Donald Neilson was born Donald Nappey on 1 August 1936, and seems to have enjoyed a relatively normal, crime-free childhood, marred only by the teasing and bullying that he was subjected to on account of his surname. National Service, which he enjoyed immensely, was followed by his marriage in 1955. The birth of his daughter, Kathryn, in 1960, prompted him to change his name to Neilson, by deed poll, in order that she would not suffer a similar fate.
Neilson was persuaded by his wife to give up a career in the Armed Forces, and they settled in Bradford, where he tried various professions, including the building trade and security work. Financial success was not forthcoming and he branched into house burglary during 1965, to supplement his income. Despite committing hundreds of burglaries, his new trade didn’t provide the income he hoped for, and he graduated to armed post-office robberies by 1967, committing at least 19 of these over a seven-year period. In 1972, one of these raids resulted in the non-fatal shooting of a Lancashire postmaster, who misguidedly put up resistance during the raid. Neilson’s practice of wearing a dark-coloured balaclava during his robberies earned him the sobriquet “The Black Panther” from the media.