Obituary: Jock Murray

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The Independent Online
MAY I add to your obituary of Jock Murray the suspicion that he was fondest of his most demanding authors? writes Maureen Cleave (further to the obituaries by Nicolas Barker and Patrick Leigh Fermor, 24 July, and Joanna Richardson and Janet Adam Smith, 27 July).

There were always Turkish cigarettes at the office in Albemarle Street for Osbert Lancaster and Turkish slippers for Lesley Blanch who wore them while correcting her proofs. Authors would come and stay with Jock and his wife Diana in their lovely house in Hampstead even when bright yellow with acute jaundice after foreign travel (Dervla Murphy); they were allowed to make their films in the garden (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala making Heat and Dust). Kenneth Clark liked his royalties cheque in his Christmas stocking and that is where he would find it. Freya Stark used to make Jock choose her hats in Paris and on one occasion a frock - 'And dear Jock, if you could just pay for it . . .' She once arrived to stay on Christmas Eve bearing two hamsters in a cardboard box which, she announced, would teach the children about sex. By Christmas morning they had indeed produced a family and the female had killed the male; by lunchtime she had eaten the children.

Iris Origo had the second-worst handwriting of any Murray author. Jock returned from a day in Manchester to find the entire staff had been poring over a five-page letter; they had deciphered it all save the last sentence. He took it home with him. 'The trick,' he said, 'is to have the page at eye level, so I had a bath and a snifter, as Osbert used to call it, and crept past the table on all-fours.' It read, 'Dearest Jock, I can't read what I have written. Please type it out and send a copy to me.'

In fact his willingness to engage with other people extended to all he met. Towards the end of his life, he went to the office two days a week by tube. A noisy drunk got in behaving in a threatening manner. 'Come and sit by me,' Jock commanded, taking a copy of Collected Poems by John Betjeman, his best-selling author, from his pocket. 'Now we're going to read this poem about . . .' which they did quietly until they reached Leicester Square.

His kindness was not without reward. Freya once insisted on giving him a statue of herself - 'Dear Jock, I'm sure you'll like this sculptured head of me . . .' It was in Italy just after the war and he wanted to smuggle home some lengths of silk; he hit on the idea of hiding the head among the folds. The customs man approached and Jock's face assumed a stricken expression. It was his unhappy duty, he said, to return to England with the death mask of his dearest friend. The customs man took one look, snapped the lid of the suitcase shut, and waved him through.