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Obituary: Jock Murray

WHEN THE young Jock Murray, newly recruited to the family firm, came across some articles on her Persian travels which Freya Stark had submitted to the Cornhill Magazine, he was sure that there were the makings of a book, writes Janet Adam Smith.

He helped at every stage to shape The Valleys of the Assassins (1934), which made Freya's name as traveller and writer. This was a foretaste of the acumen, tact and effort that Jock was to give all his authors. He cherished them, and many became part of his extended family, which seemed to include Byron as well as Freya, Dervla Murphy, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and many others. Friends like myself who were not his authors would be swept into this company: 'Do look at this poem from Paddy - such wonderful script]' 'Going to India? You must meet Ruth - I'll write her today' - and he did, and I met her in Delhi.

In my literary-editor days I found myself at many publishers' parties: far the best were those in Albemarle Street, which were indeed like an extended family gathering. Jock was an excellent host, steering one through the three connecting rooms, past that infamous fireplace where Byron's memoirs were burnt, towards the very person one longed to meet. Even better were the lunches and dinners at Cannon Lodge. Diana had an uncanny instinct for inviting one at the very moment one could do with a bit of cheering-up; one left the house on a wave of hilarity. Jock never tried to dominate the talk - but, shamelessly encouraged by his guests, he could be persuaded, glass of Sancerre in hand, to tell the tale of the Byron papers stolen from Albemarle Street and recovered in a north London graveyard; or the latest extravaganza of Freya Stark. How beautifully he and Diana coped with that wonderful but demanding character]

Admiration and affection for his authors was seasoned by irreverence. I laugh as I remember a film interview made in the late Eighties. Jock was sitting at his desk in Albemarle Street and being questioned about Byron relics. Several were shown; then he mentioned the hair given to Byron by one of his mistresses. One expected a touching wisp of curls; very deliberately out of a drawer he produced a thick black tress, which he proceeded to pay out, as a climber pays out a rope. It must have been about four feet long, but Jock made it appear about 40.

(Photograph omitted)