[Sefton 1XV 1948-49]

Dr Cyril Taylor-a life of commitment

By Gideon Ben-Tovim

There are some people with so much energy, so much vitality, with such strength of personality that it is almost impossible to think that they are no longer with us-nor is it possible to do justice to their lives in a few words.

Cyril Taylor was such a person, a man of extraordinary drive, a medical visionary , a life-long socialist ,a unique individual with enormous charm, warmth and commitment. He was one of this city's finest citizens, making a profound mark on the lives of many .

Cyril was born 79 years ago in New Brighton to orthodox Jewish parents, and was brought up with his sister Doreen (who now lives in Australia) in Wallasey where the family lived over his father's shop near the Town Hall .His grandparents fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe to settle on Merseyside , the family name changing from Zadesky to Taylor in line with the profession of Cyril's father, who eventually moved into the wireless business after become bankrupt through the rise of the Montague Burton off the peg suits.

Some of you will know Cyril's grand-father's house in Falkner Square, the beautiful white mansion on the corner of Catharine St where Cyril would recount sliding along the polished hallway floors or attending the more sombre reading of his grand-father's will.

Cyril became active in the Jewish youth movement, attending Zionist habonim camps, but he moved away from Zionism and towards the international socialism of the Communist movement in his late teen age years, which were in the heavily political 1930s with the real threat of fascism over-shadowing Europe.

Hearing a talk on the Spanish civil war as a sixth-former at Wallasey Grammar was an important influence in Cyril's political development.

He trained as a medical student at Liverpool University during the war years, graduating in 1943.He recounted that as a student he was sent to Durning Rd where an air-raid shelter had received a direct hit, to try and give medical aid.

He was based at Alder Hey hospital, which had been transformed into a medical receiving centre and treated some of the war wounded returning from Dunkirk.

He gained a reputation for eating his sandwiches during dissection demonstrations and kept a pickled leg under his bed, showing an early interest in orthopaedics!

It was at this time that he developed his great belief in the necessity of a national health service, free at the point of need.

Later he was to be part of a delegation of socialist doctors who lobbied Nye Bevan, urging him not to give way to the doctors who would later, proverbially, have their "mouths stuffed with gold".

Cyril's involvement in the Communist Party was for him an influence of the utmost importance ,and he remained an active and committed member from his student days at University until he left the Communist Party in disillusionment, as did so many after the events of1956. His letter of resignation was to him a most significant document, which he shared with Marge and myself many years later.

He joined the Labour Party, of which he remained an active member up to the end, serving as a Councillor for the Granby Ward from 1965 to 1980,including a major term as Chair of Social Services. He was an extremely dedicated and effective Chair, developing a number of new initiatives to support the poorer and more disadvantaged members of the community.

He was a pioneer of joined up thinking, arguing for housing, social services and health to be considered together, encouraging the early growth of housing associations, fighting tirelessly and often successfully against slum landlords at rent tribunals to bring down his constituents' rent levels .

He established the Liverpool Association for the Disabled, and made sure that elderly people had free access to telephone lines. He knew that the ill-health he witnessed every day was fundamentally related to poverty, and that inequality had to be fought in every sphere of life.

As he himself wrote," Both as a medical student and later as a doctor ,it had always seemed entirely appropriate for me to be part of the broad political struggle to change the unequal society for one in which every citizen would have an equal opportunity for education, for the development of their talents and the right to work for their own benefit and that of society".

As well as a tireless political campaigner, Cyril was a rounded human being with a rich personal ,social and cultural life.

After the war, he served as a Major in the army ,including a period in charge of the British Hospital in Khartoum. On his return, he was politically victimised in several jobs, including being sacked by the Liverpool Shipping Federation.

So he then decided to set up his own practice, which he did in Sefton Drive, calling on all his political comrades and allies to join his list so that he could bring in some income.

Sefton Drive , Cyril's home for many years with his wife Pat and his children Jeff and Susie, was not only a power-house of the political left, where many a resolution was crafted, many a meeting fixed, and many an important medical, social or political project hatched.

It was also a house full of people , friends and relatives , and generally an open house for many a person in need-Cyril and Pat were amongst the first to welcome Chilean refugees into their home after the brutal military coup of 1973.

The house was a cultural centre too, the Unity Theatre( whose leading lady Norah Rushton is with us today ) storing their costumes ,props and scenery in the basement, and using the garden for their rehearsals.

It was a house full of Cyril's jokes and banter , including the cancerous pickled lung kept on the dinner table to try to ensure that Geoff and Susie didn't take up smoking cigarettes.

And of course it was the surgery-the most unique surgery imaginable, with political magazines to read whilst waiting, political posters and cartoons on the wall to look at, and the tingling anticipation of an encounter with Cyril: one quick look of his penetrating gaze and he could see there was nothing life-threatening to worry about.

Then he'd say "well there's nothing I can do of course that will make any difference, but I suppose you want me to give you something"…he'd scribble out the prescription, and get on to the real business-the political conversation .

Of course "conversation" is perhaps an exaggeration- it was more that Cyril would hold forth in his inimitable manner about the current issues of the day ,the latest iniquities of the Conservative Government or the international news , add a bit of outrageous local political gossip, tell a joke or three, until the dreaded "right-ee-ho" came and the ten minutes of magic were at an end.

There was also the sport-Cyril had been a great Rugby player in his youth,playing for Liverpool University as a prop in the front row and he continued to play for Sefton Rugby Club until he was 40.

And then there was the tennis, where he would declare that he had a line with the almighty who always made sure that the weather was benign-at least most of the time.

In the final phase of his life, Cyril entered a new relationship with Sylvia, and together they played a very active role in health politics. During this period Cyril served as the President of the Socialist Medical Health Association, continuing his life-long campaign both for a quality national health service,and for social policies that linked inequalities to health. Earlier this year he was awarded the prestigious Duncan medal in recognition of his lifetime work in the field of primary health care.

After retiring not long after 65,something he advocated as part of his anti-elitist views that doctors should be treated like the rest of society, he of course could not resist doing locums for as long as his health allowed it. From 1988 when he set up home with Sylvia in Wavertree until July 1999 when he decided to hang up his stethoscope, he continued doing regular locums in 25 different surgeries in Liverpool and the Wirral.

He enthusiastically supported Sylvia in her activities at Greenham Common and her involvement in Womens Aid for Peace, where he ensured that medical supplies were made available to take out to the former Yugoslavia.

He maintained an active involvement in the Labour Party, which he continued to do after moving with Sylvia to West Kirby two years ago where they quickly set about helping to sort out the Constituency Party.

One of the pleasures of his final years was reconnecting with his many cousins, attending many Friday evening meals that became known as "the "cousinings."

His life had ,in a sense, turned full circle ."I'm Cyril from the Wirral" he would joke, and in fact he derived great pleasure from striding around the West Kirby Marina in all weathers, and in finding many pleasurable walks.

In our final conversation, Cyril told me of a walk where he had retraced his boyhood journeys ,including from his home to his school; he even mentioned he had looked for the house where my own father had been a GP in Wallasey.

As well as the importance to him of his relationship to his children , Cyril gained great enjoyment from his first grand-child, and also from Sylvia's children and grand-children.

We will all have our own memories of Cyril. He is an indelible part of all our lives, and Sylvia would like you to think that some of the 79 red roses that represent the years of Cyril's life also signify special memories of your own relationship with this extraordinary man.

His life of commitment and vision has been an inspiration and a joy to us all. He has made an enormous contribution to the city, to the health,the life-chances and the hopes particularly of the more disadvantaged sections of the community .We will truly not see his like again.