Reprinted complete and substantially unchanged from “World Snooker with Jack Karnehm No.2” by John Carty and Jack Karnehm, Pelham Books, London (1981)       © John Carty 1981 – 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

DENNIS TAYLOR

Laughing all the way

to the bank

 

 

 

 

Another roar of laughter subsides. Dennis Taylor moves around the table to set up his next trick shot. He’s smiling as he places the balls, but one eye is shrewdly watching the audience, sensing its mood, like a huckster in a market hoping no one will open the bag before they’ve paid their money.

The next trick must be set up with great precision but the audience needs to be entertained, kept warm. Dennis lifts the triangle which he will use in this trick, examines the wood of which it is made, turns to the audience, ‘I hope this trick will work, this looks a bit thick*.’

Fractional pause, voice from the audience, ‘It’s an Irish triangle, Dennis!’ He smiles, grateful for the expected but unrehearsed heckle. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ he says, studying it, 'back home we make them square!’ More laughter and applause and the show rolls on.

The audience is startled by the accuracy and success of his tricks and captivated by the endless stream of jokes and gags that go with them. It is, surely, enough to expect a man to play snooker so well as to be constantly rated in the world’s top ten. When that man can also have an audience on its feet like a Bible Belt evangelist and tell jokes with the timing and impact of a professional comedian, he must be something special. Dennis Taylor is special. He made himself so.

He started to play snooker at the age of eleven in Gervin’s Club, Coalisland, County Tyrone. For the first two years he was regularly beaten by his big brother Martin, five years his senior, but Dennis overtook Martin, and at the age of fourteen, having won two big local competitions on handicap, he could beat almost anyone in the area.

He spent all his free time playing snooker and was always on the lookout for better players from whom he could learn something.

When he was seventeen Dennis moved to Darwen in Lancashire to live with his aunt, partly to look for work but also to improve his snooker. He found the work but he also found that the standard of snooker in England wasn’t as high as he’d thought.

He played for the Benarth Club in the East Lancashire league but was frustrated that the league matches gave him only one frame and many players treated the matches as a good night out rather than a serious contest.

At eighteen he won the East Lancashire Senior Championship – a title he was to win four times in five years, and the British Boys’ Billiards Championship, beating Dave Burgess of Portsmouth in the final.

He was a recognized first-class player in the region and when, at the age of twenty, he achieved a snooker break of 136 in a tournament in Blackpool, he made his name nationally. This break satisfied all the conditions for a world amateur record but, to Dennis’s disappointment, it was not officially recognized as such.

Dennis had settled in Blackburn, Lancashire, and at this time John Spencer was the biggest name in the area. Dennis learned a lot by watching and playing Spencer. They used to play in an exhibition series sponsored by the Blackburn Evening Telegraph and Dennis took over John’s leading role in this when Spencer turned professional.

He accepted the position as manager of the Elite Snooker Club in Accrington, which was jointly owned by his friend Ben Clarkson, and from this background he took the speculative step of turning professional at the age of twenty-three.

In his first World Championship in 1973 Dennis lost 9-8 to Cliff Thorburn on the final pink and felt that his nerves had got the better of him. With the support of his family he decided to enter himself in an International tournament in Toronto, Canada.

This was a big gamble because, if he didn’t do well he couldn’t possibly cover the expenses of the trip and, as a struggling young player, he couldn’t afford to lose hundreds of pounds. In the end he did very well, beating Alex Higgins in the semi-final and narrowly losing to Cliff Thorburn in the final.

During the course of this tournament, in practice against Eddie Agha of Montreal, Dennis made a record snooker break of 349. Does that sound Irish? What he did was to clear the table with a break of 103 in the first frame and on his break shot in the second he fluked a red and cleared the table, making a break of 134. From Eddie’s break in the third frame Dennis made a 112 break to record a total of 349 points in continuous play.

Soon after his return to England, Dennis was invited to appear in the BBC television tournament ‘Pot Black’. He was not the most obvious choice but Ted Lowe, who at that time advised the BBC on the invitees, felt that this young man had something to offer.

Dennis proved his credentials by reaching the final, losing to Graham Miles, and for a while Ted Lowe enjoyed a reputation as a clairvoyant as well as a snooker expert.

Harsh reality faced Dennis when the details of the next World Championship became known. It was to be played in Australia and he had to pay his own expenses. It was a formidable hurdle but his friend Frank Harrop showed him how to do it: they wrote to a thousand snooker clubs in Lancashire offering a deal in which Dennis would play seven club members, giving them 200 points start, on a no-win, no-fee basis. The response from the clubs was tremendous and he was able to go to Australia with no financial worries.

In Australia Dennis found himself playing his matches in various venues, with long tiring journeys in between, but he reached the semi-final, losing to a fresher and more relaxed Eddie Charlton of Australia, who had played all his matches in one venue.

Dennis was now in great demand on the exhibition circuit and started to build up a lucrative career. In 1977 he again reached the semi-final of the World Championship, losing to Cliff Thorburn, and in 1979 he went all the way to the final but lost to Terry Griffiths in Terry’s memorable year.

With all his club and tournament experience and his high status in the professional game, Dennis was still a very shy person. Whenever he was introduced to an audience he would blush furiously. In the beginning he had suffered agonies of embarrassment in speaking to a large audience and it was not until as recently as 1979 -80 that his famous blush became less frequent.

Like many comedians and show business people, Dennis turned to humor and developed an extrovert public personality to compensate for his natural diffidence and feelings of awkwardness.

The public took to his friendly style and with a lot of work and study he grew into the part. For some years he has been one of the busiest professionals in the exhibition game and he relishes the clubs and respects their players perhaps more than any other professional player.

He knows that the clubs made him what he is, provided him with a good living and turned him from a tongue-tied Irish lad into a mature and confident person. He likes himself better this way and has never forgotten his debt to the ordinary people in snooker.

In the tournaments the laughter has to stop and Dennis plays it straight and plays it well. Because of his image some players think he is such a nice jolly fellow that he doesn’t have to be taken seriously, but his record shows that he can beat the best in the world and play the toughest matches without wilting under pressure.

He had the great satisfaction of taking the Irish Professional title from Alex Higgins in 1980 and successfully defended it against Patsy Fagan in 1981. He has yet to win a major British or world title, but if he shows his best form at the right time he must do so eventually.

In the latter part of the seventies his inability to win a big title left a question mark on his record and some people thought he was more of a nightclub comedian than a serious contender. But his consistent record over the years has persuaded even the most cynical that Dennis has earned his place at the top.

In the fiercely competitive conditions of modern snooker it simply isn’t possible to maintain a high rating without talent and fighting spirit. Dennis has all of that.

It is far from easy to combine the demands of an entertaining club act with the pressures of tournament snooker but Dennis has done it, earning a high income and respect as a player. And as he leaves his audience laughing at the latest collection of Irish jokes, Dennis is laughing too – all the way to the bank.

 

*"thick" in British English is a synonym for "stupid", the unfair basis for "Irish" jokes.

 

Dennis Taylor won the international Grand Prix championship in 1984. He won the World Championship in 1985 and won the Masters championship in 1987. He retired from competitive play in 2000 and is now a television commentator.

 

            See also:  Joe Davis, the Founding Father