Gay rights activist and actor-turned-politician Michael Cashman was awarded a CBE in Saturday's New Year's Honours.

Cashman, 62, is probably best-known for delivering the first gay kiss on British prime-time TV, sparking record numbers of complaints but also many plaudits when his character Colin Russell pecked lover Barry Clark on the forehead in a 1987 episode of EastEnders.

Colin was the first homosexual character in the BBC soap, and his introduction caused huge controversy at a time when gay people were largely represented as camp figures of fun on TV.

He later recalled the public, political and media "hysteria" which greeted his storyline and the death threats and bricks through the window which followed the famous kiss. But he believes that Colin's story helped Britain become a more tolerant society, remembering: "On the second kiss there was barely any fuss. By the third kiss barely anyone noticed."

Openly homosexual before joining EastEnders, Mr Cashman went on to help found the gay rights campaign group Stonewall in 1989 and served as its chairman until 1996. He was also treasurer of actors' union Equity from 1994-98.

Though EastEnders won him his largest audience, his career as an actor, singer and playwright saw him work with icons of the theatre including Lionel Bart, JB Priestley and Sir Ian McKellen, and Sir Alan Ayckbourn directed two of his plays.

But his campaign work on issues like Section 28 - the Conservative government's attempt to ban the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools - led to politics taking up an increasing proportion of his time. Having first joined Labour in 1975, he was elected to the party's ruling National Executive Committee in 1998 and became Labour MEP for the West Midlands in 1999.

In Brussels, he has campaigned against discrimination and for human rights, as well as speaking for Labour on international development.