Cult Heroes: Brian Taylor


The latest player to feature in the Cult Heroes series is one that is regarded by the Club as one of the greats. He’s our second wicket-keeper featured and leads the stats in terms of dismissals with a staggering 1,133 catches and 213 stumpings in an Essex career which spanned 24 years.

This series is supported by Allen Ford and we thank them for their continued support.

Essex Career Stats (1949-1973)
Debut: 7 May 1949 v Cambridge University (First-class friendly)
Appearances: 647
Runs: 20,076
First-Class Average: 21.92
Highest Score: 135 – 1959 v Middlesex
Centuries: 10
Fifties: 81
Catches: 1,133
Stumpings: 213

Brian Taylor was one of the most forthright and respected figures ever to wear the Essex badge, and he did so in a playing career spanning 24 years.

Born in West Ham in 1932, Brian became a regular member of the Essex first team in 1954 playing initially as a batsman before he shared wicket-keeping duties with Paul Gibb. By 1956, Taylor had established himself as the permanent wicket-keeper whilst his aggressive and cavalier batting earned him the nickname of ‘Tonker’, and was a firm favourite with the crowds.

A highly-competent performer with the gloves and attractive left-handed batsman, Brian was chosen as the ‘Young Cricketer of the Year’ in 1956 by The Cricket Writers’ Club.

A strong character who taught his charges to be professional whilst also insisting on standards of dress and fitness, Brian captained the side from 1967 until 1973, the year he retired, shaping the policy that was to prove so successful for future skipper Keith Fletcher.

Brian realised that fielding was one department where his young charges could excel and that soon became a feature of their cricket whilst he also engendered a great team spirit.

He preferred an uncomplicated approach to the game. “Too much theory is out at Essex”, he said. “True, we try to play on the weaknesses of our opponents as we see them, but I have always believed cricket, like life itself, should be simple. Only people tend to make life difficult and cricketers make cricket difficult.”

His approach as captain was also straight-forward. “Our tactics, as such, are simple,” he stated. “We try and score our runs without wasting time and our bowlers bowl as straight as they can. The fielders do their best to back them up. How many times do you see moderate bowling made to look far better than it is with catches well taken and the fielders looking dead keen?

“We see ourselves as entertainers, not professional bores, and if we can win in the process of enjoying our cricket, so much the better.”
When Taylor was made captain, the club financially was on its knees. They had lost £9,000 the previous season and their financial plight led to a swingeing cut in playing resources that reduced the playing staff to just thirteen.

Yet Taylor took on the challenge with a pragmatic attitude. “There is only one way that Essex can go and that is up,” he insisted.

He was certainly a swashbuckling figure in his day, although he is the first to admit he would have scored more runs his talent merited if he had not adopted such a buccaneer approach. His 18,239 runs from 539 first-class games, only Fletcher exceeded that number of appearances, hardly did this top-order hard-hitting batsman justice. “But I saw my job as to entertain the public not bore them to death,” he said.

He was rated good enough to earn a place on England’s tour to South Africa in 1956-57 as Godfrey Evans’ deputy, although sadly a Test cap was to elude him.

Of ‘Tonker’s’ nine first-class centuries, his unbeaten 105 in even time which earned his side victory against Gloucestershire at Clacton in 1962 was probably his best. Taylor had not been enjoying a particularly rewarding run of form and Essex were set 298 to win in four and quarter hours. They were 148 for 4 when skipper Trevor Bailey instructed Taylor, who had scored a duck in the first innings, to go in and improve the scoring tempo. One hour and 50 minutes later, Brian was unbeaten on 105 (three sixes and fifteen fours) as Essex celebrated a five wickets victory with ten minutes to spare.

His highest championship score was the 135 he took off a Middlesex attack at Lord’s in 1959.

The John Player League also provided him with some memorable innings including an outstanding exhilarating 95 from 60 balls in 55 minutes against Worcestershire whilst his 100 versus Derbyshire in the match at Buxton, where he faced 84 balls, was equally praiseworthy.

During his long and distinguished career, he reached 1,000 first-class runs in a season on eight occasions enjoying his most productive summer in 1959 when he amassed 1,837 runs.

His record of 1,231 first-class dismissals for Essex included 191 stumpings and in the 1962 season, he broke the county record for the number of wicket-keeping dismissals when he claimed 79 catches and 10 stumpings.

Brian also played soccer for Brentford, Bexleyheath and Dover and was a tough-tackling full-back who took no prisoners.

Taylor was at the helm and a father figure when the likes of John Lever, Ray East and Robin Hobbs started out on their careers.

“We owed him a lot and my only regret is that he was unable to lift a trophy when he was in charge,” said Lever. “He certainly deserved to because he pointed the way to the huge success the county later enjoyed.”

Leading all-rounder Stuart Turner who also played for many years under ‘Tonker’ echoed colleague Lever’s words. “It’s a great shame Brian Taylor did not lift the JPL trophy when he was skipper,” he said. “We came close on a few occasions under him and if ever a player deserved to hold the trophy aloft it was him.

“He did so much for Essex cricket, and I owe him a great debt. We were labelled ‘Tonker’s Tigers’ under him and that spoke volumes for the way he made us go about our business – a cavalier and professional approach that made his teams great entertainers and pointed the way for successes that were to follow.”

After calling it a day in 1973, he was elected to the panel of England Test selectors in 1973-1974 and later became heavily involved in schools’ cricket throughout Essex.

A Club legend, Brian was 84 years old when he died in 2017.