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Murray Melvin talks to actress Georgina Hale at the Young Vic Theatre 31 October 2007
August 10, 1932 |
Hampstead, London, England, UK
Murray Melvin (born 10 August 1932) is an English stage and film actor noted for his work with Joan Littlewood, Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick. He is the author of two books: The Art of Theatre Workshop (2006) and The Theatre Royal, A History of the Building (2009).
- 1 Early years
- 2 At the Theatre Workshop
- 3 The Ken Russell connection
- 4 Other notable film performances
- 5 Notable television performances
- 6 Other work
- 7 Selected filmography
- 8 Selected theatre performances (as an actor)
- 9 Selected music theatre performances
- 10 Selected theatre and opera performances as a director
- 11 Selected television performances
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The son of Hugh Victor Melvin and Maisie Winifred Driscoll, Murray Melvin left his North London secondary school at the age of fourteen unable to master fractions but as Head Prefect, a qualification he says he gained by always having clean fingernails and well combed hair.
He started work as an office boy for a firm of Holiday Agents off Oxford Street
To help channel the energies of the young after the disturbing times of the war, his parents had helped to found a youth club in Hampstead, financed by the Co-operative Society of which they were long standing members. A drama section formed with Murray its most enthusiastic member.
A short-lived job as an import and export clerk in a shipping office. He inadvertently exported quantities of goods to destinations that had not ordered them. followed by two unhappy years of National Service in the Royal Air Force (his father had served in the RAF during the Second World War).
He was employed as clerk and secretary to the Director of the Royal Air Force Sports Board at the Air Ministry, then in Kingsway. Knowing nothing about sport, he considered his clean fingernails, well combed hair and his father's service had done the trick.
At the Theatre Workshop
He attended evening classes at the nearby City Literary Institute and studied Drama, Mime and Classical Ballet. During an extended lunch-break from the Ministry, he applied to Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop company at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and auditioned on-stage singing and dancing for Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles. On being asked to create a character he knew from life he impersonated a rather rotund director of the Sports Board. Having ascertained that he had to return that afternoon to work for this character Joan Littlewood said to Gerry Raffles: "the poor little bugger, we must get him away from there". And they did.
In October 1957 he became an assistant stage manager, theatre painter and general dogsbody to John Bury, the theatre designer, and he went on stage in his first professional role as the Queen's Messenger in the then in-rehearsal production of Macbeth. From the Scottish Court to a building site his next performance was as a bricky in 'You Won't Always Be On Top', soon followed by a peasant in 'And the Wind Blew', Bellie in Pirandello's 'Man Beast and Virtue', Calisto in De Rojas's Celestina; Young Jodi Maynard in Paul Green's Unto Such Glory' (all 1957) and then came the last play of the 1957-58 season which was to be the start of an extraordinary year in the history of Theatre Workshop and Murray's career. He was cast as Geoffrey in Shelagh Delaney's play, A Taste of Honey. After the summer break in 1958, he played the title role in the seminal production of Brendan Behan's The Hostage. Both scripts had been transformed in rehearsals by Joan Littlewood's painstaking and inspired methods of getting to the truth of the text and building a lively poetic and dangerous theatrical event. Though both plays were to blow a refreshing wind through the British theatre, neither play transferred to the West End immediately, so Melvin stayed on to play Scrooge's Nephew in Joan Littlewood's adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol' (1958).
In February 1959, A Taste of Honey opened at the Wyndham's Theatre and transferred to the Criterion some six months later. It was the hit of the season. Murray Melvin went on to play his role of Geoffrey in the film of A Taste of Honey, directed by Tony Richardson, for which he won the Prix de Cannes as best actor at the Festival in 1962. He was also nominated for the BAFTA "Most Promising Newcomer" award.
