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John R Murray interviewed by Sue Bradley

Murray, John, 1941- (speaker, male; interviewee bookseller) ^A247374
2000-10-02

Recording

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  • Title:
    John R Murray interviewed by Sue Bradley
  • Contributor: Murray, John, (speaker, male; Bradley, Sue, (speaker, female
  • Place Name: John Murray Ltd, 50 Albemarle St, London
  • Description:
    Tape 1 Side A (F8648). Born 1941, Oxford. Brief details of early years (until c. 1945) at Fingest Grove, maternal grandmother's home in Buckinghamshire, and of siblings (two sisters, one older, one younger; one brother, younger). Recollections about maternal grandmother (Angela James) of Kay-Shuttleworth family, with brief details about her husband (Bernard James). Reference to her membership of the ecumenical World Congress of Faiths. Remarks about JM's views on religion, mentioning how his father (John Murray, known as Jock Murray) believed in benefit of regular church attendance, and saved 'the Devil and all his works' by threatening to resign from the Archbishop of Canterbury's copyright committee if references to the Devil were removed from the Prayer Book. Further details about Jock Murray, referring (no details) to his work in Intelligence, and in preparations for the Arnhem landing (mentions his depression at its outcome). Reference to JM's mother (Diana Murray) travelling with her husband in wartime (eg. to Dublin, where she worked in arms factory) and to her giving up her early singing career after their marriage (having performed with the Hall ̌under Barbirolli) to support her husband in his work and bring up their family. Names of siblings, and JM's own: John Richmond Grey Murray. 'Grey' was the surname of his paternal grandfather, Jock Murray having adopted the name of his mother's family (through which he inherited the publishing house) to maintain the traditional name for the head of the firm. Family names (continued), explaining brother's name (Hallam), and how father was known as Jock to distinguish him from his uncle Jack (former head of the firm). Brief recollections about family moving from Fingest Grove to Cannon Lodge, Hampstead. Remarks about history of depression in the family, mentioning attitudes towards it, and JM's own experiences.


    Tape 1 Side B (F8649). Personal experiences of depression (continued). Brief details about first schools: Byron House, Highgate (JM's father appreciated the association with Byron), then Cothill (preparatory school), near Abingdon. Impressions of visiting John Murray Ltd (50 Albemarle Street) during school holidays, mentioning: great-uncle's room (where Byron had met Walter Scott); great-uncle's habit of giving JM a tip; how JM was aware of his father's work as a publisher (includes story about John Betjeman). Impressions of 50 Albemarle St (continued), mentioning: the building; Miss Douglas (receptionist); terms of address within the firm; the switchboard. Description of John (Jack) Murray, mentioning: the volume booster on his telephone; his never using the firm's stamps for private mail; his insistence on checking all the indexes of Murray publications; his public-mindedness (eg. in running the Friends of Great Ormond Street Hospital). Recollections of visiting uncle's flat in Lion Square, 'new penny' parties, and formal Christmas visits to Great Ormond Street Hospital (where there was a 'Murray Ward'). Great-uncle (continued), mentioning his authors (eg. Lord Cadogan), and his manner towards them. Reference to charisma of JM's father (Jock Murray) in dealing with authors, who often became family friends (briefly mentions: Betjeman, Osbert Lancaster, Freya Stark, John Piper, Patrick Leigh Fermor), and how this attracted authors to the firm. Great-uncle (continued), mentioning: his wife (Helen); his formality; sense of humour, sense of routine, sociability when younger. Observations on the difficulty of having three Murrays in the firm (when JM joined the firm he worked in his great-uncle's room). Why JM's father had found it hard to work with John Murray V (eg. having to pay for publication of Betjeman's poems himself). Why JM's own early years at Murray's were difficult until he found his own niche after having completed a management course and learned how to print at Butler & Tanner ('My father had little support and things were changing so rapidly. The whole firm needed re-constructing; our warehouse was Dickensian.'). Brief details of how JM learned about the history of the firm. Story of how the Byron screen was attacked by a cat because of its fish glue and was sent to be restored. Reference to the firm's name being well-known. Brief description of warehouse.


    Tape 2 Side A (F8649). JM's sense of history when visiting 50 Albemarle Street as a child, mentioning: the walls covered in portraits of authors; glass-topped cases holding exhibits such as Byron's shirt and canon balls from Waterloo, Warren Hastings's watch. The house had recently been a private home (JM's father had his tonsils removed as a child on the table in the main room). Descriptions of Miss Littlejohn (responsible for publicity and organising the lists) and Miss Radford (with good business sense), who formed 'the key team that backed up the editors'. Reference to Miss Douglas. JM's great-uncle died in 1987 [checked] aged eighty-four. The building (continued), mentioning: speaking tubes (down which you blew a whistle); bells throughout the house; great-uncle's private loo behind a baize door. Distinction made between the directors and the rest of the firm, which ended when great-uncle died (Jock Murray had 'no time for baize doors'). Remarks about the sternness of JM's great-uncle, mentioning how the warehouse staff prepared for his visits.


