John Taylor, who died on 19 December at the age of 82, had been an editor for nearly 60 years, during which time he conceived and launched a range of publications, contributed to many more and became the arbiter on men’s style matters through to the Nineties.
His career in journalism began upon demobilisation from the Royal Navy in 1945. He applied for the position of editor at The Tailor & Cutter, a trade journal for the bespoke tailoring trade. Initially unsuccessful when wearing civilian clothing, he reapplied and went to the interview wearing his Fleet Air Arm uniform with gold pilot wings and lieutenant’s rings. He got the job and the lesson of the importance of clothes in making an impression stayed with him for the rest of his career.
John edited The Tailor & Cutter for 24 years, transforming it from a dull, technical publication into what The Times described as “the most quoted trade magazine in the world”. His weekly criticisms of the dress of politicians, royalty and celebrities earned him international fame and his editorial column became required reading for Fleet Street journalists looking for a quirky story.
His criticisms were often humorous, sometimes in verse, and inspired various reactions. “Why doesn’t John Taylor mind his own goddamned business?” asked President Truman, whose neckwear had attracted some reproof. Sir Osbert Sitwell wrote a charming note, while the Duke of Windsor sent a solicitor’s letter.
Poet John Pudney took John to lunch, arriving at the restaurant dressed in full morning suit and top hat. Prince Charles arrived at a tailors’ formal dinner in a tweed jacket, in good humoured response to another comment; boxer Freddy Mills invited John to his club for drinks.
“It is true to say that no man nowadays may be regarded as having achieved celebrity until his clothes have been criticised by The Tailor & Cutter,” said the Daily Mail. The Guardian maintained: “The considerable increase in the public interest in men’s wear fashion in recent years must be largely attributed to the writings of the editor of The Tailor & Cutter.”
Born in Glasgow in 1921, John was brought up in London and thought of himself as a Londoner. He was something of a child star, playing singing and comic roles on children’s programme The Ovaltineys, broadcast weekly on Radio Luxembourg.
A singing career might have followed – at 17, he auditioned for and was accepted as vocalist for the then popular Oscar Rabin band – but when war broke out he volunteered and joined the Fleet Air Arm.
Initially an air gunner, John was recommended for a commission and earned his pilot’s wings after training in Canada. He served in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, with the Eastern Fleet and was attached to the RAF in the North Africa desert campaign. He was also part of a Special Service squad that landed with the 5th Commandos in Madagascar. He used his more farcical experiences as the basis for later humorous articles.
The Tailor & Cutter provided a platform for a career that saw him become one of the most prolific and successful journalists of his generation. He wrote regular columns for Punch, High Life, Penthouse, Men Only, The London Evening News, She, Topic and Weekend (the latter for 22 years); he contributed to The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, The New York Times, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Playboy and many others throughout the UK and abroad.
In 1950, John conceived and launched Man About Town, progenitor of all today’s men’s style magazines.
Original in format and content, it brought coverage of style matters, food, drink, cars and other male interest topics to a readership that had been starved of such luxuries during the wartime years. It carried articles by famous names and cartoons from Heath, Calman and Scarfe. The title was sold to Michael Heseltine at the beginning of the Sixties but was never the same without John’s humour and originality.
He went on to become a commentator and panellist on television and radio, a popular after-dinner speaker, and wrote three books – It’s a Small, Medium and Outsize World, The Care and Feeding of Young Ladies and On Women – From Bed to Verse – all while editing his own magazines.
At the end of the Sixties, John was lured away from The Tailor & Cutter to become director of the Clothing Group at IPC. Included in this group was Style Weekly, which he bought from IPC to launch his own publishing company in the early Seventies. At its height, this had 14 titles, mainly linked to the clothing and allied trades.
More recently, he concentrated on British Style, a glossy promoting quality British goods and services overseas, and Savile Row, which he launched in 1999 for customers of Savile Row’s top tailors. Despite ill-health, he completed his memoirs in 2003.
At his 75th birthday celebrations in 1995, he estimated he had written more than 20 million words during his career, and to that must be added his considerable writings since then.
His output was prodigious and of a quality and humour that established him beyond the boundaries of a style commentator. A hugely entertaining, warm and funny man, he was a regular at El Vino, the Wig and Pen Club, the French House and the Colony Room Club in Soho and counted other legendary Fleet Street names among his friends.
John’s writing talent helped to revive an interest in men’s clothes after the uniformity of the war years and gave a much needed boost to the British menswear industry.
He leaves his long-time partner Marie Scott. A memorial service will be held later this year.
Marie Scott, John’s partner and business partner at Scott Taylor Publishing