotous friend, a fine raconteur, a man who enlivened many a pub discussion.
In a word, a character. He will be much missed.
But those who did will reflect on how lucky we were to have known him.
by Roger Bing, former arts editor of the Croydon Advertiser

Click here to read about Paul's memorial service

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