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My Friend Fred

Fred J Taylor
Fred J Taylor MBE

Fred J. Taylor was one of the country’s best known countrymen, having written eighteen books and numerous articles for magazine and papers, such as the Shooting Times, The Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, Angling Times and many others, covering fishing, rabbiting and rural life in general. Along with his brother Ken and their cousin Joe, they were collectively known as ‘The Taylor Brothers’, and Fred was a larger than life character, the ‘Friar Tuck’ of the group of anglers Dick was at the centre of, and which Fred called their ‘Jolly Crew’.

Fred was awarded an MBE for his services to angling in 2008, having contributed to the sport and country life enormously for over half a century.

In 1965 Dick wrote the following piece about him which appeared in Creel Magazine.

Like me, Fred was born in 1918 and we share the same roots, in the country of which Leighton Buzzard is the spiritual centre and Luton the despised industrial interloper. We share the same background of a little youthful poaching, ferreting, shooting and lots of fishing, friendly farmers, green grass, trees, hills no higher than Ivinghoe beacon and a kick in the rear when we transgressed, instead of juvenile courts and psychiatrists. We can spot a fake countryman a mile off and the world seems to be full of them.

It is this intimate identification of himself with the countryside and its wildlife that makes Fred such a fine angler; but unlike many countrymen, Fred never developed distrust of or contempt for, science and logic. He always had that precious asset, an open mind. Not for Fred the usual country pundit scorn of “book learnin”, and the often-repeated belief that “you can learn more in an hour at the waterside than from all the books ever written!”

Fred took care to learn all he could from the waterside and from the books, until the time came for him to write books of his own — and how well he wrote them! One passage from Favourite Swims sums up his angling philosophy very well. He tells how he and his brothers, Ken and Joe, had each caught 15 tench, every one over 4 pounds, and then he says,
“.. the rivalry had gone now and it would have been wrong to try and catch any more tench. This was the proper ending to our day, and we removed our baits from the water before the magic of it could be spoilt.”

“Happier those that go out to please themselves, and not to astonish others,” wrote R. S. Surtees. Fred never sets out to beat anyone, either in fishing matches or in attempts to catch the biggest fish. Measured by conventional yardsticks, Fred's angling feats do not feature in angling history. He has never won a big match or caught a record or near record specimen; yet he has caught enormous numbers of fish that can fairly be classed as big. And he has thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it despite his classic comment on one icy day, when with sleet pelting down and not a fish feeding, he said,

“Oh, I shall be glad when I have had enough of this!”

It would be impossible to sum up what makes Fred so successful. He casts accurately, whether he is fishing float, fly, spinner or ledger. He has tremendous ability in watercraft and, despite his weight, he can be as light on his feet as a mousing cat when occasion demands it.

Of the many contributions Fred has made to the success of those who read his books and articles, perhaps the most important are the lift method and the use of the dead herring in pike fishing. Neither is original. References to the lift method, or shot ledger as it used to be called, can be found in angling literature half a century old, as can accounts of catching pike on dead herrings. What Fred did was to turn these forgotten methods into ones that could be and are being used with confidence and success by thousands. Fred has this knack of communication. Whenever I remark on the value of knowing water temperature, I am accused of being scientific, but Fred could write about Einstein's theory of relativity without incurring a similar charge.

 

Fred J Taylor
Fred J prepares a fry up - Fred was a master baker and cook of some renown!

What else do you want to know about Fred? Everyone knows what he looks like, and many have likened him to a jovial friar — Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood legend. In fact the resemblance goes beyond appearance. Fred has enormous physical strength and he understands and appreciates good food and drink, having spent part of his career as a chef. His girth is deceptive — he can move fast when it is necessary and he belongs to a judo club where he is flung about by attractive young ladies and by Fred Buller. He has a first-class singing voice which it is difficult to persuade him to use.

Perhaps Fred's personality was best summed up by Pete Thomas when he said,

“I'd rather have a blank day with Fred than catch a hundredweight of fish in some people's company!”
 


   
     
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