Partner of Antony Grey who led the 1967 law reform
London, UK – 9 February 2022
Andrew Lumsden writes:
Eric Thompson – 26 September 1934 – 24 December 2022
Eric was the partner for over 50 years of the Homosexual Law Reform Society leader Edgar Wright (better known as “Antony Grey”) 1927-2010.
Eric was at Antony’s side throughout the 1950s and 1960s years of campaigning up and down Britain for cancellation of the criminal laws that were then applied directly to gay and bisexual men and indirectly against lesbians and against trans people.
The climax of their collaborative efforts, in association with hundreds of other straight and LGBT+ activists, women and men, was the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which so astounded American gay activists that in the autumn of 1967 they invited Antony to tour the USA and give interviews and lectures about how the Act had been achieved. His trip was financed by the Texas-born trans male activist and mining engineer Reed Erickson (1917-1992).
Eric Thompson always explained that the expert legal opinion in the 1950s was that it might take 50 years for Parliament to order the police to leave the gay people alone and win law reform.
It took the lucky chance of the arrival of a socialist British Home Secretary in 1965, Roy Jenkins, with his own youthful experience of a gay love-affair, to get backing in 1967 for the first-ever moderation of Britain’s harsh laws against free association and the formation of partnerships between queers.
This reform was largely due to the lobbying and organising on Antony, aided behind the scenes by Eric, via the Homosexual Law Reform Society.
After the partial reform of 1967, came the radical Gay Liberation Front, to whose early meetings in London in 1970 Eric contributed the idea for the first-ever LGBT+ protest in England: the torchlit vigil on 27 November 1970 against police harassment of gay men in London’s Highbury Fields.
Eric was one of the first Whitehall civil servants in the 1960s to volunteer the fact of his homosexuality to an internal MI5 vetting committee, without adverse career consequences except on one occasion when he declined to appeal to the Prime Minister.
By profession, Eric was a statistician and organised the 1991 UK National Census for which he was named a “Companion of the Bath”, one step below a knighthood or damehood. He never afterwards mentioned it, and never showed friends the medal (assuming there is one).
His last years, when despite mobility issues he continued to trawl the online media for information that today’s LGBT+ activists might find useful, were immeasurably eased by the devoted home care of Melanie Stamaria and Emma Maulana, to whom all his friends are deeply grateful.
Eric and Antony didn’t meet in a gay venue, but as they went up the stairs of a Hampstead block of flats in 1959. Eric, dark-haired and twenty-five, had recently graduated from the London School of Economics as a statistician, a skill highly valued in the 1950s. Antony, thirty-two, worked in public relations and as a historian at a quango, the British Iron & Steel Federation in Westminster.
They were two Yorkshiremen in a ‘foreign’ country, the south of England, where their ‘accents’ were then thought comical. They agreed as an money-saving economy, and because they were both gay and liked each other and history, that they’d share a flat. Easier said then done in those days. Many landlords wouldn’t let to two men. But they managed it, until in the end they bought a house together.
Antony Grey (Edgar Wright) had been raised in Sheffield in the West Riding, famed for its cutlery, and Eric Thompson grew up in Beverley in the East Riding, famed for its beautiful Minster. As a schoolboy, he played the violin.
They became part of a quartet of Northern men of varying ages who between 1958 and today fought for Pride in place of the shame to which the England of their boyhoods had sought to train them:
Allan Horsfall of Lancashire (1927-2012), Eric and Edgar, and still living, Stuart Feather, activist and historian, raised in York, occasional capital of England, and author in 2015 of “Blowing the Lid, Gay Liberation, Sexual Revolution, and Radical Queens”.
Eric and Antony both knew by their teens that they were ‘queer’ in the hostile language of the time, when to do anything practical about the feeling was a criminal offence.
Eric found it hard to make any gay friends in a London club scene dominated by middle-class southerners. He quickly learned where and how to pick up strangers though.
Antony, shyer then, didn’t. He wrote in 1992: “Gay men with thicker skins than mine lived their lives as they chose, viewing the threat of the law as a hazard akin to a traffic accident. But I was not of their number. I remained solitary, frustrated and apprehensive until, at the age of thirty-two, I met, by a happy accident, the companion with whom I have now spent half my life.”
There was chaos, all their life together, about Edgar’s name. During much of each week in daytime he ceased to be ‘Edgar Wright’ and became ‘Antony Grey’
The change was all to do with Antony’s father, who knew his son’s sexuality by the 1950s and met and liked Eric, but fell ill before 1958 with prostate cancer. This was then an unmentionable disease, an illness of the inward sexual parts of a man, not be spoken of to neighbours.
Antony’s mother asked him not to use the family name as he increased his unpaid gay rights campaigning, lest any police reaction bring publicity that adversely affected his dying dad. Disease of the prostate was then wholly untreatable.
Edgar kept his genuine name of ‘Anthony’ but removed the ‘h’ and added the imaginary surname ‘Grey’. He became so well-known under that name, with such a wide acquaintance, that in the end Eric largely gave up referring to him as anything other than ‘Antony’, a situation that amused both of them.
Eric’s funeral was on 9 February 2023 at Kensal Green cemetery. He specified in his will that it was to be brief and non-religious, like Antony’s thirteen years before.
Reunited in death. Eric and Antony rest in peace x
• This obituary by Andrew Lumsden has been edited by Peter Tatchell, who also knew Eric and Antony. 9 February 2023.