Jonathan Fryer

There’ll be a Welcome in the Valleys

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2007

abse-book-title-page.jpgaeronwy-thomas.jpgSandwiched between political activities in Westminster and Camden, I was glad to get to Leo Abse’s 90th birthday lunch at his quintessentially English house on the riverfront at Strand on the Green, Chiswick. Leo is otherwise quintissentially Welsh, a pugnacious, pint-sized individualist who probably did more than any other single British Member of Parliament to usher in a more tolerant society during the latter half of the 20th Century, with his campaigns for decriminalising homosexuality and facilitiating divorce, to name but two. Since leaving Westminster, he has channeled his fire into books, with a prescient psycho-biography of Tony Blair, and a demolition job on Margaret Thatcher. His latest book, which I recently reviewed for the Camden New Journal, is a similarly startling examination of Daniel Defoe. The house and garden at the birthday party were crammed with well-wishers, as Leo’s successor as MP in the valleys (now called Torfaen), Paul Murphy, and the political journalist and biographer, Anthony Howard, paid tribute in speeches to this remarkable nonagenarian.

My own contact with South Wales was mostly while I was writing a biography of Dylan Thomas in the early 1990s (still the most borrowed of all my books from public libraries), about which Dylan’s daughter, Aeronwy, was kind at the time. So I was particularly sad to miss her star turn as guest of honour at the St David’s Day dinner at the National Liberal Club last month. However, I’ve been able to catch up with her latest reminiscences of life with the wayward bard through her booklet A Daughter Remembers Dylan (Merton Press, 2006), which contains a particularly enjoyable essay of returning to Laugharne and the Thomas boathouse, while trying to fend off fawning American fans, sightseers and  local hangers-on.

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