Lawyer who always acted in town's best interests

WITH the sudden death of Martin Brooke-Taylor on March 26, Buxton has lost one of its most charming and likeable personalities.

Almost everyone knew him from his work as a solicitor and from his many involvements in local societies and organisations and especially his appearances for the Drama League, the Opera Festival and latterly as a professional actor both on the stage and in films.

Martin was born in 1931 in Buxton, the son of a well known local solicitor. He went to Holmleigh prep School at the top of Devonshire Road and then to Pangbourne with a view to a career in the navy. The discovery that he was colour blind put an end to that however.

National Service followed and while at Eaton Hall Martin became an extremely competent boxer earning the title "Knock-out Brookie"!

After receiving his commission he was seconded to the Somaliland Scouts where he perfected his camel-riding skills. He maintained an active interest in the scouts throughout his life.

In 1951 he went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read law and to devote some time to rowing as well. He never forgot his tutor and returned many times to visit him.

After graduating Martin went off to America where he toured around taking whatever work he could find. It was while working in a pea canning plant that he received a message that his uncle had died and there was no-one to run the office of the family firm in Bakewell. He cut short his American adventure and returned to England.

Marriage to Jean followed in 1966, Martin becoming stepfather to Jonathan and Imogen. In due course Dan and Ros arrived.

In 1972 Martin transferred to the firm's Buxton office where he settled for the rest of his legal career, building up a large clientele including many local farmers whom he would visit in his special legal wellies.

Martin had always been an enthusiastic amateur actor of considerable talent. Although he sometimes had a problem remembering his lines he could always stay in character, frequently ad libbing while he frantically searched for the correct words and thereby bewildering any other actors on the stage.

No such problems arose, however, when he played the part of the mute butler Sante in the Opera Festival's production of Susanna's Secret by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari.

His innate sense of comic timing made him perfect for the role. But this was no easy task. Even though he did not have to say anything he had to master every cue from the music.

After retiring from full time legal work Martin decided to take up acting professionally. His new career was full of promise.

He obtained his union card (not an easy thing to get) with a stunning performance as the doctor in Duet for One, a play loosely based on the suffering of Jaqueline DuPre and then went on to star in a spy movie, The Lermontov Edition. He always had an ambition to play a pantomime dame, but alas that eluded him.

But acting was not Martin's only outside interest. He helped form the Parent Teacher Association at Hardwick Square Infant's School and then went on to be a Governor of Buxton College and subsequently of the Community School.

In due course he became the chair during which time he was closely involved in the formal opening of the school by Princess Alexandra. And he immersed himself in disentangling the Byzantine complexity of the School Foundation.

In the meantime he had also taken over the chair of the Festival Society (now re-named the Friends of the Festival) and took it upon himself to draft their constitution which was subsequently adopted.

His range of interests was astonishing. A keen supporter of Derby County even when their fortunes dipped, a well read student of military history and member of the Waterloo Society, a lover of jazz especially of the 50's and 60's and even a member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club. On becoming chair of the Drama League he drafted a new constitution for them as well.

In addition to all that he joined the Festival Fringe Committee and managed to persuade the Home Office to give the Fringe permit free status to enable performers from outside the European Union to come to the Fringe without a work permit. And he was the chair of the Bingham Trust.

He was always concerned about Buxton's future.

When the mammoth task of converting the Devonshire Royal Hospital faced the University of Derby, Martin readily became a much valued member of the team campaigning to raise the necessary funds.

Martin was wonderful with children. He always retained a somewhat childlike character himself which was one of his most endearing qualities and which gave him a great rapport with his own children and with all youngsters. It was a time of great delight for him when he recently became a grandfather.

I was fortunate to be able to enjoy Martin's company most Saturdays over many years when we would walk together in the Peak. Whatever the weather, and it was sometimes dreadful, he was always full of jokes and amusing stories, quoting large chunks of Shakespeare or practising being a pantomime dame.

And so he was on the very day before he died and as we shall always remember him. He was the best of companions, a friend to everyone and loved by all who knew him.

By Peter Low