Viscount Tonypandy, 88, Speaker of House of Commons
By WARREN HOGE, c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service, LONDON

George Thomas, a former speaker of the House of Commons whose cry of "Order, order!" in his distinctive lilting Welsh accent became a British catch phrase, died on Monday in Cardiff, the Welsh capital. Created Viscount Tonypandy when he joined the House of Lords in 1983, he was 88.

He became speaker in 1976 but remained as obscure as his 162 predecessors until April 1978, when parliamentary debates began to be aired on the radio. His shouted pleas for calm were the signature opening for each day's broadcast on the BBC, and soon he became the first occupant of the august old post to receive fan mail.

Elected to Parliament in 1945 as a Laborite in a district in Cardiff, Thomas had a modest career in the House and was initially disappointed when Prime Minister Harold Wilson put him in line for the speakership instead of making him a senior member of his government.

But he turned out to be better at bringing rowdy backbenchers into line in his new position than anyone had imagined. He put to good use his training in scolding boys as a schoolteacher, a bent for theatrical presentation learned in the pulpit as a lay Methodist preacher and an iron self-discipline stemming from his experiences as a temperance leader.

Avuncular rather than domineering, he was adept at the well-timed humorous aside to cut tension. When a Tory member once challenged his refusal to permit a question, by noting that the subject had been written about in that morning's newspaper, the speaker replied, "So was my horoscope, and we're not discussing that either."

On another occasion Winifred Ewing, a Scottish National Party member legendary for her Highland burr, complained that the Liverpool accent of a Labor member was so thick she couldn't understand it. "There are many accents in this House," the speaker replied in his own singsong Welsh cadence. "I only wish I had one myself."

His full name was Thomas George Thomas, prompting him to explain, "We're short on names in Wales, have you noticed?" He was born on Jan. 29, 1909, in the Welsh town of Port Talbot, one of five children of an alcoholic miner named Zacharia Thomas who deserted the family in George's youth.

His brothers went into the pits and his sisters became servants, but he was the one chosen to go to school. He won a scholarship to University College, Southampton, and on graduation went to London and became a schoolteacher.

In the evenings he often visited the galleries of the House of Commons, listening to debates and beginning an enduring enchantment with the institution that he was later to refer to frequently as "the bastion of democracy."

Lord Tonypandy never married, but he had a powerful woman by his side through much of his public life: his mother, Emma Jane.

She lived in the bungalow he kept in Cardiff until her death at 91 in 1972, and she often traveled on campaign trips with him, expounding her own Labor ideals born in the valleys and mining towns of rural Wales. His campaign literature of the time bore a no-nonsense picture of her with the caption "My son George will not let you down."

Beginning his political life as a representative of the working-class Labor left from a part of Britain with a history of militancy, Lord Tonypandy grew increasingly comfortable with the establishment.

Sentimentally attached to the pomp and ceremony of Parliament, he was accused of being too reverent toward rules, procedures and traditions and too prim in the face of the rough-hewn tactics of legislators from the Labor left that had been his own political origin.

Lord Callaghan, another Welsh Labor figure who went on to become a prime minister, once chastised him saying, "You're always going on about being a miner's son when you are really an inverted snob."

He was speaker when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, and some of his old Labor colleagues bridled at what they thought was his going beyond the even-handed stance demanded of a speaker to ingratiate himself with her. He was faulted for suppressing dissenting opinions on the British actions in the 1982 Falkland War, a campaign that he said he thought was good for Britain.

His patriotic zeal intensified with the years and in 1996 he endorsed the anti-Europe campaign of Sir James Goldsmith and his Referendum Party. At the party's convention in Brighton a year ago, Lord Tonypandy made a much quoted comment in a belligerent speech taking to task Helmut Kohl and the campaign led by the German chancellor for monetary union.

"History has taught us," he warned, "that when a German chancellor outlines his plans, it is criminal irresponsibility not to take them seriously." Though he occupied the office of Welsh secretary for two years, he was a lifelong foe of Welsh nationalism. He lent his name to the campaign against an independent Welsh assembly that was the subject of a referendum narrowly approving the measure last Thursday.




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