In April 1960, William Saroyan, on a world tour, stopped off in London where he wrote and directed a play for the workshop in which he cast Murray as the leading character called "Sam, the Highest Jumper of Them All". Then the workshop paid their annual visit to the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre for the Paris World Theatre Season with Ben Johnson's 'Everyman in his Humour' in which he played Brainworm. Rehearsals then started for Stephen Lewis's Sparrers Can't Sing in which Murray Melvin played the role of Knocker Jugg. The following year he transferred to the role Georgie Brimsdown for the film adaptation of the play. The film, her first, was directed by Joan Littlewood.
After a break of nearly two years the company came together to create the musical, Oh, What a Lovely War!. After its initial run at Stratford it went to the Paris Festival and won it. The company returned to the Wyndham's Theatre where the play won the Evening Standard Best Musical Award. Between the end of its London run and the opening at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York, the company visited the Edinburgh Festival with Shakespeare's Henry IV parts 1 and 2, in which Murray Melvin metamorphosed as Gadshill, Shallow, Vernon and the Earl of March.
The production of Oh, What a Lovely War! in New York in 1964 was his last for Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop Company.
The production attracted the interest of filmmakers, including Ken Russell and Lewis Gilbert. Murray Melvin became a member of what has often been called the Ken Russell Repertory Company, appearing in many of Russell’s most celebrated films, including The Devils and The Boy Friend. Lewis Gilbert cast Murray in H.M.S. Defiant (1962), alongside Dirk Bogarde, and in Alfie, where he played Michael Caine’s work friend, stealing petrol and taking photographs to sell to tourists.
The Ken Russell connection
The first Ken Russell film Murray Melvin appeared in was Diary of a Nobody, filmed at the Ealing Studios on a specially built ‘silent film’ set. Alongside Murray Melvin, who played the errant son, Lupin, were other actors from John Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, including Bryan Pringle and Brian Murphy, who also became Russell regulars. Lupin’s girlfriend in the film is played by Vivian Pickles, whose performance at the Royal Court Theatre in John Osborne’s Plays for England had attracted national attention.
Murray Melvin cameoed in the final scenes of Ken Russell’s film of Isadora Duncan (1966), which starred Vivian Pickles as the great American dancer.
Murray Melvin most famous role is Father Mignon in Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). Mignon is the catalyst to the true-life horrors documented in the film. His appointment to the covent of Loudon, whose leading members were expecting Father Grandier (played by Oliver Reed), causes the nun’s demonic condemnation of Grandier to spiral out of control.
After the film, Melvin directed two operas by The Devils composer, Peter Maxwell-Davies. These were Miss Donnithorn’s Magot and The Martydom of St. Magnus. Further work with Maxwell Davies followed. He was the Performer in a production of Maxwell-Davies’s Missa Super L’Homme Arme; and he played the Virgin in the very first production of Maxwell-Davies’s Notre Dame des Fleurs.
In Russell’s The Boy Friend (1971), Murray Melvin and another Theatre Workshop regular, Brian Murphy, are among the company players trying to catch the eye of a Hollywood producer who watches their provincial performance of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend. In the film, Melvin has a spectacular solo dance number in a caped French officer’s outfit.
Murray Melvin remained a lifelong friend of Ken Russell, and was often seen with Russell at festival screening of Russell’s films. At the Barbican screening of the director’s cut of The Devils, 1 May 2011, Murray Melvin and Ken Russell arrived together, with Melvin pushing Ken Russell’s wheelchair. <http://www.barbican.org.uk/film/event-detail.asp?ID=12167>
Other notable film performances
He had an important role as Reverend Samuel Runt in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975). In the video-project Stanley and Us, Melvin talks about Kubrick’s “57 takes (plus 20)”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op8D_Vwr42c
He co-starred with Russell regular Oliver Reed in Richard Fleischer’s film of The Prince and the Pauper Crossed Swords (1977) and in Alberto Lattuada’s lavish four-part television film 'Christopher Columbus (1985).
Peter Medak cast Murray Melvin in five films: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972), starring Alan Bates; Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1973, starring Peter Sellers); The Krays (1990); Let Him Have It (1991); and as Dr. Chilip in David Copperfield (2000).
