In Memory of Murray

My first sighting of the actor Murray Melvin, like many of you reading this I’ll wager, would have been as Geoffrey Ingham, in the film A Taste of Honey, playing opposite Rita Tussingham as Jo. Murray had a very defined look, other worldly in some ways, which suited the part of the reserved and quiet homosexual best friend in less liberated times, perfectly.

We’re bloody marvellous!

He was born in St Pancras, London in August 1932, the son of Victor and Maisie. He became head prefect at his secondary school, awarded not for his academic prowess, but more for his neat and tidy appearance. Upon leaving there aged fourteen, he found his first job as an office boy for a travel agent, located near to London’s Oxford Street.

To their eternal credit, his parents began a youth club in Hampstead with funds from the Co-Op. In the club’s drama department, young Murray became a regular and enthusiastic performer. All this was partly interrupted, due to his National Service call up, which saw him enter the Royal Air Force for two unhappy years, which eventually found him  in a RAF desk bound job in the Kingsway, London. Handily, he could continue to study drama, ballet and mime at a nearby City Lit. Institute and subsequently he then auditioned for the Theatre Workshop Company run by Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

And so began a beautiful relationship, with Murray at first working at assistant stage manager for them from 1957 and then gradually picking up roles in their many diverse productions, from Macbeth and appearing in the original theatre production of A Taste of Honey, written by Shelagh Delaney. This eventually transferred to the West End and was the hit of the 1959 theatre season. Melvin, then reprised the Geoffrey role in the 1961 film, directed by Tony Richardson, going on to be awarded the Best Actor award at Cannes in 1962 and picking up a nomination for a Bafta as the Most Promising Newcomer.

Geoff: Did you like him?

Jo: He was all right . . .

Geoff: Did you love him?

Joan Littlewood – Murray was always making tea, tidying the green room, taking care of us, (he brought) Geoff to life.’

Dirk Bogarde later told a surprised Melvin, who himself didn’t feel he was beating any particular drum, that his performance did more for the cause of homosexuality than the whole of the later Bogarde film Victim.
Murray’s next major film role came as Georgie in 1963 in Sparrows Can’t Sing , written by Stephen Lewis – later Blakey in the TV show On The Buses – with the film directed by Joan Littlewood herself.

Look what you’ve done to the strudel…

The next major production for Littlewood’s theatrical company came in 1963 with Oh, what a Lovely War which collected a string of awards and was performed in Paris and New York.

We’re on our way up to Ypres

I wouldn’t go up there if I was you , they’ve got a shortage

What of, ammunition?

No, coffins…

Murray Melvin – ‘For the actors, it was a voyage of discovery in that Joan assigned us all reading-lists on which we had to report, and some mornings we came into the rehearsal room in tears at the horror of it all. But, for all Joan’s air of seeming improvisation, you must remember that her shows were as carefully structured as a Mozart symphony.’

Hold it lady, little bit more to the left. Three for twelve and a tanner

1966 then saw him as Nat, friend to Michael Caine’s character of Alfie, in the  classic  film of the same name and 1967, saw him working with Tussingham again in Smashing Time

Brenda, I’m back and I’ve ever so much to tell ya…

He then began a long association with film director Ken Russell which saw him appear in the films  Diary of a Nobody,  Biggest Dancer in the World, The Devils, The Boy Friend, Lisztomania, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Prisoner of Honour. In among all that lot, he also played Reverend Samuel Runt in Barry Lyndon in 1975.

He had a similar long-term relationship with the director Peter Medak and appeared for him in Death of Joe Egg, Ghost in the Noonday Sun, The Krays, Let Him Have it  and David Copperfield. 

In  2004, he played Monsieur Reyer in the film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.

He was also a memorable face in many TV parts over the years, from the very first episode of The Avengers in 1961 to Torchwood in 2007. As a director, he worked across in the genres in drama, pantomime, and opera.  

He became  the voluntary archivist for his beloved Theatre Royal Stratford in 1992, and later his collection of papers and ephemera were donated to the British Museum. He was also appointed on the board of the theatre workshop trust

Away from showbiz, Murray became a Doctor of Arts at De Montfort University in 2013,  awarded an honorary degree by the University of Essex in 2015 and in 2016 the Rose Bruford College awarded him a Honorary Fellowship.

Sadly, after suffering a fall in December 2022, from which he never recovered, he died in St Thomas Hospital on 14th April 2023, aged 90.

Director Kerry Kyriacos Michael – ‘(Murray was) honouring Joan by doing everything possible for the next generation. He had great personal integrity and turned down a CBE in protest at the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation. He was the epitome of style; his friends included the choreographer Matthew Bourne and the designer-director Philip Prowse. He was one of my closest friends and will be missed by so many of us who had the privilege to know him. In accordance with his wishes, his body has been given to medical research. As he said: ‘Well, they need something to practice on, don’t they?’ 


The Mumper of SE5

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