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Tonypandy gay author: It's no stunt.

Byline: JASON LAMPORT

AUTHOR Leo Abse last night defended his decision to out George Thomas, one of the greatest political figures in Welsh history.

Mr Abse said: "It's not a publicity stunt to sell my book.

"At my age I've had all the publicity I could ever want. I'm certainly not looking to boost sales figures."

The former Torfaen MP's new book Tony Blair, the Man Behind the Mask tells how his pal the late Mr Thomas - Lord Tonypandy - paid blackmailers to keep his gay lifestyle secret.

It claims Mr Thomas, Commons' Speaker between 1976 to 1983, used seedy cinemas to grope men in the dark and was petrified of going to jail for his sexuality.

He said the former Cardiff West MP paid extortioners to keep them quiet and asked Mr Abse to help him.

But yesterday dozens of angry readers bombarded the Welsh Mirror with calls branding Mr Abse's act as "shameless".

One said: "How dare he print this about a man who is no longer here to defend himself. It is despicable."

But last night the 84-year-old Labour stalwart hit back saying he wanted people to know the truth so they would understand his friend.

He added: "I wanted to celebrate not depreciate the existence of a man who overcame his difficulties to give happiness to so many people. I also wanted to show how terrible the previous attitudes towards homosexuality were.

"This man was haunted all the time because until 1967 any homosexual act was criminal and he would have been jailed."

But he said the fact Mr Thomas, who was born in the Rhondda in 1907, did not have any family, and lived with his late mum all his life, made it easy to write about his secret gay life.

"One of the reasons I'm able to write about him is that he leaves no heirs," he said.

"His mother Emma Jane is dead and any problem with hurting relatives doesn't apply in this case.

"There is no inhibition on my part because I am not hurting anyone.

"I don't think I'm betraying my friend but simply telling of the shadows in which he was humiliatingly forced to walk."

Mr Thomas, a former Welsh Secretary, died aged 88 from throat cancer.

CAPTION(S):

FRIEND: Abse; LORD: Thomas; STORY: Yesterday's Mirror
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2001
Words:385
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