Notable television performances
He appeared in the very first episode of the cult television series The Avengers in 1960.
He played the Dauphin in Shaw’s St. Joan, directed in 1966 by Warris Hussein. He played Bertold in a television production of Pirandello’s Henry IV directed by Michael Hayes; Don Pietro in Peter Drummond’s film of The Little World of Don Camillo; and The Hermit in Mai Zetterling’s production of William Tell. And he appeared as the Barber in Rex Harrison's Don Quixote in the 1973 television film directed by Alvin Rakoff.
He starred in the The Tyrant King, the six-part children's television series directed in 1967 by Mike Hodges
In 1998 he appeared in a Christmas Special episode of the BBC's Jonathan Creek called "The Black Canary".
In July 2011 Murray Melvin played the Professor in a short comedy/drama called The Grey Mile, a story about two ex master criminals who are now confined to a care home.
Murray was a founder member of the Actors' Centre and was its chairman for four years during which time he started a centre in Manchester in honour of Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop.
In 1991, thirty-four years after first making the tea and sweeping the stage at the Theatre Royal he was invited to become a member of the Board of the theatre, a position he held until 2011. It is partly in this role that he is becoming widely known as a learned and popular theatre and film historian — he can be seen and heard, for example, on the BFI DVD release of the Bill Douglas Trilogy.
In 1992 he became the Theatre Royal’s voluntary archivist and in 2009 he was appointed a member of the Theatre Workshop Trust. He led the successful campaign to erect a statue of Joan Littlewood in Theatre Square at Stratford.
On Thursday 18th July 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by De Montford University.
Several commercial available audio recordings have been made featuring Murray Melvin. These include four plays on LPs produced by Caedmon Records (Two Gentlemen of Verona (1965); A Midsummer's Night Dream (ISBN 978-0694515851); Bernard Shaw's St. Joan (1966); The Poetry of Kipling). His performance in Oh, What a Lovely War is available on Decca Records (1969).
In 2007, he narrated 'Tales of the Supernatural Volume 3' by M. R. James for Fantom Films (ISBN 978-1906263041). This was followed in 2009 by 'M.R. James - A Ghost Story for Christmas' (ISBN 978-1906263423), and in 2011 and 2012 by two recordings of Wilkie Collins: Supernatural Stories, Volumes 2 & 3 (ISBN 978-1906263645 and ISBN 978-1906263652).The Dark Shadows Legend :The Happier Dead.(ISBN 978-1-78178-316-0)
- Suspect (1960)
- The Criminal (1960)
- A Taste of Honey (1961)
- Petticoat Pirates (1961)
- H.M.S. Defiant (1962)
- The Ceremony (1963)
- Sparrows Can't Sing (1963)
- Alfie (1966)
- Kaleidoscope (1966)
- Smashing Time (1967)
- The Fixer (1968)
- Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)
- The Devils (1971)
- The Boy Friend (1971)
- A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972)
- Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1973)
- Gawain and the Green Knight (1973)
- Ghost Story (1974)
- Lisztomania (1975)
- Barry Lyndon (1975)
- Isles of Wonder(1975)
- Shout at the Devil (1976)
- The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976)
- The Ballad of Salomon Pavey (1977)
- Joseph Andrews (1977)
- Stories from a Flying Trunk (1979)
- Nutcracker (1982)
- Sacred Hearts (1985)
- Comrades (1986)
- Funny Boy (1987)
- Little Dorrit (1988)
- The Krays (1990)
- Prisoner of Honour (1991)
- Let Him Have It (1991)
- As You Like It (1992)
- Alice in Wonderland (1999)
- The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
- The Grey Mile (2011)
- Star Wars Episode VII (2015)
- Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Selected theatre performances (as an actor)
- Queen’s Messenger in Shakespeare’s Macbeth(1957)
- Calisto in De Roja’s CELESTINA (1958)
- Jodie in Paul Green’s UNTO SUCH GLORY (1958)
- Scrooge’s Nephew in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1958)
- Geoffrey in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (1958)
- Leslie in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage (1958)
- Sam in William Soroyan’s 'Sam, The Highest Jumper of Them All'
- Brainworm in Ben Johnson’s 'Everyman in His Humour' (1960)
- Gadshill, Shallow, Earl of March & Vernon in HENRY IV PTS 1 & 2' (1960)
- Knocker in Stephen Lewis’s Sparrers Can't Sing 1960
- Theatre Workshop’s Company musical Oh, What a Lovely War 1963
- Waterhouse and Hall’s revue 'England Our England', 1963. With music by Dudley Moore
- Adolphus in Bernard Shaw’s Trifles and Tomfooleries (1967, Mermaid Theatre, London)
- The Boy in Arthur Kopit’s 'Oh Dad. Poor Dad' (1965, Piccadilly Theatre, London)
- Bouzin in Feydeau’s 'Cat Among the Pigeons' (adapted by John Mortimer, (1969, Prince of Wales Theatre, London).