    Tape 2 Side B (F8649) Blank


    Tape 3 Side A (F9123). Brief details about attending Eton (from mid-1950s), mentioning: musical activities (JM played the clarinet, later the treble recorder) and how the headmaster (Robert Birley) taught English through the prose of PG Wodehouse. Reference to teacher at Cothill (Mr Eliot) from whom JM learned to recite narrative verse (including titles now collected in 'Old Chestnuts Warmed Up' recently published by Murray). Early ambitions: JM always 'suspected' he would go into publishing (publishers and authors had always been part of his home life) but at one time considered becoming an architect (explains, mentioning vacations spent touring Britain looking at buildings, and his interest in industrial archaeology). JM won a 'President's Place' at Magdalen College, Oxford (having passed 11 O-levels in one sitting) to read history. Further brief details of time at Eton, mentioning how JM learned about early music from housemaster [Oliver] Vanoss, later headmaster of Charterhouse. Brief details of time at Oxford, mentioning: learning the classical guitar; tutors (AJP Taylor, Bruce MacFarlane, Hugh Trevor-Roper). Reference to learning about Bartok from AJP Taylor. Brief impressions of MacFarlane. Reference to JM's enthusiasm for 19th-century history and Victorian engineering achievements. Brief details of JM's travels in vacations, mentioning: walking from London to Oxford in steps of Buchan; climbing Mount Parnassus by night; holiday in Turkey, where JM stayed in house at Kandilli on Bosphorus lent to his godmother, Freya Stark (and learned Turkish from its caretaker, Mustapha). Brief references to friends from Oxford and their later careers. Brief details about joining the family firm of John Murray (c. 1964), mentioning his reservations (that he himself was not 'literary'; the impossibility of aspiring to father's charismatic role both with authors and within the trade). Reference to changes occurring within the industry at the time, eg. growth in number of literary agents, and trend towards paying authors higher advances. Observations on loyalty of authors to Jock Murray (mentions Patrick Leigh Fermor telling Billy Collins, 'But I don't want to be published by you; I want to be published by Jock'). Examples of how Jock Murray would look after authors.


    Tape 3 Side B (F9123). Remarks about joining the family firm (continued), mentioning difficulty in first fifteen years until realising the changes that were needed in the firm (which had survived on father's charisma and successful authors). Details about warehouse, mentioning: Singaporean invoicers (with explanation of complicated system of discounts given to booksellers); that all accounting was done by hand; that first editions of Thackeray stored in warehouse were still being supplied to customers at an ordinary price while copies were sold as rare books elsewhere; the Adressograph machine; that a looker-out still working there had once delivered books to Albemarle Street by horse and cart. Remarks about the long service and loyalty of warehouse staff (and their resistance to change); mentioning their practice of earning extra money from Fleet Street where print unions organised regular weekly payments to local workers in return for occasional labour. Reasons why the warehouse staff were not unionised (they regarded themselves as friends of the family), mentioning their pride in working for the company that published Betjeman (with description of Betjeman's friendliness to packing staff). Further observations about the warehouse staff, mentioning: their frankness with JM and affection for his father and great-uncle (mentions great-uncle's habit of visiting the warehouse at 2.30 prompt every Thursday). How the different departments in warehouse worked together, explaining difficulties experienced with distribution and invoicing. References to: packer (Mr Hutton) who renovated antique pistols used by Sir John Moore; the packers refusing to use a banding machine instead of traditional twine. Reasons why so many Singaporeans ('brilliant mathematicians') worked in invoicing department. Brief reference to using Publishers' Clearing House and Book Centre at Neasden to produce invoices, before introduction of ISBNs (explains). Distribution system had to be mechanised ('by that stage we either went bust or we changed'). Explanation of why distribution significantly improved when run by a third party (from c. 1987). Reasons why the warehouse had usually been run by a former sales representative. Description of Mr Harris (sales manager, based in warehouse), who represented the firm into his eighties. Reference to JM's surveys of warehouse systems with a view to improving delays, mentioning importance of good morale for productivity and impossibility of persuading warehouse staff to change working practices. Observations about social occasions which brought warehouse staff together with those based at Albemarle Street. Further observations about staff loyalty and instances when the firm and its employees helped each other. [end of interview]

  • Notes:
    Recording date: 2000-10-02
    Collection title: NLSC: Book Trade Lives ^A231056
    Duration: 3 sixty-minute cassettes
    Access restrictions: none

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