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British Universities Film & Video Council

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John Taylor


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Born in Kentish Town, London, in 1914, John Taylor was set for a career in carpentry when documentary filmmaker John Grierson became involved in his life. Grierson, who married Taylor’s sister Marion, employed the boy straight from school to work at the Empire Marketing Board as a film assistant-cum-dogsbody. Besides Grierson ('Drifters’, 1929), Taylor worked with filmmakers like Basil Wright ('Song of Ceylon’, 1934) and Robert Flaherty ('Man of Aran’, 1934), graduating from assistant director and production assistant to camera operator.

Grierson then employed Taylor at the GPO Film Unit. Here, Taylor assisted Alberto Cavalcanti on several of his travel documentaries, such as ‘Men of the Alps’ (1937). By the end of the 1930s, Taylor was directing films himself, including ‘Smoke Menace’ (1937) and ‘Londoners’ (1939).

In the 1940s, Taylor began producing films for the Realist Film Unit. He produced films by Grierson’s sister Ruby ('They Also Serve’, 1940; ‘Six Foods for Fitness’, 1940) amongst others, but his greatest achievement in the decade was in producing the film ‘Penicillin’ (d. Alexander Shaw/Kay Mander, 1945), a definitive documentary about the century’s most important medical breakthrough. The ICI-financed film told the story through the experiences of an English soldier on the front line during World War II and the personalities of the scientists involved, such as Alexander Fleming.

In the late 40s, John Taylor joined the Crown Film Unit [qv], where he produced ‘Daybreak in Udi’ (1949), which followed the construction of a maternity hospital in a village in Eastern Nigeria. He also produced Mining Review 1st Year Issue Nos.1 to 6 (1947).

In 1952, Taylor and Leon Clore [qv] set up Countryman Films, a company which made natural history documentaries. Their greatest achievement was probably ‘Conquest of Everest’ (1953), a record of the successful British Everest expedition of 1953 accomplished by John Hunt, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Taylor was involved in a vast number of documentary films that became classics of the genre. He continued working up to the 1980s, producing quality documentaries on themes of social welfare and conservation.

Sources; Accessed 19/5/2006: NoS Number 334706; Mining Review 1st Year Number 1; Date released September 1947: NoS Number 334740; Mining Review 1st Year Number 6; Date released February 1948.

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