Gillian Freeman

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Gillian Freeman
Born(1929-12-05)5 December 1929
Died23 February 2019(2019-02-23) (aged 89)
Alma materUniversity of Reading
Notable worksThe Leather Boys
SpouseEdward Thorpe
ChildrenHarriet Thorpe (daughter)
Matilda Thorpe (daughter)

Gillian Freeman (5 December 1929[1] – 23 February 2019) was an English writer. Her first book, The Liberty Man, appeared while she was working as a secretary to the novelist Louis Golding. Her fictional diary, Nazi Lady: The Diaries of Elisabeth von Stahlenberg, 1938–48, was assumed by many to be real.

Early life[edit]

Born to Jewish parents, Dr Jack Freeman, a dentist who had been a physician, and his wife Freda (née Davids) in North London,[2] she attended Francis Holland School in London and Lynton House school in Maidenhead during the Second World War.[3] She graduated in English and philosophy from the University of Reading in 1951.[4] She then taught at a school in the East End and worked as a copywriter and a newspaper reporter.[4]


The Liberty Man (1955) was Freeman's first book, written while working as a literary secretary to the novelist Louis Golding; it was about a love affair between a schoolteacher and a sailor doomed by the class system.[4][5] Freeman's time with Golding was said to have inspired some of her later works.[3]

One of her best known books was the novel The Leather Boys (1961), published under the pseudonym Eliot George, after the novelist George Eliot, a story of a gay relationship between two young working-class men, one married and the other a biker,[5] which was later turned into a film for which she wrote the screenplay, this time under her own name. The novel was commissioned by the publisher Anthony Blond, her literary agent,[4] who wanted a story about a "Romeo and Romeo in the South London suburbs".[6][7] Her non-fiction book The Undergrowth of Literature (1967), was a pioneering study of pornography.[4][8]

The Alabaster Egg (1970) is a tragic romance about a Jewish woman set in Nazi Germany.[4] In 1978, on another commission from Blond, she wrote a fictional diary, Nazi Lady: The Diaries of Elisabeth von Stahlenberg, 1938–48. Freeman's authorship was not at first revealed and many readers assumed it was genuine;[9] it was included in a 2004 anthology of war diaries.[4][10]

In addition to novels, Freeman wrote screenplays including That Cold Day in the Park, a 1969 film directed by Robert Altman, the scenarios for two ballets by Kenneth MacMillan, Isadora and Mayerling,[5] and with her husband, Ballet Genius (1988), portraits of 20 outstanding ballet dancers.[4] Her final book[citation needed] was But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury (2006), a fictional study of the Bloomsbury Group.[11]

Private life[edit]

Freeman married Edward Thorpe, a novelist and the ballet critic of the Evening Standard, in 1955.[2] The couple had two daughters, the actresses Harriet Thorpe and Matilda Thorpe.[4]

She died on 23 February 2019 from complications of dementia.[4][5]



  1. ^ International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004, Routledge, p. 187.
  2. ^ a b 'Marriages', The Times, 13 September 1955.
  3. ^ a b "Gillian Freeman obituary". The Times. 16 March 2019. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harrison Smith, "Gillian Freeman, whose novel 'Leather Boys' was a gay landmark, dies at 89", The Washington Post, 11 March 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d Neil Genzlinger, "Gillian Freeman, Groundbreaking Novelist on a Gay Theme, Dies at 89", The New York Times, 8 March 2019.
  6. ^ "Gillian Freeman, author whose flair for detail shone through in historical novels and in a 'Romeo and Romeo' love story – obituary", The Telegraph, 4 March 2019.
  7. ^ Martin Foreman, Review of The Leather Boys (Gillian Freeman) (1986), archived at the Wayback Machine on 2 February 1999.
  8. ^ Victor E. Neuburg, The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature, Popular Press, 1983, ISBN 0-87972-233-9, p. 97.
  9. ^ Anthony Blond, 'Glory Boys', The Sunday Times, 13 June 2004.
  10. ^ Joel Rickett, "The Bookseller ", The Guardian, 11 December 2004.
  11. ^ Bethany Layne, "'They Leave out the Person to Whom Things Happened': Re-Reading the Biographical Subject in Sigrid Nunez's Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury (1998)", in: Bloomsbury Influences: Papers from the Bloomsbury Adaptations Conference, Bath Spa University, 5–6 May 2011, ed. E.H. Wright, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2014, ISBN 9781443854344, pp. 30–45, p. 41.
  12. ^ Irving Wardle, 'Experiment and Expansion', The Times, 1 March 1969.
  13. ^ Gillian Freeman, 'The making of Mayerling', The Times, 8 February 1978.
  14. ^ John Percival, 'Sadler's Wells: Intimate Letters', The Times, 11 October 1978.
  15. ^ John Percival, 'Isadora, Covent Garden', The Times, 1 May 1981.

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