- Dufausset in Feydeau’s 'The Pig in a Poke'.
- Gilbert in Willis Hall’s 'Kidnapped at Christmas', 1975.
- Dorset in Rosemary Anne Sisson’s 'The Dark Horse' (1978, The Comedy Theatre, London).
- Arthur Deakin in Ridley’s THE GHOST TRAIN
- The Dauphin in Bernard Shaw’s SAINT JOAN
- Charlie Boy in Blair’s MULLIGAN’S LAST CASE
- Etienne in Feydeau’s FRENCH DRESSING
- The Spirits of Christmas in Musgrave’s Opera A CHRISTMAS CAROL
- Ko-Ko in Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE MIKADO
- Fiddler in Henry Living’s 'Don't' Touch Him He Might Resent It'
- Backbite in Sheridan’s A SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
- Ephraim Smooth in O’Keefe’s WILD OATS
- Jacopone in Peter Barnes's 'Sunset and Glories', 1990.
- Anton Zagorestky in Griboyedov/Anthony Burgess 'Chatsky (or The Importance of Being Stupid)', 1993.
- Konrad in Ludwig Holberg/Kenneth McLeish’s 'Jeepe of the Hill' (1994).
- Father Domingo in Schiller’s DON CARLOS
- Ratty in Willis Hall’s Musical version of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
- Hopkins in Patrick Prior’s THE LODGER
- Oliver Nashwick inRodney Ackland's 'After October' (1997, Chichester Festival Theatre)
- The Priest in Schiller’s 'The Robbers' (1998, King's Theatre, Edinburgh).
- Coupler in John Vanburgh’s The Relapse (1998) at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre and Lyceum Edinburgh
- Don Perlimpin in Lorca’s BELISA AND IN HIS GARDEN
- Burrus in Racine’s BRITTANICUS at Glasgow Citizens Theatre
- Cool in Boucicault’s LONDON ASSURANCE
- Tireseas and Chorus in Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes (Antigone), 2008.
Selected music theatre performances
- The Narrator Walton's FACADE
- The Narrator THE POETRY AND SONGS of Leo Aylen
- The Narrator Geoffrey King's KING ARTHUR'S DREAM
- The Devil Stravinsky's THE SOLDIERS TALE
- The Narrator Stravinsky's THE SOLDIERS TALE
- The Performer Maxwell-Davies's MISSA SUPER L'HOMME ARME
- The Virgin Maxwell-Davies's NOTRE DAME DES FLEUR
- Da Ponte Rennison & Melvins ROSES AND LAURELS
Selected theatre and opera performances as a director
- Miss Donnithorne's Magot (1976), written by Maxwell-Davies
- The Martydom of St. Magnus (1977) by Maxwell-Davies
- The Raft of the Medusa (Das Floß der Medusa, 1977), oratorio by Hans Henze
- The Mime of Nick, Mick and the Maggies (1978) by John Buller
- Cinderella (1979) by Dudley Sutton
- Aladdin (1980) by Dudley Sutton
- Quack Quack (Le Medicin Malgre Lui, 1980) at Chipping Norton Theatre by Dudley Sutton
- The Sleeping Beauty (1984) by Graeme Garden at the New Shaw Theatre, London
- Don't touch Him, He Might Resent It (The Government Inspector, 1982) by Henry Livings
- Jack The Giant Killer (1985) by Graeme Garden
- Puss in Boots (1986) by Graeme Garden.
