Growing up with anarchists, surrealists and pataphysicians by Simon Watson Taylor (with some comments on Surrealism in Britain by Michael Remy)

Simon Watson Taylor (1923 – 2005)

SIMON WATSON TAYLOR (1923 – 2005) was an English anarchist, actor and translator, closely associated with the Surrealist movement. Born in Wallingford, Oxfordshire on 15 May 1923 he died in London on 4 November 2005. Secretary for the British Surrealist Group he edited the English language surrealist review Free Union but later became a key player in the “science” of Pataphysics. Simon lived and worked in Paris in 1946-7 for the English section of Radio-diffusion Francaise. His translations of modern and avant-garde French literature and books about art included Surrealism and Painting by André Breton and Three Plays by Boris Vian including The Empire Builders, The Generals’ Tea Party and The Knackers’ ABC. Others were The Cenci by Antonin Artaud, Paris Peasant by Louis Aragon and numerous works by Alfred Jarry. His collection of Jarry’s The Ubu Plays (Methuen, London, 1968) included translations by himself and Cyril Connolly and remains in print. The following memoir, written for ChristieBooks shortly before his death in 2005, was  to accompany a new translation of Vian’s Three Plays — The Empire Builders, The Generals’ Tea Party and The Knackers’ ABC:

THE COLLEGE I ATTENDED in the mid- 30s was deemed ‘progressive’ at the time, and proud of its Charter granted by Elizabeth I. Despite the attendant horrors — compulsory sports, compulsory chapel, marching up and down with the absurd O.T.C (Officers Training Corps), the administration did show some aesthetic aspirations, such as the drama society (in which I shone) and the art class whose intelligent teacher twice inspired his boys to win prizes at the annual national student painting competitions. Maybe he can be thanked for the fact that the school library’s art section included Herbert Read’s 1936 anthology Surrealism. The discovery of all those challenging texts, those marvellous illustrations, was exhilarating and gave a new dimension to my love, from a tender age, of Carroll’s Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark. I was brought up in West Sussex among the South Downs (great for sliding down a hill on a tin tray), but, for domestic reasons which I have long forgotten, in 1940 we abandoned our rural delights — pine and birch woods, heather, gorse, sandy lanes — for the rigours of London. Our house at the top of Highgate Hill had a fine panoramic view over the city stretched out below. When the bombing started, the blacked-out night created an apocalyptic vision of the flames of hell. In 1941 I left the family home and moved to Chelsea, rooming in a series of bohemian lodgings and finally acquiring a flat just off the King’s Road. I was an actor by now, having plunged into what turned out to be a fairly brief career, starting off with the loveable Robert Atkins’s Shakespeare Company at the Open Air Theatre and continuing at the Birmingham Rep, where Margaret Leighton and Yvonne Mitchell were fellow-members of the company. And so on … READ MOREISSUU or PDF