Published On: Sat, Sep 28th, 2019

RIP Jeffery Taylor: Express critic who called himself the real Billy Elliot

The Sunday Express columnist said he was also proud to have been the only former professional dancer working as a dance critic. He believed that to be taken seriously as a critic one had to have been a dancer first. Taylor grew up with his mother and elder sister in Urmston, on the outskirts of Manchester. The family lived in fear of the bailiffs and, suffering from malnutrition, Taylor dreaded that his weak legs would need corrective iron callipers.

Realising that ballet could strengthen them, and against his mother’s wishes, he enrolled at Irene Williamson’s class, aged 11. 

In 2004, Taylor wrote about the similarities between his life and Billy Elliot’s. But while Billy ends with his father accepting his passion for dance, Taylor lost touch with his mother at the age of 16, seeing her only once more, just before her death. 

At his first Royal Ballet School audition, despite being told he should never dance another step to avoid spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Taylor was accepted when teacher Claud Newman proposed an exercise regime to strengthen his knees. 

After National Service, Taylor spent a year out of the dance studio. Joanna Denise, a teacher specialising in helping injured dancers, allowed him to take classes, paying just what he could afford. 

“Not only did she rebuild my technique, she literally changed my life,” he wrote. “She made me see not only ballet, but art, in a different way. I had found a substitute for religion.” The pair fell in love and were married for 42 years until her death in 2010. 

Taylor was a founder of Bristol’s Western Theatre Ballet (in 1969 it became Scottish Ballet in Glasgow). 

He migrated to musical theatre, appearing in Hello Dolly! and The Great Waltz, and was a regular on TV’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium. Acting came next, with stage roles including Chez Nous on stage with Albert Finney and on film, The Song Of Norway. 

Taylor left the theatre in 1986, becoming The Mail on Sunday’s first ballet critic. His dance writing soon spread to other titles, including the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Mirror. In 1994, he wrote the biography of renowned dancer Irek Mukhamedov. 

From 2001 Taylor was dance critic, columnist and feature writer at the Sunday Express, work he continued until the later stages of illness. His opinions were always forthright and often controversial. 

Taylor co-founded the National Dance Awards in 2000 and became president of the Critics’ Circle in 2013, although he resigned mid-term, having been diagnosed with dementia. A private person to the end, Taylor chose not to reveal this to friends and colleagues, continuing to work for as long as possible. 

In his last days in hospital, colleagues brought programmes from the previous night’s performances and, unable to speak, he would point to the dancers he admired, his love affair with dance continuing to the very end. 

Source link