WRITER Leslie Thomas, best known for his national service novel The Virgin Soldiers, has died aged 83.

The journalist-turned-novelist died at his home near Salisbury, Wiltshire, on Tuesday after a lengthy illness.

His widow Diana said: "He had a wonderful life and he travelled the world. All he ever wanted to do was write and that is what he did. He died at home with his family around him."

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Thomas, who was born in Newport, Wales, grew up in a Barnardo's home and started work as a reporter on a weekly paper before moving to the London Evening News.

But it was his time as a national serviceman in Malaya that inspired his most famous work, a comic tale of British soldiers based in the Far East that became both a bestseller and a hit film.

Thomas went on to write scores of novels, non-fiction and travel books. He was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2004.