When I was 11 or so, Mum spotted a leaflet in Solihull Library with details of the British Magical Society Junior Section. I’d been interested in magic for a while, and this seemed perfect. I wrote to the address given and received a very polite handwritten letter in reply. It said that I was very welcome indeed to join, gave the location and time, and was signed by a man called Matheson Taylor. Having not heard the name before, I turned up and asked for Matheeeson Taylor, at which he smiled and introduced me to everybody. He, Sam Izzard and Peter Jefferies (who sadly died a few years ago) taught the twelve of us a huge amount about magic. We learnt stagecraft, patter, style and technique. We performed in front of the British Magical Society. We had guest speakers every fortnight. We held the BMS Junior Magician of the Year competition. We were filmed for Channel 5. And behind it all was Mat Taylor.
Mat’s widow described him as the perfect gentleman, and it’s hard to think of a more appropriate description. He was a charming, witty, wonderful man. Our fortnightly meetings would sometimes turn into joke-telling sessions, and Mat would invariably have us all in stitches. He used to carry around an absolutely enormous biro just to hand over when people asked for a pen. I still have a leaflet he wrote for one of our shows which is full of delightful asides and jokes – my friends will recognise why I write ‘Doodle Pad’ on every blank piece of paper I find.
And below all of this was the fact that Mat genuinely cared deeply about the Junior section. He never missed a meeting and did everything he could to teach and inspire us. He once told my Dad that my priorities should be ‘Schoolwork; Magic; Girls’. I remember once practicing a card trick called ‘Rainbow Cascade’ for a week, then eagerly demonstrating it to Mat only to have it go wrong (I never did figure out why, actually). But it was never awkward for a moment – he gently helped me through the trick and said I should keep practicing, and next meeting it went without a hitch. A couple of years later I was due to perform at the final assembly of my secondary school years, and wanted to go out with a bang. Mat suggested the classic guillotine illusion, and very kindly delivered his own setup to my house within days. I then chopped the head off my least favourite teacher in front of the entire year. And all because of Mat.
Mat was sadly afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, but I never saw this dull him for a moment. There was always a sense of greatness about him, but we at the Junior society never really knew quite how good he was. He was one of only five recipients of the BMS Lifetime Membership award. He appeared as a film extra with Laurence Olivier and David Suchet. He was an important member of the BMS and by all accounts a wonderful children’s magician.
Mat died last week, and I’m terribly sad. I hadn’t spoken to him for a few years, but genuinely did think of him often. He was one of those people you’re glad you had the chance to know. My life was and is better because of Mat Taylor, and I’ll never forget him.