Gordon Murray (puppeteer)
3 May 1921|
|Died||30 June 2016
|Education||Emanuel School, London|
|Occupation||Television producer, puppeteer|
|Notable work||Camberwick Green
Gordon Murray (3 May 1921 – 30 June 2016) was a British television producer and puppeteer. He created and wrote some of the most popular children's television programmes ever seen in Britain. Camberwick Green, Trumpton, and Chigley, collectively known as the Trumptonshire Trilogy, were all made by the company he set up.
Early life and television career
Murray was educated at Emanuel School, Battersea, London. Murray was always interested in puppets, as a child he made puppets and used to give little shows to friends and family at home. Speaking in 1999 he said, "I have been interested in puppets ever since I was a child. My enthusiasm was greatly stimulated, I remember, by a visit to the Victoria Palace when I was about eight to see Delvain's Marionettes on the variety bill. Later, of course, I avidly read the Whanslaw books." On leaving school, he worked as a journalist and also joined the Territorial Army. He enlisted in the London Scottish Regiment in 1939 and was later commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals. He saw action at the D-Day landings, landing on Gold Beach.
After being demobbed at the end of the Second World War, he worked in repertory theatre, where he met ballet dancer Enid Martin, who he later married. They had two daughters. In 1950, Murray set up his own puppet company, Murray's Marionettes. Following an invitation to BBC producer Freda Lingstrom to one of his shows he was offered work, operating Spotty Dog in The Woodentops. Murray then became a producer in the BBC children's department, producing Sketch Club and Captain Pugwash. Initially the shows he worked on went out live but frustrated by the hit and miss approach of live work, he developed his own film studio and shot his own films. In 1958 he created the series A Rubovian Legend, which ran until 1963, with fellow puppeteers John Hardwick and Bob Bura who he would work with over the following twenty years.
After the BBC Children's Department and Women's Programmes merged in 1964, he left the BBC to form an independent production company, Gordon Murray Puppets Productions, based in a converted church in Crouch End in North London.
Here he made arguably his most enduring and loved programmes, The Trumptonshire Trilogy; Camberwick Green which broadcast in 1966 (the first children's programme in colour on the BBC), Trumpton in 1967 and Chigley in 1969. (Murray had originally named 'Camberwick Green' 'Candlewick Green', but then found the name had been misspelled on the contract: however, he did not mind, as he liked the new title and was in need of money, so he simply signed the contract). Murray would create the vehicles, puppets and scripts to the studio and Bura and Hardwick would create the animation. Realising that the string-based marionettes used previously would look old-fashioned, he looked to Eastern Europe for the stop motion animation technique he would use.
One far-sighted contribution by Bura and Hardwick was their insistence on recording Camberwick Green in both monochrome and colour. Only Chigley first went out after BBC 1 adopted broadcasting in colour, but their decision meant that the programmes were broadcast regularly for longer than might otherwise have been the case.
Following Chigley, in 1969 it was six years before Murray had a new series on television, a stop-motion remake of The Rubovian Legends called just Rubovia. His next work was Skip and Fuffy, which was broadcast within Multi-Coloured Swap Shop in 1978; his final series, The Gublins, was broadcast in 1979.
After retiring from animation he produced and self-marketed more than thirty-four different limited-edition miniature books under the Silver Thimble Books imprint. Bound entirely by hand they contained miniature watercolour paintings, special embroidered covers and bindings, and slip cases. A complete set of these books is held in the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books in the library of the University of Iowa.
In the 1980s he burnt all the remaining puppets and sets, except for one soldier from Camberwick Green that escaped the fire. It was given by his eldest daughter to a friend who kept it in a shoe box. It was later auctioned by Christie's in May 2003 but failed to meet the reserve price.
A 2009 poll by Channel 4 television ranked Trumpton as the 22nd most popular children's television show. Murray's work was later revived, in a series of television adverts for Porridge Oats, and also in adverts for bread in 1988. His puppets were used most recently in the cult BBC drama Life on Mars, in a scene where the character Sam Tyler is hallucinating.
In January 2012, all 39 original episodes of the Trumptonshire trilogy have been digitally restored after Murray found some boxes of original footage of the series at his attic at home and handed them over to the BBC for restoration.
- Captain Pugwash – 1957
- A Rubovian Legend – 1958
- Sketch Club – 1958
- Camberwick Green – 1966
- Trumpton – 1967
- Chigley – 1969
- Rubovia – 1976
- The Gublins – 1979
- "Trumpton creator Gordon Murray dies aged 95". BBC News. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
- The Puppets Telegoons, retrieved 31 May 2007
- McGown, Alastair, Murray, Gordon (1921-), BFI Screenonline, retrieved 31 May 2007
- "Gordon Murray, producer and puppeteer – obituary". Telegraph Media Group Ltd. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
- The A-Z of Classic Children's Television, Simon Sheridan, 2004
- T.J. Worthington "Part Four: “Here is a Box, a Musical Box…”, Off the Telly, February 2006
- Gordon Murray Radio 4 documentary Trumptonshire Trilogy, retrieved 31 May 2007
- Thunderbirds take off at auction, BBC News, 8 May 2003, retrieved 31 May 2007
- The 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows, Channel 4, 16 June 2009, retrieved 22 June 2012
- Miller's sexing up tale, BBC Magazine, 20 October 2005, retrieved 31 May 2007
- "New,new Barney McGrew:Trumpton and Camberwick Green cleaned up", The Guardian, 13 January 2012, retrieved 14 January 2012
- Pocklington, Rebecca (30 June 2016). "Trumpton creator Gordon Murray dies aged 95". mirror.co.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
- Realm of Rubovia: The Official Gordon Murray Rubovian Legends website
- Biography of Gordon Murray
- The Trumptonshire Trilogy
- Trumptonshire web
- Gordon Murray at the Internet Movie Database
- Gordon Murray at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- The Story of Watch With Mother
- Silver Thimble Books Bibliography