Churches and TV stardom for DLA man
13 September 2010 | By Gavriel Hollander
Most people have done unusual things to impress the opposite sex, but rarely do such exploits lead to a second career as a TV presenter.
So many years ago, when DLA Piper head of IP and technology Richard Taylor found himself answering a girl’s query as to why there was a cow on the altar of the church they were visiting (it was actually an ox, but we’ll let her off), little could he have known that possessing such idiosyncratic knowledge would eventually see him front his own BBC series.
Taylor is the enthusiastic face of BBC4’s Churches: How to Read Them, which following a swathe of positive reviews has been fast-tracked to a BBC2 slot, beginning this Friday (17 September).
Recalling his portentous date in the church, Taylor says: “I was filled with the spirit that makes men think women might be interested in football scores or railway gauges.”
As it turns out, plenty of people are interested in Taylor’s ability to divine meaning in the centuries’ worth of carvings, statues, stained glass windows and wonderful ornaments that adorn the UK’s multitude of churches.
The TV work came after Taylor penned a book on the subject entitled How to Read a Church, the first edition of which came out in 2003. And in turn that book only came about after the IP partner was asked to give a presentation on a subject of his choosing during a training course at former firm Stringer Saul (now Fasken Martineau).
Instead of picking a subject related to his work, Taylor decided to indulge his other passion and talk about Christian symbolism in art.
“What was striking was that I was doing this for a mixed bag of partners, some religious and some not,” he says. “But to a man and woman they said they could have listened to it all day. That was when I realised it doesn’t matter where you come from - everyone’s sat in a church building and thought, ’I wonder what that is.’”
After the revelation that his hobby might pique the interests of people who did not necessarily share his churchgoing upbringing, Taylor began work on his book, visiting churches up and down the country on a voyage of discovery.
Almost to prove the edict that if you want something done ask a busy person, Taylor worked on the book while simultaneously being one of the highest-billing partners at Stringer Saul and helping to look after his one-year-old daughter.
Taylor comes to life when discussing the delights to be found in his beloved churches.
“Reading a church, or any building, is about being able to understand or interpret the history or meaning of what’s in front of you,” he explains. “Sometimes there’s a deliberate meaning and sometimes it’s not so intentional.
“Regardless of what you think about God or religion, churches can tell you a lot about the people who built them.”
When it came to learning how to be a presenter, Taylor found that his legal training came in handy. He was faced with the task of understanding churches he had never seen before while learning the tricks of the TV trade.
“This is where my lawyer skills were useful,” he says. “The ability to think on your feet and speak about something very quickly came from being a lawyer.”
While admitting that he was undaunted by the prospect of talking to a potential audience of millions - “It’s actually just a hairy bloke with a camera” - Taylor says he did have to put some work into his distinctive presenting style.
“It took me a while to work out what would work,” he admits. “They didn’t want me to go all Simon Schama - grave and learned. It wasn’t long before I let my inner puppy dog loose.”
Despite the joy of the inner puppy dog, Taylor maintains that he will not be giving up the law just yet. Instead, he says, the balance between the two sides of his life is keeping him on his toes.
“It’s a rather weird experience when you’re in a medieval church in Suffolk and you have to pull out the BlackBerry and give advice on a technology licence,” he says. “But it’s a beautiful contrast.
ay in, day out, we’re living in the now - to turn away from that 180° and look at the past is exhilarating.”