Ken Taylor: Drawn to Sport by Stephen Chalke

Renaissance man

Jeremy Alexander
Jeremy Alexander reviews Ken Taylor: Drawn to Sport by Stephen Chalke

County cricketers could once pedal a tandem career in first-class football until the latter became all-consuming in the 1970s. Ken Taylor, who played 250 games for Huddersfield and was an England Under-23 substitute, made his Test debut in 1959, opening the batting with Arthur Milton, a double international. Cricketers who are artists are few enough to be freaks. Taylor, trained at the Slade, was a forerunner of Jack Russell and Martin Speight. Imagine Paul Collingwood, Gary Mabbutt and John Piper wrapped in one and you have Ken Taylor. He was more batsman than bowler for Yorkshire and a fielder to fear. He was a centre-half, not tall but hard and fair as the Spurs man 30 years later. His skies, heavily coloured, are very Piper.

Taylor was a 3-D man extraordinary - four counting teaching at Gresham's School - and none paying well. In Ken Taylor: Drawn to Sport Stephen Chalke works out that his £550 for a full First Division season is £25,000 today, less than half what top players earn in a week. His cricket wages escape mention but his father encouraged him in all dimensions. "You can't play games for ever," he said.

It was the same with Taylor's older brother Jeff, a centre-forward first with Huddersfield too but later in London to enable him to get a geography degree and train as an opera singer, a baritone, at the Royal Academy of Music. Between seasons he sang at Glyndebourne with Pavarotti. Huddersfield has a choral reputation but this was ridiculous. Nowadays footballers marry Spice Girls. Jeff became a professor of singing.

Chalke, familiar to readers, works him naturally into a canvas that is essentially Ken's, recalling his life and the characters he has shared it with from pre-war Yorkshire austerity to retirement in Norfolk - prominently Bryan Stott, his special friend among many at Yorkshire, and Huddersfield football folk including Bill Shankly and the World Cup winner Ray Wilson.

The illustrations are mostly Taylor's artwork, the landscapes and sketches superb, the colour action portraits recognisable and fine for form and balance but clearly done from photos and lacking muscularity. Trousers are notably legless. Photographs include one of him drawing the runner Derek Ibbotson, with whom he trained, and another of Jimmy Binks shaving him after Brian Sellers, autocratic chairman, said: "Get that beard off or you'll never play for Yorkshire again."

Chalke pulls it all together in his precise way, changing shade and pace, a sketcher too. He will be annoyed at any errors: Guiseppe in The Gondoliers, Bellini's Il Puritani, Alf Ramsay. His gift is to get people to talk, to listen to what they say and to assemble it, clippingly, on a background of period fact to poignant or comic effect. He can make a punchline out of the most ordinary remark. He makes one wish to know his subjects, especially Ken Taylor.