R.T. 'Bob' Taylor, 1930-2021

In 1954, with the magic of the four-minute mile ‘barrier’ becoming a reality, photographs and reports of middle-distance races abounded, and many times they featured R.T. Taylor (Belgrave Harriers). Bob even made the front page of Athletics Weekly when he ran to a ridiculously easy win in the Gordon Stewart Trophy mile on the five-laps-to-the-mile Drayton Green track, notorious for its tight bend where the loose cinders skirted the tree with its overhanging branches, growing on the infield, just before the beginning of the finish straight.

Two weeks after his Drayton Green exploits Bob took up an invitation, along with some of the top milers of the day, to take part in an attempt to break Bannister’s 2:56.8 ¾ Mile Record at Paddington Track. A slower than expected first half-mile of 2:04 by Australia’s Don Macmillan meant that the record was safe but with 200 yards to go Brian Hewson let rip, chased hard by Bob. Bill Nankeville finished strongly as the tape was neared and nipped past the Belgrave man but just 1.6 seconds covered the first five: 1 B. Hewson 2:59.8; 2 W. Nankeville 3:00.4; 3 R. Taylor 3:00.8; 4 J. Disley 3:01.0; 5 D. Macmillan 3:01.2.

With the European Championships in Bern on the horizon and then the British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, anything seemed possible. A win and club record now came for Bob in the Heathfield Trophy 880 yards – but fate was to intervene. A chest infection took a turn for the worse and suddenly, Bob was not only out of contention but was not to race again for three years. Bob’s meteoric rise after only entering the sport a few seasons earlier was described as one of the closest near-misses British Athletics ever had.

He was born in Hammersmith on 3 June 1930. Sporting activities during school days were, of course, curtailed by the 1939-45 War, but in the period shortly after the conflict some inkling that he might enjoy athletics had arisen in his breast as, for a while, he was a member of Polytechnic Harriers, resigning in 1947 before embarking upon his National Service. He dabbled with some success at cross-country while in the ‘Forces’ and ran into Charlie Walker whose infectious enthusiasm for the sport soon had young Bob signing up for Belgrave Harriers. He became a Belgravian on 19 September 1949 and as he drew near to completing his military service, began to think about what it would take to become a top-class runner in an era when the English middle-distance scene was dominated by such ‘greats’ as Nankeville, Parlett, Eyre, and the young Bannister.

Bob Taylor wins the 1953 Heathfield Trophy 880 yards.

Bob was a man who liked to plan things himself, not a great one for having a coach map out his sessions for him. His philosophy was: “Perhaps when you are younger you need an adviser and counsellor but in the final analysis, when you walk forward to your marks with your throat dry and that sickening ache in your stomach then you are well and truly on your own.”

Repetition ‘quarters’, 150s, and long fartlek runs were now the order of the day, building up a tremendous physical fitness in his light frame. All this was done in the evenings and weekends after working as a clerk at Cadby Hall Post Office, in Hammersmith Road, and then as a Civil Servant with H.M. Customs & Excise Office. His first proper season in 1950 was an exercise in laying the foundations. A medal came in the Belgrave 1 mile Championship and he scored in our winning South of Thames Junior Cross-Country Championship team. Things went similarly in 1951, but then, any doubts that he might have harboured about his methods were swept away as he ran to second places over 880 yards in the Middlesex Championships and the Brockman Trophy and followed up with victories in the Heathfield Trophy and Club Championships. At the prestigious Kinnaird Trophy Meeting at Chiswick, he was fourth, and then capped all these performances by reaching the final of the A.A.A. 880yds.

In 1953 he was gaining recognition as a young man making great progress. Representative honours came as he gained A.A.A., Middlesex, and Civil Service vests, was the outright winner of the Heathfield and Brockman Trophy half-miles and moved up to silver medal in the ‘Kinnaird’ behind Macmillan.

But an idea was beginning to formulate in his mind. As we have noted, he was lightly built, not an advantage in the hurly-burly of the first bend of 880 yards races, and perhaps his out-and-out speed wasn’t quite enough to match the very best over two laps. 1954 was the year of two major international championships and the quest for the four-minute mile was approaching a climax. He would now make the mile his focus. That he came so close to realizing his dreams, only to be thwarted by illness, was a tragedy.

In 1957 Bob managed to get back some of his fitness and he completed his own ‘hat-trick’ of Club Championship 880 yards wins, having had two years of illness when the title was ‘loaned’ to others. For the next few years, he collected further medals in Club races, but although not one to bemoan his fate or utter out loud what might have been, Bob must have seen, in his dreams, the vision of (in chronicler Dave Mitchell’s words):  "Bannister outkicking Landy at Vancouver in ’54, only to be outkicked himself by the comparative newcomer to international athletics Bob Taylor of Belgrave."

Off the track, Bob ran in the Club’s London to Brighton Road Relay teams between 1952 and 1954, setting the fastest stage time on the sixth leg in the ‘National’ of ’53, bringing the team home to silver medals in the ‘Southern’ of the same year, and earning another silver medal in the ‘National’ of ’54.

A quiet and somewhat shy man, Bob nevertheless became a real live-wire on social occasions. He was in great demand by the ladies when dances were held by Belgrave Harriers or Selsonia Ladies A.C., so light-footed was he when it came to ballroom-dancing. When racing days were over, on the way back from the Brighton Relay when three or four club coaches would pull in to The Black Swan at Peas Pottage for supporters and runners alike to raucously slake their thirsts, Bob was in his element, standing on a table with Don Maclean, Brian Nott, and others leading the singing of the most doubtful ditties imaginable. Rambles on Sundays with club-mates took the place of track sessions, but he was still well able to join in with Tom Carter’s pack of young middle-distance braves at Battersea Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. When the ‘Denmark Pot’ was instigated as an unofficial but deadly serious darts championship Bob ‘The Power’ Taylor, along with his good friend Bill Couzens, was in his element yet again.

Committee-man Bob held various posts as Running or Track Captain, and in September 1962 took over as Track Secretary, a position he held until 1971. He was elected a Life-Member in 1960 and was made Club President for 1965-1966.

Passing away in March 2021, Bob was in his 91st year and had served the club for 71 of those years, undoubtedly one of the most popular members.

In the end, it wasn't about the athletics, but a lifetime's comradeship with club-mates.

 

A January 1962 Sunday ramble through the Sussex countryside: Barry Sawyer, Ron Langheim, Derek Crookes, MIke Shingles, Chris Steer and Bob Taylor.  

References:

Athletics Weekly, 1954.

The Belgravian.

Mavis Hall, conversations with.

David E. Mitchell, The writings of. 

Bob Taylor, conversations with.

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