He is the man who knows all the answers. But this really presents no problems to Shaw Taylor, genial host of the Pencil and Paper quiz programme. He has them all written down in front of him.
from the ATV Television Show Book for 1962
For over a year now, the ex-actor who has also invaded the sacred precincts of the world of the disc-jockey, has been glibly spouting the correct replies to the brain-teasing questions which form the main basis on which his popular programme relies for its attraction to the viewing public. Like the questions, the answers are supplied by a number of the staff of Encyclopaedia Britannica. But to hear them roll off the smooth tongue of the bespectacled quiz-master one would think that here, in fact, was the oracle… the fount of all knowledge!
Shaw Taylor is the first to admit that from his Tuesday evening programmes he has amassed a great store of information about which he was previously unaware. He is also honest in admitting that, without the written answers, he would — like so many of his viewers — be at a loss for the correct replies to the questions which he, and his attractive co-compere, Australian Lisa Finlayson, pose for those at home who are watching.
Sticking out a determined chin, nestling beneath a perpetual, good-natured grin, he has gone on record as saying that he doubts if there is anyone in Britain who, if he or she has watched every Pencil and Paper programme, could claim to have got every question right. ‘That is half the fun’, says the 37-year-old Shaw. ‘The other half is leaving the viewers with the hangover question. They get the answer the following week. But what happens during the week…?’
He visualises viewers phoning up their friends, checking on books of reference, or covering acres of paper with calculations when the problem is mathematical, or of the kind which psychologists love to indulge in.
From the manner and the accuracy in which they answer Shaw and Lisa’s questions viewers can gain some idea of their I.Q. — that modern means (the initials stand for ‘intelligence quotient’) through which, nowadays, so many jobs are filled, so many places in schools and colleges allocated.
An I.Q. of 125 is outstanding — and exceptional. Napoleon is credited with having had 125. So had Nelson. Shaw Taylor admits to 100 — ‘just above average’.
The mail which he — and the programme — attracts reflects a tremendous interest among the viewers to show that this way of assessing ‘what they’ve got upstairs’ is something which intrigues them and which, in its own way, must be regarded as something of a challenge.
There have been weeks when mailbags arriving at ATV’s London headquarters following a Pencil and Paper programme have contained letters and post cards amounting to almost a quarter of a million. Many of these are answers to the hang-over question. Others are from interested viewers who want to discuss some question — or answer — with Shaw. Not a few are from proud parents who want to tell of the success of a son or a daughter answering questions.
As with all letters received by television personalities, Shaw Taylor’s mail swings from the irate viewers — complaining that when the slightest thing goes wrong with a programme it is Shaw Taylor’s fault — to the pleasant letters of admiration. And, of course, there are the inevitable marriage proposals — an intriguing feature this, for all who become familiar to the country’s millions of television viewers, thanks to the feeling of proximity and intimacy which a television set in the living-room brings.
The letters of praise — even those suggesting marriage — might have been even more numerous had Shaw Taylor fully realised the ambition which attended his first decision to ‘go into show business’; he wanted to be a very successful actor, with a leaning to comedy roles.
In his reflective moments, enjoying the small cigars which he smokes through a large holder, he will tell of his love for the theatre, which goes back to a very early age.
He was born in the North London suburb of Hackney and every Monday evening after school he would go round to the local Hackney Empire, spend his pocket money on a seat in the ‘gods’ and eagerly wait for the curtain to go up on the weekly variety show.
But there was to be no easy way into the ‘profession’ for him. When he left school at the age of 15 he went into an office job. It was his wartime service with the R.A.F. which kindled the ‘show business’ ambition. He was serving in Burma as a radar operator. Live entertainment was scant, almost to the point of being non-existent. A group of airmen decided to band together to entertain the other servicemen stationed in that part of the world. Their efforts were fairly successful, and when they returned to Britain the group vowed that when they were demobbed they would meet again to start a repertory acting company. Then they went their various ways.
Back in London, Shaw Taylor found someone else in his office job. Remembering his Burma days, he applied for — and got — an L.C.C. grant to train at a dramatic school. He admits that one of his reasons for taking dramatic training was to lose his Cockney accent. He also recalls that when he went for his first audition for a stage part after leaving the school the first question put to him was: ‘Can you do a Cockney accent?’
Plays in London’s West End and with various repertory companies throughout Britain; film work — even working for an ice show (mostly on the Ivor Novello themes) followed as he ran the full gamut of show business experience. Though he is quick to explain that he didn’t do any skating. He dubbed the voices of the skaters as they ‘spoke’ Novello’s lines.
But hard though repertory acting and touring work may be, he is honest in admitting that his toughest job has been that of a television announcer. It was in this way that Shaw Taylor first became associated with ATV. For many months on end he was the ATV announcer seen most weekends by viewers in the London area.
Then came the opportunity to take over the chairman’s role in one of ATV’s best known quiz shows, Tell the Truth. Another quiz game, This Is Your Chance, was to follow and Shaw Taylor was again the chairman, as he had also been for some time in the programme Dotto. When Pencil and Paper first appeared it seemed quite natural that he should be the chairman. He appears to have found his niche.
But he has never allowed himself to become stereotyped, even in this rewarding kind of work. He has been heard as the commentator at some of the biggest outside broadcasts covered by ATV. This work has often taken him far afield — even to Russia, where he obtained what was probably the first ‘live’ interview with the Russian leader Mr. Khruschev, when he visited the British Trade Fair in Moscow on its opening day.
If the flames of ambition to be an actor have been dampened down slightly during the past few years, Shaw Taylor hasn’t turned his back entirely on his feelings for the stage. Now this takes the form of writing for it. He would dearly love to write a stage play. But this takes time and long, unbroken spells of concentration. In the busy life he leads today both of these are commodities in short supply. And in this very full life the weekly commuting which he undertakes between London and Birmingham, from where Pencil and Paper is broadcast, is only one of his regular commitments.
There is his radio disc show to compere. His books to be read (his taste is mostly for historical subjects). His cream-coloured sports coupe to be driven and kept trim. His sailing to be pursued with the same zest that he applies to most things in his life.
Not much time left. As he himself would so aptly comment, speaking with that infectious chuckle in his voice: ‘It’s all go — but I love it.’
That’s Taylor to a tee.