Stephen Murray (actor)
Background and education
A member of Clan Murray headed by the Duke of Atholl, he was born in Partney, Lincolnshire, the son of the Reverend Charles Murray, Rector of Kirby Knowle, Yorkshire, and Mabel (née Umfreville). He was the great-grandson of the Right Reverend George Murray, Bishop of Rochester, while the diplomat Sir Ralph Murray was his elder brother. He was educated at Brentwood School, Essex and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. He was also the great uncle of the comedian Al Murray.
Murray found his greatest fame as the new Number 1, later promoted to Lieutenant Commander in The Navy Lark on BBC Radio. His film debut was as the second police officer who interrupts an amorous Eliza and Freddy (Wendy Hiller and David Tree) in Pygmalion (1938). He was Gladstone to John Gielgud's Disraeli in The Prime Minister in 1941. He played Dr. Stephan Petrovitch in the 1943 Ealing war film Undercover. Among his other larger film roles were Uncle Henry in London Belongs to Me (1948, heavily made-up to look several decades older) and the lead in Terence Fisher's Four Sided Triangle (1953). He once again appeared under heavy make-up as the elderly Dr Manette in A Tale of Two Cities (1958).
Murray made his stage debut at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1933, and he played such parts as Seyton in Macbeth, among smaller roles. He later did seasons at the Malvern Festival and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where he played Hamlet. He worked at the Old Vic in London with Laurence Olivier and Tyrone Guthrie. He also played at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, and in the West End. At the Westminster Theatre in 1940 he portrayed the title character in John Drinkwater's Abraham Lincoln. He was in many of the plays of George Bernard Shaw, and he did later engagements at the Mermaid Theatre in London and at Stratford, Ontario, Canada. His leading roles on television included Svengali. In 1952 he returned to the Old Vic to play King Lear, and toured Europe in that production. Several years later he also played Lear on radio.
Radio became one of Murray's most triumphant acting areas. He played Macbeth in 1947 with Flora Robson, a month after playing the part on television (with Ruth Lodge), so different were the two medium's audiences deemed to be. He played the part again on radio in 1960. He was a fine Leontes in The Winter's Tale in 1951 with Elspeth March and Fay Compton, and again in 1966 with Rachel Gurney and Edith Evans. He played Shakespeare's Timon of Athens both in 1961 and in 1975. In 1964, he played the title role in the monumental BBC Radio production of Marlowe's Tamburlaine with Sheila Allen as Zenocrate with Timothy West, Andrew Sachs, Joss Ackland, Gabriel Woolf, Bruce Condell and other leading Shakespearian actors of the day. He did two versions of the BBC radio epic The Rescue by Edward Sackville-West, where he played Odysseus. Other classic '50s roles included Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, John Gabriel Borkman and Brand as well as Calderon's The Mayor of Zalamea. However, his longest running part was that of "No 1" in The Navy Lark in which he starred from 1960 to 1977.
In 1970 Murray played alongside Glenda Jackson in the BBC drama series Elizabeth R about the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In this he played Sir Francis Walsingham, head of Elizabeth's secret service, and a noted Puritan, whose work exposed the Babington Plot which led to the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Even in the 1970s he enjoyed the difficult roles, like August Strindberg's To Damascus with Zena Walker.
His expressive voice was often anguished and uncertain in his roles, so he was ideal for A Hospital Case by Dino Buzatti, a play which Albert Camus had translated and adapted for the Paris stage. He also did new radio work like Peter Tegel's Rocklife. In 1970 he was the old Prince Bolkonsky in BBC radio's War and Peace. He tried his hand at science fiction in radio's The Tor Sands Experience by Bruce Stewart.
Murray married Joan Alestha, daughter of John Joseph Moy Butterfield, in 1937. He died in London on 31 March 1983, aged 70.
- Pygmalion (1938)
- The Prime Minister (1941)
- Undercover (1943)
- London Belongs to Me (1948)
- Silent Dust (1949)
- For Them That Trespass (1949)
- The Magnet (1950)
- Four Sided Triangle (1953)
- At the Stroke of Nine (1957)
- The Nun's Story (1959)
- Master Spy (1964)