Simon Watson Taylor: surrealist, pataphysician & cabin steward

The death in 2005 at the age of 82 of aged hippy and anarchist Simon Watson Taylor went almost unnoticed in the Arts pages and it was left to his friend and former house-mate George Melly to supply an obituary in the Independent in which he pointed out the major contributions of the writer and translator of Alfred Jarry to the Surrealist and Pataphysics movements in Europe during the fifties and sixties. On a personal level, Melly also alluded to his friend’s ‘acid humour ‘, his delight in confronting and dispatching the pretensions of the bourgeoisie, and a determination to remain free of encumbrances. At one point in his early life we are told that he took a job as an airline cabin steward in order to travel the world.Indeed, among all his friends who had some way embraced aspects of the bourgeois life- style, Melly claimed that Watson Taylor stood out as a man ‘truly free’.

Some aspects of Watson Taylor early slant on life can be found in this short article that appeared in the Spring 1947 issue of Film Survey when its author was just 24. Ostensibly a 'dissertation' on the comic genius of Laurel and Hardy, whom he saw as subversive individualists battling albeit unsuccessfully against forces of a harsh reality in which authoritarian power rules, it is also a hymn of praise to the anti-bourgeois values of Surrealism and the power of dreams to create an alternative reality.

- The fact is that ‘reality’, as the dictionary conceives it, does not by any means  circumscribe the whole of our possible mental perceptions of existence ; there is also dream , chance, illusion, desire---and the ridiculous, the fantastic. Perhaps these latter are even more valid and certainly they are equally permissible, for ultimately we create our own reality (“ man creates God after his own image “)—the fantastic is real if we decree it so. We have no accomplices more inspiring in this plot to turn this world upside down than were Swift, Blake and Carroll. Today we cannot do better than allow Charles Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Laurel and Hardy to be the sometimes silent, but always lucid spokesmen of out discontent ---the ambassadors of the unprivileged...

Watson Taylor saw Laurel and Hardy as genuine subversives, even  ‘revolutionaries’ in their battle against a cruel world and classed those who laughed at the Marx Brothers, Chaplin and Abbot and Costello as mere ‘escapists’. And although Stan and Oliver did sometimes wreak revenge on their tormentors, Watson Taylor concludes that 'ultimately despair and reproach may be considered as the inevitable and complimentary reactions to life of the individual, hemmed in on all sides as he is’.

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