Tony Taylor 1926-2021

A tribute to the British Psychological Society Fellow from two of his former students and friends, Dr Iain McCormick and Professor Richard Siegert.

Antony James William (Tony) Taylor was born during the Great depression on 14 August 1926 and spent most of his childhood in the London docklands. In his memoirs Cockney Kid: The Making of an Unconventional Psychologist (2009) he quotes Charles Dickens when describing this environment, “many select such a dwelling place because they are already debased below the point of enmity to filth … The Dock Company is surely, to a great extent, answerable for the condition of the town they are creating.” Home was a two-room-up and two-down in a long row of houses where the front room was a sacrosanct front parlour by day and by night a bedroom for Tony and his elder brother called Son who slept together on a settee.

Like many working-class children of that time Tony found a creative outlet for his energies in the Scouts especially the Sea Scouts. He also pays tribute to the influence of an inspiring teacher Dr Harold Priestley. Indeed, it only was when Priestley asked Tony if he could involve a delinquent youth in his scout troop, that he first learned that that there was a career to be had as a probation officer. He describes this a ‘turning point’ in his life. 

During World War II Tony was accepted into the Youth Entry training scheme for the Royal Navy at 16 years of age. He served in mine sweepers in the Malacca Straits and off the coast of Burma where the lad from the East End gained the skills to navigate a minesweeping flotilla. At demobilisation he was astonished to read that anyone going to university would be entitled to a resettlement bursary for tuition and weekly allowance for board and lodging.

He went on to attend the London School of Economics and earned a Certificate in Social work from London University in 1947, then completed probation officer training at Rainer House in Chelsea. After this he applied for, and gained, a Probation Officer role in the Department of Justice in New Zealand. He went on to pioneer group therapy in prisons and was involved in Volunteer Service Abroad, where with John McCreary, Professor of Social Work set up the prescient ‘Person in Environment’ selection model, which we understand is still used today. 

He gained an MA from the University of New Zealand in 1955 and a PhD from Victoria University in 1965. At Victoria he became an ad hoc student counsellor, and then was appointed the very first student counsellor of any kind in the country. Now there are nearly 3,500 of such professionals. Tony became the first Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Commonwealth, and later Chairperson of Psychology at Victoria University. He studied an astonishing array of topics including: prison tattooing, natural disasters, transvestism, group psychotherapy, forensic psychology, prison reform, student counselling and Antarctic survival. A 2010 systematic review found Tony’s 1967 paper on group therapy in a women’s borstal to be in the top 10 quantitative papers on psychotherapy outcome for young prison inmates with mental health problems and in the quality ranking his paper came fourth.

In the 1980s, his clinical psychology and research interests led to him joining a group of colleagues in the International Biomedical Expedition to the Antarctic, which was the first of its kind. Its aim was to study participants before and after a three-month traverse into the polar plateau in the French Antarctic Territory. He was deeply involved in the psychological assessments of the scientists involved. The subsequent book he contributed to did not shrink from documenting the tensions that arose in the party, before, during and after the expedition. Tony was awarded the 50th Jubilee Research Medal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society for instigating and conducting psychological stress studies on 180 personnel involved with the recovery and identification of primary victims of the 1979 Air New Zealand DC10 crash on Mt. Erebus. 

Tony was a fierce fighter for social justice and a champion of the underdog who believed that psychology should help address genuine problems of social significance. He was a great orator and an inspiration to many in the world of applied psychology, criminology and beyond, right up until his death at 94 years. He was highly engaging, gregarious, sometimes combative, funny and a larger-than-life character who will be remembered for his vitality, compassion and harmonica-playing in the hallways of academia as much as for his learned publications.      

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