FAMED for his handlebar moustache and extravagant collection of personalised car number plates, Sir Gerald Nabarro was instantly recognisable across Britain.

The eccentric Conservative MP for South Worcestershire was the Boris Johnson of his day and audience figures peaked whenever he was a guest on popular radio show Any Questions?

A natural performer, he was knighted in 1963 and adored by the public and on both sides of the political spectrum. However, it was to be his high profile that would ultimately lead to his tragic fall from grace and eventual death in the space of just three years.

The sorry saga began on May 21, 1971, on the A36 from Southampton to Salisbury. At about 6pm, in the middle of rush hour, Sir Gerald’s beloved Daimler Sovereign was seen swerving at speed the wrong way round a roundabout in Totton, on the edge of the New Forest.

The flashy car – with the number plate NAB 1 – had two occupants, Sir Gerald and Margaret Mason, the secretary of his publishing business.

Several witnesses identified Sir Gerald as the driver and just over five months later he was charged with dangerous driving.

On January 24, 1972 Sir Gerald arrived at Winchester Crown Court in NAB 1, this time driven by his wife, to hear the charge.

The judge was still summing up a trial when Sir Gerald strolled into the court.

One hour later, when asked how he pleaded, Sir Gerald answered: “Not guilty, sir.”

Keith Jones, an engineer from Birmingham, said he had been driving towards Ower from Southampton when he saw a large dark saloon car behind him.

“I recognised the driver immediately as being Sir Gerald Nabarro. I think the person in the front passenger seat was a woman, but my attention was not particularly drawn to her.

“The car pulled out and overtook me, and finding difficulties with the oncoming traffic, pulled in sharply and braked, causing me to swerve and brake.”

He said the number plate of the overtaking vehicle was NAB 1, and added that he saw the car start to overtake another vehicle in a similar manner shortly before reaching a roundabout. It then went the wrong way around the roundabout.

“There was a heavy lorry coming in the other direction,” he said. “The car was tight into the roundabout and the lorry swerved to avoid it.”

Under cross-examination, Mr Jones said he had never met Sir Gerald but had often seen him on television and his photograph in the newspapers. “I have no doubt in my mind that the driver of the car was Sir Gerald,” he confirmed.

When it was Sir Gerald’s turn to take the stand he insisted that it was Mrs Mason who was at the wheel.

He told the court he had earlier attended a meeting of the women’s advisory committee of the New Forest Conservatives at the Grand Hotel in Lyndhurst, and that Mrs Mason had offered to drive the return journey so he could rest.

The 58-year-old said: “I’d had a very rough week. I had been working about 16 or 17 hours a day right through the week and I was extremely tired. I went to sleep, which was the purpose of employing the lady driver – to enable myself to sleep on long journeys.”

Mrs Mason, who followed Sir Gerald into the witness box, said she could not recall the incident.

‘Outrageous driving’ Asked if anyone other than herself had driven the car, Mrs Mason said: “Definitely not, I drove the whole way. I don’t remember any incident on the journey at all, no tooting horns, braking, nothing that I can remember untoward.”

The jury wasn’t convinced and Sir Gerald was fined £250 for what was described by the judge as “a deliberate and outrageous piece of driving”.

Sir Gerald was told he would be imprisoned for 12 months if he failed to pay the fine and was disqualified from driving for two years.

Mr Justice Bridge said: “The jury have convicted you of what in any view was a bad case of dangerous driving. This was not an error of judgement.

“This was a deliberate and outrageous piece of driving in which you drive you car, determined to get past a queue of slower vehicles in front even at a cost of putting their safety, and yours, in hazard. It’s no thanks to you that there was not a serious accident, but thanks to the correct action of drivers who got out of your way.”

Sir Gerald said that his political career would continue “unabated and undiminished” despite the conviction.

Six months later, on June 12, 1972, the Court of Appeal in London granted the MP leave to appeal against his conviction.

But on the day he was due to appear in court his counsel revealed he was seriously ill in hospital and unlikely to be fit enough to attend his retrial for some time. Sir Gerald had suffered two strokes since the first trial and his health was rapidly deteriorating.

Cleared Three months later the second trial began and four new witnesses gave evidence saying they saw a lady driving the car on the day in question.

The all-male jury found him not guilty and cleared of all charges.

The MP, now a shadow of his former self, once again addressed the media on the court steps: “It underlines the simple point I made, that if a man can afford to pay he will secure justice. The man who cannot afford to pay will rarely secure it.

“I have deep satisfaction that justice has been done, calumny has been defeated, procrastination and equivocation have been set aside; and that 12 clear-minded men have dutifully attended the requirements of the court.”

Sir Gerald conceded the strain of the trial had been heavy but vowed to return to Parliament, adding: “After all, I’m a mere stripling of 59.”

He died just three months after his acquittal, aged 60. His famous collection of number plates – NAB 1 TO 8 – were left to his family.