Taylor, A. J. P. (Alan John Percivale), 1906-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1906-03-25
Death 1990-09-07
Britons
English

Biographical notes:

A. J. P. Taylor, one of the most influential twentieth-century British historians, was also among the best-known public intellectuals of his day. Because of his appearances on BBC Radio and on television, he became known in newspaper headlines as the "TV Don." Taylor was also a prolific reviewer and columnist, with hundreds of pieces appearing in periodicals and newspapers including the Manchester Guardian, the New Statesman, the Observer, and the Sunday Express .

Alan John Percivale Taylor was born in Southport, Birkdale, Lancashire, England on March 25, 1906, and he cultivated the image of an outsider from the industrial north of England throughout his career. Taylor’s grandfather and father were successful cotton manufacturers, and Alan enjoyed a comfortable upbringing. Taylor’s father Percy, his mother Constance, and his uncle Harry Thompson were pacifists during World War I and remained active in the Liberal Party and leftist organizations long after. The young Taylor adopted his elders’ left-wing views. Though he left the Communist Party after the failure of the General Strike of 1926 and became harshly critical of communism, especially in the Soviet Union, Taylor remained a leftist-albeit an idiosyncratic and independent one-all of his life. In the 1950s he was a leading figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and he spoke vehemently against British military action during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Later he called for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

Taylor received his B.A. from Oxford University in 1927 and an M.A., also from Oxford, in 1932. He was a lecturer in history at Manchester University from 1930-1938, and a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford from 1938 until 1976. Despite his many achievements-including election as a Fellow of the British Academy-Taylor was denied the prestigious Regius Professorship in Modern History at Oxford in 1957; many observers felt that Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan awarded the position to Taylor’s rival Hugh Trevor-Roper on political grounds, while others felt that Taylor was denied the Regius Chair due to his efforts to “popularize” history, his “demeaning” journalistic pursuits, and his general contrariness. Though he never became a full professor, Taylor was a highly gifted and extremely popular lecturer who spoke almost entirely without notes.

Taylor’s primary area of expertise as a historian was European diplomatic history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially as it relates to the origins and outcomes of the two World Wars. His highly regarded The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 appeared in 1954. English History, 1914-1945, the final volume of the Oxford History of England and Taylor’s only effort in social and cultural history, was published in 1965 and is perhaps his most popular work. In the 1977 article Accident Prone, Or What Happened Next Taylor describes his development as a historian. His sometimes cantankerous autobiography A Personal History appeared in 1983. The most controversial of Taylor’s works was The Origins of the Second World War, published in 1961, in which he suggested that Hitler was not entirely responsible for the outbreak of World War II and that much of history is determined by accidents and mistakes. During the controversy surrounding the book, Taylor was dubbed a revisionist, a description he eschewed.

Many of Taylor’s contemporaries thought it odd that, as an avowed socialist, he would befriend and accept the patronage of the Conservative press baron and ardent imperialist Lord Beaverbrook (the Canadian William Maxwell "Max" Aitken). Taylor praised Beaverbrook as a historical writer and became the Honorary Director of the Beaverbrook Library after Beaverbrook’s death in 1964. Taylor published his affectionate biography Beaverbrook in 1972.

Taylor married Margaret Adams in 1931; they divorced in 1951. Eve Crosland became Taylor’s second wife in 1951; she and Taylor divorced in 1974. Taylor married his third wife, the Hungarian historian Eva Haraszti, in 1976. Taylor had six children: Giles, Sebastian, Amelia, Sophia, Crispin, and Daniel. Taylor died September 7, 1990.

From the guide to the A. J. P. Taylor Papers, 1921-1978 (bulk 1958-1978), (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)

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