THE death at 91 of Leo Abse, the former Pontypool and Torfaen MP, leaves Gwent without one of its Grand Old Men of politics. MIKE BUCKINGHAM takes a look back at the life of the man at the heart of the 1960s sexual revolution.

MY first conversation with Leo Abse must have been 40 years ago. Whilst the date is vague the subject matter easily comes to mind.

It was male prophylactics.

As I recall we spoke about people who smuggled such items, freely available as the fruits of the sexual revolution in Britain but still banned in what was still at that time a deeply religious Irish republic.

I'm not sure the story ever got published because newspapers in those days lagged some way behind public attitudes which were rapidly changing in the 1960s.

Periodically, for a selection of other newspapers but most latterly the South Wales Argus I would have occasion to speak to the parliamentarian, politician, instinctive socialist, free-thinker, dandy and wit who must be regarded as one of the architects of the post-war social revolution.

What the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Hippies, Easy Rider, the student revolt and the International Socialists did clamorously for the 1960s the politician even then in his early middle age did in a less strident way but one which it could be argued, was more enduring.

There is a happenstance both solemn and pleasing about Leo Abse dying in the same week as it was announced that MI5 Britain's secret service was to actively recruit gays having previously banned them on account of their being thought vulnerable to blackmail.

It was Abse's bill that on July 27,1967 finally achieved what he had campaigned for for more than a decade which was the legalisation of homosexuality.

In this matter he was to have a distressing insight of the damage and pain blackmailers could inflict when they battened onto his friend Lord Tonypandy the former House of Commons speaker George Thomas and threatened to expose homosexual trysts.

"He was living at a time when any overt expression of his homosexuality could have led to utter personal disaster and the end of his public life" Abse reflected, adding that he had intervened a number of times to protect George Thomas at one point lending him £800 (a small fortune at the time) to pay off the blackmailer.

Despite exertions on behalf of homosexuals Leo Abse remarked cheerfully that the best way to achieve the age of age of 90 which he did last year was 'to have the love of a good woman'.

This he certainly had having eight years before his death married Ania Czepulkowska a Polish artist who once worked as an electrician in the Gdansk shipyard.

Ms Czepulkowska who was 50 years Abse's junior stopped to admire Leo Abse's garden and fell into conversation with him.

She was subsequently able to erase some of the pain at the loss of his first wife Marjorie and bring pleasure to his last years.

"She married me for sex. I married her for money" Leo Abse said with a laugh.

His flamboyance might be considered unusual in the son of Jewish immigrants to Cardiff for whom stern enterprise was the norm but one sensed when interviewing him that he consciously realised that 'characters' tended to get their ideas across much better than political drones.

Which is not to say that the dandyish costumes (he was a fashion icon of the 1960s at one time I seem to recall, favouring lace frills) and strongly advocated views were done for effect.

His ability to identify a flow and deftly go against it first became evident when he served with the RAF during the war setting up a democratic forum at his base in the Middle East.

Even for the relatively egalitarian RAF this was a step too far. The move precipitated his arrest by RAF Police and a debate in the House of Commons.

Something in the British psyche loves the nail that refuses to be hammered flat; the man who thumbs his nose at pomposity and is not afraid to speak his mind even when public sentiment is against him.

At a time when the nation was in martial mood in the run-up to the Falklands campaign Leo Abse opposed retaking the islands by force.

Greyer politicians with such a stance would have gone down like the Belgrano but his stance hardly damaged Abse at all.

If one were forced to invent a phrase to sum up the life of Leo Abse it would have to be Effervescence with a Purpose.

I don't suppose I spoke to him more than once every couple of years but each time he was the same man who resolutely refused to surrender his outspokenness.

As might be imagined he disliked Mrs Thatcher and said so in print but was hardly less forgiving of Tony Blair and politicians of a slicker but more cynical age.

Right up until the end Leo Abse wrote on sexual themes from scholarly pieces about in vitrio fertilisation to his reflections upon subjects touching upon ex-President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Leo Abse on his own admission grew old disgracefully, revelling in the description of him as a troublemaker.

Most loved him, but even those who did not respected the socialist cavalier.