Jeffrey Taylor

JEFFREY Neilson Taylor, a former Yorkshire professional footballer turned opera singer, has died aged 80.

His sporting talent was such that he could also have been a successful cricketer like his younger brother, Ken Taylor of Yorkshire and England, but he always picked up an injury in the last match of the football season and did not recover in time to join the summer sport.

He played centre forward for Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Brentford from 1947 to 1958 before opting to pursue a career in music which was his passion.

Mr Taylor was born in Primrose Hill, Huddersfield, the elder of two sons of a weaving loom repairer. Their maternal grandfather was a ventriloquist who ran a Punch and Judy show on Blackpool beach.

He was educated at Stile Common Junior School and King James's Grammar School, Almondbury, where he won a scholarship. On leaving school, he did his National Service with the RAF from 1947 to 1949, but his potential as a footballer had already been spotted and he had been signed by Huddersfield Town.

He played junior football for Priestroyd Ironworks and Huddersfield YMCA, and he also represented Huddersfield Schools. As a teenager he would play twice on Saturdays, turning out in a morning for either Huddersfield Town's second or third team, in the Central League, and then for the other team in the afternoon.

He initially played as an amateur before signing for Huddersfield Town as a professional in 1947.

In August 1951, he scored the first goal of the English Football League season in a drawn match away to Arsenal, and three months later he signed for Fulham in a swap involving Len Quested.

His move to London meant he could continue his musical studies without having to commute to Huddersfield at weekends. In two-and-a-half years with Fulham, he scored 14 goals while playing alongside such stars as Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Hill and Bobby Robson. But when the manager moved to Brentford, Mr Taylor went with him ending his career there following a serious injury.

He suffered a badly broken cheekbone, but had to go hospital on his own by bus. It was three days before anyone at the club contacted him and when he said he was going to retire, despite being offered a new contract, the club chairman wrote to him offering an extra 1 a week if he reconsidered.

Playing football allowed him to fund his studies at University College, London, where he gained a BA Hons degree in geography and geology, but it was there he became heavily involved in music.

He went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music and, after graduating, embarked on his successful singing career under the name Neilson Taylor.

He was regarded as one of the best baritones of his generation, but was also a talented pianist and composer and later became an inspirational teacher.

He was singing at Glyndebourne where Luciano Pavarotti was starring in Mozart's opera, Idomeneo, and introduced him to his own voice teacher, Ettore Campogalliani. Mr Taylor took lessons in Milan from the Italian teacher and went on to perform at Covent Garden.

There were regular appearances on the BBC's weekly opera broadcasts where one of his recordings was the Verdi opera The Sicilian Vespers, which was recently re-released.

While still performing, Mr Taylor also taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. He was appointed Professor of Singing in 1974 and stayed for 18 years.

When he retired 20 years ago he moved back to Yorkshire, although he still taught regularly in London. More recently students travelled North to see him as for 10 years he had battled against cancer. Mr Taylor is survived by his brother Ken.