- Recital 1 (sung by Mary Thomas) by Luciano Berio
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1987), adapted by Matthew Waterhouse (Chipping Norton and UK Tour)
- Sinbad The Sailor (1987) by Jeff Clarke
- Brotherly Love (1988) by David and Clive Swift
- Sweet Liberty by Jeff Clarke
Selected television performances
- Salesman in SMALL FISH ARE SWEET (1959) Dir. Alan Clarke
- Lupin in THE DIARY OF A NOBODY (1964) Dir. Ken Russell
- The Dauphin in ST. JOAN (Shaw) Dir. Warris Hussein
- Turgis ANGEL PAVEMENT (J.B. Priestley ) Dir. Paddy Russell
- The Teddy Boy PARADISE STREET SERIES Dir. Shaun Sutton
- The Reporter ISADORA DUNCAN (1966) Dir. Ken Russell
- Bertold HENRY IV (Pirandello, 1967) Dir. Michael Hayes
- Thumb THE MEMORANDUM (Václav Havel, 1967) Dir. James Firman
- Hoopdriver in THE WHEELS OF CHANCE (H. G. Wells) Dir. Christopher Burstell, from a treatment by Ken Russell
- Robert Lovell THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER Dir. Ken Russell
- Nathaniel Giles THE BALLAD OF SALOMON PAVEY (Taylor, 1977) Dir. Richard Bramall
- Don Pietro THE LITTLE WORLD OF DOM CAMILLO Dir. Peter Drummond
- The Devil THE SOLDIERS TALE (Stravinsky) Dir. Peter Adam
- Spirits of Christmas A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Thea Musgrave) Dir. Michael Rennison
- Jack Spratt BULMAN Dir. Charlie Nairn
- The Hermit WILLIAM TELL (1992) Dir. Mai Zetterling
- Ignatius TEABAG (episode, Surprises) Dir. Neville Green
- The Clerk DOOMSDAY GUN (HBO, 1994) Dir. Robert Young
- Roger Parry CONE ZONES (episode, ONE FOR THE MONEY, 1985) Dir. Neville Green
- Lord Shaftesbury ENGLAND MY ENGLAND. Dir. Tony Palmer
- Lucius OSCARS ORCHESTRA – Cartoon Dir. Tony Collingwood
- The Architect THE VILLAGE. (Jim Cartwright ) Dir. Sara Sugarman
- Delamere BUGS Dir. Matthew Evans
- Lionel JONATHAN CREEK Dir. Sandy Johnson
- Caravaggio STAR HUNTER SERIES Dir. Dan d’Or
- Da Ponte THE GENIUS OF MOZART Dir. Andy King-Dobbs
- King of the Knight TOM’S CHRISTMAS TREE (2006) Dir. Robert Worley
- Librarian in THE VILLAGE (HEZIBAH) Dir. Robert Sigl
- Bilis Manger Torchwood (2008) Dir. Ashley Way
- The Art of the Theatre Workshop - compiled and introduced by Murray Melvin (2006)
- 'The Theatre Royal. A History of the Building' by Murray Melvin 2009
- The Authorised Biography of Ken Russell, Vol1. Becoming Ken Russell - by Paul Sutton (2012)
- Murray Melvin | BFI | British Film Institute Retrieved 13 March 2013.
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