Sunday, 10 August 2014

Terry Taylor, author and counterculture figure

In 2010 - when Five Leaves was building a reputation for its New London Editions series - we were regularly approached by people suggesting new titles. Within a three month period three people suggested Baron's Court, All Change by Terry Taylor, a London novel first published in 1961 by the late, great MacGibbon & Kee. The book became our eighth New London Edition title, coming out in 2011 to great reviews in the TLS and elsewhere.
One of those who approached us was the author and performance artist Stewart Home. He told us that so desperate was he at one stage to have the book republished he'd photocopied 200 copies of the original and passed them around, hoping for an impact. In due course Stewart wrote the introduction to Terry's novel and spoke at our one meeting on the book, the meeting at which Terry slipped in quietly at the back, his only public appearance (if it can be called that) about Baron's Court. I wasn't at the event and never met Terry, though we had an amiable correspondence. He was very comfortable with the book but had moved on since it was first written. His life was different and he'd become, happily, a sandwich-maker in Rhyl, where he lived quietly with his "favourite gym instructor", his wife Wendy, as the dedication said in our edition. At one time an important paper - was it The Times? - was interested in interviewing him. Was he worried that his cover would be broken? No, he said, nobody in Rhyl reads The Times.
There was a personal connection between Stewart and Terry. Terry had helped out Stewart's mother when she was in difficulties, but primarily Stewart thought that Baron's Court was the best book of the British beatnik era. And it might well be.
The book documents one summer in the life of an unnamed sixteen year old narrator. He leaves his suburban home and boring job as a shop assistant for a "pad" in central London, paid for after he moves into dealing dope. Along the way he dabbles in spiritualism and has an affair with an older woman. There's a lot of dope in the book, which was also the first novel to mention LSD.
Terry was born in 1933 and was the inspiration for Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners. He was the assistant to the photographer Ida Kar, and her lover, despite the difference in age. Kar was the photographer of that era, that scene, and photographs of Terry are in the National Portrait Gallery. They can be seen here - As you can see, he was not averse to a bit of dope himself.
A second novel was turned down by MacGibbon & Kee as being too experimental. It has not survived. Terry, however, wrote a third novel The Run, which is still unpublished. I read the manuscript and, with some editing and rewrites, it would be worth publishing. The book explores the drug scene/drug dealing among British people in North Africa. It is racier than Esther Freud's Hideous Kinky and, of course, the parts of the story that don't quite ring true are based on real things that happened! Terry and I talked about publishing the book, making the necessary changes, but we never took the discussion to any conclusion.
Terry retained an interest in North Africa but also spent a lot of time in Goa, sending cheery emails to say he was there again.
Terry Taylor died a few days ago, after a short illness. He is survived by his favourite gym instructor and their daughters Amy and Zoe and an older daughter, Tracy, from a previous relationship.
Ross Bradshaw


David Belbin said...

Nice piece, but there's no second 'l' in Rhyl. The third book sounds interesting and the pictures are great, particularly the ones with Ida Johnson. Have any of the papers run an obit?

Ross Bradshaw said...

I'll amend the typing, thanks! No papers have run an obit. I might try to get this somewhere.

Janko said...

I would love to pay kindly for a first edition of this book but can't find it anywhere. What's a good place to start searching this summer in the UK?