John Taylor

Veteran of local radio
Click to follow

John Robert George Taylor, broadcaster: born Norwich 1 May 1921; MBE 2000; married 1959 Elizabeth Spalding (two sons, one daughter); died Norwich 8 November 2006.

Such distinctions are always difficult to prove, but at the time of his death John Taylor was widely acknowledged to be the oldest presenter working in local radio. This achievement was all the more remarkable in that he came late to broadcasting and did not pick up a BBC microphone in earnest until he was well past pensionable age.

Seen in the round, his career offers a small parable of working-class self-advancement. He was born in 1921, in modest circumstances on the west side of Norwich, the only son of an electrician who had been badly wounded in Flanders. Urged on - goaded would not be too strong a verb - by his proudly protective mother, he won a council scholarship to the local public school, Norwich School. Although he found the atmosphere snobbish and class-ridden, this did not prevent him from sending his own sons there several decades later.

Undoubtedly the tensions of his upbringing contributed to his deeply ambivalent political views. These combined an innate conservatism with a dash of anarchism and, above all, a belief in the existence of malign, anti- meritocratic forces constantly marshalling themselves to obstruct his and his family's path through life. On the occasion when one of his sons notified him of a favourable exam result, he sank to his knees with a cry of "That's shown the buggers!"

An early ambition to become a sports journalist was snuffed out by a disapproving headmaster. Leaving school at 16 he joined what was then the Norwich Union Insurance Company at the princely salary of £45 a year. Allowing for a half-decade's war service in the RAF, he remained there until his 60th birthday. While he eventually obtained a managerial post, he found the work uninspiring: the real business of his life, in fact, lay far beyond the horizon.

By a fortunate chance, his retirement from the Norwich Union coincided with the establishment of a local radio station in Norwich, BBC Radio Norfolk. Using past experience of hospital radio to finesse his way on to the airwaves as the station's bowls correspondent, in 1982, he graduated to a spot on the morning Airline show, where he supplied reminiscent "look-backs" to the world of his childhood.

The slot was a success with listeners - phone-line activity instantly shot up when he was on air - and in 1986 he was offered his own one-hour show, Melodies from the Golden Years. Here he provided a conspectus of the popular music of the inter-war era - dance bands, bygone tenors - with occasional forays even further back to the days of the First World War variety halls. Re-christened John Taylor's Radio Times, this subsequently notched up over 700 instalments in an expanded two-hour Sunday-afternoon format.

As the doyen of local radio veterans, Taylor was appointed MBE for services to broadcasting in 2000. Perhaps rightly, he regarded the half-minute spent talking to the Queen as the apotheosis of his life.

John Taylor was a short, solid, humorous man whose feigned unworldliness could be highly amusing. Taken once to a literary party in London, he was introduced to the novelist Roddy Doyle, who had recently won the Booker Prize for Fiction. The pair chatted amiably for 20 minutes. "Nice to meet you, Mr Doyle," he remarked, at the conversation's close, "and good luck to you in whatever it is that you do."

He died peacefully in his sleep, a bare 48 hours after presenting his final programme, mourned by radio listeners across the eastern counties.

D. J. Taylor