FEW politicians, let alone backbenchers, can boast of revolutionising British society.

Then again, many politicians lacked the sharp intellect and gravitas that the late Leo Abse possessed.

The saying ‘looks can be deceiving’ is certainly appropriate in describing Abse. Underestimated by many for donning brightly-coloured waistcoats and carrying a cane, he would later go on to smash long-held, puritanical views in British society.

As well as being the MP for Torfaen, Abse helped achieve the legalisation of homosexuality and the liberalising of divorce laws.

He died 10 years ago this month, aged 91.

So, where did it all start for Abse?

Leopald Abse was born in Cardiff in 1917 to parents of Polish, Russian and Jewish extraction.

After excelling in school, he earned a place at the London School of Economics, where he read Law.

He joined the Labour Party in 1934.

After establishing one of Wales' biggest solicitor's firm - Leo Abse and Cohen - he turned his attention to politics.

He managed to secure the candidacy for the Pontypool (later Torfaen) Labour safe-seat and was elected in 1958.

And in no time at all, his acerbic tongue and famed flamboyancy caught people's eye. Seeing Abse proudly wearing brightly-coloured attire on Budget Day was a highlight for many.

He turned down ministerial positions which enabled him to dedicate his political career to improving millions of people's lives from the back benches in the House of Commons.

The politician was praised for helping to liberalise divorce laws with the Divorce Reform Act in 1969.

But perhaps his proudest achievement came a few years earlier with the passing of The Sexual Offences Act of 1967.

Homosexuality was illegal at this period and thus a criminal offence.

Despite considerable resistance, Abse spearheaded a successful private member's bill through parliament - which would be successful. This was a defining moment for British society because for the first-time sexual relations between men over 21 was decriminalised.

This achievement allowed people to be who they were.

Lord Paul Murphy, who was Abse's successor in Torfaen, believes no-one matched his friend's achievements as a backbench MP throughout the 20th century.

He said: "He was truly a remarkable man. No-one matched him on how much he changed this country. There is no question that he was the most successful backbencher in that period.

"He was once offered a job by Callaghan but turned it down. He felt he could do more as backbench reformer.

"Pushing to legalise homosexuality in that period was not the most popular thing. But, as you like, because he was a great parliamentarian he managed to do it.

"It also needs mentioning that Leo was a world expert in psychoanalysis. He started studying it as a young man and applied it to politics.

"I saw him every month up until he died."

Lord Murphy, who is due to release a biography on Abse next year, added: "He did have very firm views and was not afraid of presenting them. He did vote against the Labour whip over Europe. He was always pro-Europe. As a result, there was an attempt to deselect him but myself, Don Touhig and others rallied behind him."

Throughout his life, Abse refused to shy away from his convictions. Whether that be his opposition to devolution or the nuclear weapons, there was no doubt as to where he stood on pressing affairs.

Former leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock, who is also a lord, described his late friend as “outspoken” and a “forceful advocate”.

“The word ‘combative’ was made for Leo Abse," he said.

"He fought ferociously for his Pontypool constituents, for enlightened causes and for freedom of expression and action.

"Although small in stature, he was a scrapper – and he loved the way in which his foppish taste in clothing (often the choice of his beloved artistic wife, Marjorie) misled enemies into underestimating his toughness.

"He was a man of strong socialist beliefs and a forceful advocate. That sometimes got him into trouble, but adversity never bothered Leo because he had a steely self-confidence that brushed aside petty criticism and formality."

He added: "All of this gave him a serious claim to be a great parliamentarian and the finest backbench Member of the House of Commons in the late 20th century.

"He was a kind, wise and loyal friend, especially to a green, young MP like me back in the ‘70s."

And Lord Don Touhig, who is a former editor of the Monmouthshire Free Press, believes Abse will be "best remembered" for dedicating his life to undermining intolerance.

He said: "I first met Leo when I joined the Labour Party so that is when I was 15.

"He was always a larger-than-life figure in terms of spirit and intellect.

"In terms of social reform, there is no-one to match him in my opinion. He dedicated his parliamentary life to many causes, including homosexuality and divorce.

"On the day he announced that he would be standing down, I will never forget what he told us which was: 'Tolerate everyone, tolerate anything, but never ever tolerate being intolerant.'"

He added: "One of the many funny memories I have of Leo, is when myself, he and Paul Murphy went to the Park Way. And, at this stage he was quite deaf, and started to talk very loudly about news in Westminster. One person asked us to be quiet, while someone else encouraged us to carry on."

Once he retired in 1987, his second life began as an acclaimed author. Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher endured most of his fury, with scathing books written on them.

Unsurprisingly, after writing a book on Mrs Thatcher it provoked considerable ire. His peerage to the House of Lords was blocked.

Tragedy struck the Abse family in the late 1990s, with the death of wife, Marjorie. In 2000, he went on to marry Ania Czepulkowska-Abse, who was 50 years his junior.

Lord Touhig said: “He was not coping well when his first wife died. His second wife, Ania, cared for him very well.

“I believe she gave him an extra 10 years.”

He died, aged 91, in London in August 2008.

Shortly afterwards, Son Tobias Abse revealed that he and his sister, Bathsheba Morabito, were left only a few items in their father's will, while Ms Czepulkowska-Abse inherited her husband's £1.2 million fortune.

Ms Czepulkowska-Abse did not wish to comment on this.

To read our latest interview with Mrs Czepulkowska-Abse visit here