Jack Tagg: Beacon of provincial culture

An eccentric force for cultural good

Arty Types

This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

In outward appearance Professor Jack Tagg looks more like a jazz musician of the 1950s than a retired academic. So uncanny is this resemblance to some gnarled survivor from the age of be-bop that those watching his denim- jacketed and peak-capped figure lumbering towards them at a literary festival often assume that the black attaché case he carries will contain the component parts of a musical instrument — a clarinet, say, or an oboe. 

In fact, this assumption would be mistaken: the case is far more likely to harbour a dozen or so back-numbers of Lamplighter, the quarterly literary magazine whose business Professor Tagg has conducted since the days of Mrs Thatcher’s second term.

Lamplighter (available at a very few selected newsagents in the East Midlands area, or on subscription from 23 Beesley Street, Radford, Notts) is, it has to be said, a rather old-fashioned affair. It specialises in sharp, ironic, Larkinesque verse by poets of the same vintage as its editor, grainy black-and-white photographs and oddly pugnacious essays with titles such as “Memoirs of the Birmingham Group” and “Alan Sillitoe as I Knew Him.” 

… losses are paid for out of his pension …

The same goes for the small publishing firm over which Professor Tagg dictatorially presides, esteemed for its reprinted editions of “Midlands Classics” and an annual anthology called Voices from the Trent, whose losses are paid for out of his pension.

Before he gave himself up entirely to the local literary scene, Professor Tagg taught English and Cultural Studies at the University of Leicester. He was also president of its Fabian and Folk Dancing Societies, and it was at the latter that he met his wife, then an undergraduate, while executing a version of the “Lecky Cobbler”. 

Professionally, he was known for his championship of the great but sadly neglected East Midlands novelist Brian Hardwood, whose “Coalville Trilogy” (Last Bus to Blaby, Melton Mowbray Boy and Pithead Blues) he adapted for Radio Four, and the subject of a well-received biography, Hardwood: Born on the Midland Plain, copies of which can still be found in second-hand bookshops.

In his late seventies now, hale and indefatigable, Professor Tagg keeps up a busy schedule of lecturing, conference-convening and seminar-attending, while making final adjustments to his Collected Poems: 1968-2023, forthcoming from the Loosestrife Press. 

The best place to see him in action is at one of the small poetry festivals he makes a point of attending, most of which are advertised as being “chaired by Jack Tagg”. There may not be many people present, the poems themselves may not have a great deal to commend them and the chair’s interventions may sometimes be thought a little dogmatic. 

On the other hand, no one could doubt the sincerity that he brings to the task of keeping the flame of provincial culture precariously alight. In however dogged and self-sequestrated a way, Professor Tagg is a genuine force for cultural good. 

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