Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has spoken to BBC Radio 4 about his days as a merchant seaman, and revealed that he was uncomfortable sharing a cabin with gay crew.
The 68-year-old, who is due to stand down as Labour party deputy leader later this year, worked as a steward on the Cunard Line in the 1950’s.
A documentary about his time at sea, called Prescott At Your Service, has been made by BBC radio.
In it he talks about his encounter with homosexuals. He was speaking about his experiences as a crew member of the RMS Rangitata in 1957.
With his trademark clarity, Mr Prescott reminisced that, “the thing that struck me most was that when I joined it they didn’t sail out the North, they sailed out the South and there were a lot of gay guys on board and I was quite amazed at this.
“And I remember saying, spending three months on a voyage and there were ten gay guys in a room and I said, ‘I’m not staying in a room like this.’ Anyway I went in another room,” reports The Daily Mail.
The North/South comment seems to mean that the gay crew came from Southern England.
Mr Prescott has had an eventful end to his career.
In May 2006 he had the last of his departmental powers taken away, only weeks after the tabloids revealed his affair with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple.
He is reknowned for his mangled speech.
The Guardian parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart once said that, “every time Prescott opens his mouth, it’s like someone has flipped open his head and stuck in an egg whisk.”
Officials at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister were quick to defend their boss against accusations of homophobia.
“He was getting used to a very different life thousands of miles from home in the days when society was less tolerant than it is today,” a spokesman told The Daily Mail.
“John Prescott is not homophobic and his voting record on gay issues speaks for that.”
In November, the DPM spoke up for gay rights while standing in at Prime Minister’s Questions for Tony Blair.
Asked by the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson about the Sexual Orientation Regulations’ effect on religious people in Northern Ireland, Mr Prescott could not have been more eloquent in his defence of equality.
“I am not a religious man, but I always understood that religion was about tolerance. There is not much tolerance being shown in what the hon. Gentleman has said.
“It is a pity that we do not show more tolerance to different cultures and different religions. We would be a lot better off for it.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights lobby Stonewall, was clear that he for one does not think Mr Prescott was being anti-gay.
“It sounds like John being John. In fairness, John has an honourable track record of supporting gay equality and I don’t think there’s much chance of him being pestered nowadays,” he observed.