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Julian Tayler was born on 7th November 1921 in Coventry. His mother, Annie, was the sister of Frank Jackson – a life-long Communist, building worker militant, and Party librarian (see separate entry). Annie was also a life-long member of the Party. Julian remembers political meetings at the family home with Frank, leading trade unionist Tom Mann and founding member of the early Social Democratic Federation, Henry Hyndman, among others. He also recalls a memorable visit of Willie Gallacher, later a Communist MP, to Coventry.
In his unpublished autobiography Julian writes: “Whatever other influences may have attended my birth the significance of the date, November 7th, if not the year 1921, remained unrecognised by me until I was a little older and a lot wiser. I was helped in this process by my friends and by the books I read but more profoundly by my forebears who had bequeathed to me a family tradition of Socialism. I, in my turn, came to accept that creed and to regard the annual march through Red Square, on my birthday and in celebration of the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1917, as an event which bestowed a certain distinction on me and made me a presumptive citizen of that vast country. The annual display of national pride in Moscow came to provide a descant to my own self-congratulations and added another dimension to them so that in celebrating my birthday I was also raising my glass to a country that, I believed, had achieved Socialism.”
After school he went to college in Birmingham to study architecture but these studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and he was called up and posted to the Tank Gunnery School in Bovington. After a period training as a tank driver and mechanic, he was transferred to an army technical drawing workshop as his architectural training had provided him with good drawing skills. There he helped make mechanical drawings of tank parts for the mechanics to follow.
During this time he took up an army offer of a postal course to learn Russian, then some time in the early part of 1945 he responded to a War Office request for Russian speakers to volunteer for an interpreters' course. Although not successful that time, in the autumn he was asked to report to a new Inter-Services Course in Russian due to start in October at Cambridge University. After successfully completing the course in 1946, he was posted to Berlin, where they had no job for him, so he spent his time kicking his heels, fraternising with Russian soldiers and wandering around the Soviet Zone, as far as this was possible, as well as learning to horse ride and tried to learn German.
He was discharged in October 1946 and returned to his architectural course in Birmingham. In the meantime he realised that he possessed a very good bass voice – he had often performed at amateur concerts and army events and was auditioned by both Covent Garden and Sadlers Wells. Both offered him a job in the chorus, but his ambition was to be a solo singer, but the precarious existence of a classical singer’s life was rather daunting, so he fell back on the ‘safe’ career of architecture.
Soon after graduating, in 1951, at the age of thirty, he got a job with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in Whitehall, on a salary of £475 per annum, and was given the task of checking a part of the London County Council's Outline Plan for London. In London he met his future wife Barbara (see separate entry), the niece of the left-wing Labour MP Ian Mikado. They married in 1952.
He began taking singing lessons with Robert Vivian, an inspirational teacher with the Workers' Music Association. He suggested that Julian join Unity Theatre, which he did. He writes:
‘… so, one evening, I went along to Goldington Street, near Euston and St Pancras Stations and made myself known. I looked around and remembered with pride that Uncle Frank and his band of socialist building workers had created it in their spare time or probably, for most of them, while on the dole. They welcomed me into the acting group and during December 1952 I appeared in 'Mother Goose', a political Pantomime written by Eric Paice and Alfie Bass. I played the role of the Demon King and had to sing the theme song, dressed in black tights with a long forked tail, while playing a yo-yo,
Money is like a yo-yo
The more you turn it so-so
The more it comes back to your hand.....
I also sang with the Unity 'Mobile Group' which performed Victorian ballads and popular songs in pubs, co-operative halls and trades union meetings. The abiding memory I have of singing in pubs is trying to project my voice above the chatter and clink of glasses. A concert was considered successful if you managed to make yourself heard, a few turned heads was a triumph. It was otherwise with the trades’ union and co-op concerts where 'Joe Hill' or 'Ballad of America' mixed with songs from the music hall, or the Paul Robeson repertoire, brought the house down. The wonderful, damp, uncomfortable theatre, which had contributed so much to the Labour movement, burned down in 1975 and its trustees had neither the money, energy nor the support to raise it from the ashes. In the latter years its audiences had been dropping but in its heyday it was the inspiration of the working class and the breeding ground of great artists. In addition to the names mentioned above I can think of Bill Owen, David Kossof, Rodger Wallace, Lionel Bart, Michael Gambon and Bob Hoskin who at one time or another were associated with it.
Through Robert Vivian I met the composer Alan Bush and London University physicist John Hasted who ran the London Youth Choir (see separate entries for both). Like his contemporary, Benjamin Britten, Bush had the ability to make wonderful sounds with simple means but throughout his long life, unlike Britten, his work has suffered neglect because of his Marxist convictions.”
In 1953, Julian was sent by the Workers' Music Association to sing and be a part of the British delegation to the World Festival of Youth and Students, held on that occasion in Bucharest. His wife, Barbara, had just given birth to their first child and had to stay at home. They then moved back to Coventry where Julian became an architect in the Schools division of the Coventry City Architecture Department in 1956, where he was involved in designing some of the new comprehensive schools in the city. In that same year Barbara left the Party in the wake of the Hungarian uprising; Julian remained a member, leaving in 1968 after the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, but both remained committed socialists and activists in the progressive movement.
In 1960 Julian took up a post of principal architect with London-Midland Region of British rail and was involved on the re-design of Euston Station. He became Deputy Borough Architect of Ealing Council in 1965 and he and his wife and growing family settled in the borough. Both he and Barbara were active in the local CND group, the Medical Aid for Vietnam campaign and were always involved in the annual Morning Star bazaar, as well as on other issues. Julian became a leading member of the local Questors’ Theatre troupe and could indulge his theatrical passion.
After their divorce, Julian went on to become Borough Architect of Lewisham in 1972. In Lewisham he met Valerie Simmons, who also worked for Lewisham Council and was soon to become his second wife. At Lewisham he initiated and pioneered the council’s solar energy research programme. He took early retirement in 1981 and retired to Lewes with his wife Valerie and daughter Rachel. There he took up sailing, but continued to indulge his passion for acting in local amateur dramatics. Despite his disillusionment with the demise of the socialist experiment in Eastern Europe, he retains his socialist convictions, reads the Morning Star and enjoys political debate.