The period crime-drama series ‘Peaky Blinders’ is a mixture of history and fiction. The story revolves around the Shelby family, the members of which are largely fictional, though series creator Steven Knight used his paternal grandmother’s family as inspiration. Although the series takes place between the two World Wars, the real Peaky Blinders were active between the 1880s and 1910s. However, the term “peaky blinders” later became an umbrella phrase for any street gang in Birmingham. With every season of the show, the enemies that the Shelbys face become more dangerous and powerful. In season 6, Jack Nelson (James Frecheville), an uncle of Gina Gray (Anya Taylor-Joy), serves as one of the three main antagonists, along with Sir Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) and his mistress Lady Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson). If you are wondering who Jack Nelson is and whether he is based on a real person, we got you covered. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Who Is Jack Nelson?
Jack Nelson makes his first appearance in ‘Peaky Blinders’ episode 2, titled ‘Black Shirt.’ Toward the end of the episode, he and Tommy (Cillian Murphy) meet at a church to discuss a potential business collaboration. As the prohibition era is coming to an end, Nelson has come to England in the company of President Roosevelt’s son to secure the rights to import British liquor to the U.S. Tommy offers him the opportunity to import Chinese opium through Britain.
Nelson hails from an Irish immigrant family and made his initial money as a notorious gangster in South Boston. But like Tommy, he has since sought to establish himself as a legitimate businessman. When Tommy mentions Nelson’s shadowy criminal life to the latter’s underlings, he is immediately threatened with the prospect of violence. Nelson has close ties with Roosevelt. It is revealed that the U.S. President has sent him to England to evaluate the political climate of the region. In the course of the season, he begins demonstrating fascist tendencies and starts working closely with Tommy, Mosley, Diana, and the IRA.
Is Jack Nelson Based on a Real Person?
While there was no historical Bostonian gangster turned influential businessman named Jack Nelson, he seems to share certain similarities with Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the patriarch of arguably the most prolific political family in American history. During his visit to England, Nelson is most intrigued by the fact that the British seem to value blood over everything else. This appears to be a reference to what would become the Kennedy legacy. Three sons of Joseph Sr. were actively involved in public service. John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy both became U.S. Senators from Massachusetts. The former eventually became the 35th president of the United States. Robert F. Kennedy was the Attorney General and later a Senator from New York.
Like Nelson in ‘Peaky Blinders,’ Joseph Sr. was originally from Boston. Several contemporary gangsters, including Joseph Bonanno, Owney Madden, and Frank Costello, claimed that they had dealings with Joseph Sr. during the Prohibition Era, but various scholars and journalists have disputed this over the years. What we do know is that Joseph Sr. came to England with Roosevelt’s oldest son, James, and met Winston Churchill. The visit was successful, with his newly-founded firm, Somerset Importers, earning significant revenue in its first year.
Knight virtually confirmed that Nelson is inspired by Joseph Sr. in an interview in February 2022. Joseph Sr. served as the 44th United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom between 1938 and 1940. He held the view that appeasing Hitler was preferable to an all-out war with Nazi Germany. He even claimed that democracy was finished in England during the Battle of Britain in November 1940. Due to the controversy that followed, Joseph Sr. left his ambassadorial post.