Obituary: Michael Murphy

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The Independent Online
Michael Thomas Murphy, television writer and producer, born Timperley Cheshire 12 April 1939, married 1962 Norma Sayer (one son, one daughter), died Sale Cheshire 9 July 1992.

MICHAEL MURPHY was among the brightest and the best of the talented young graduates who joined Granada Television during its first years on the air. He came to Granada in 1963, seven years after its first broadcast, and, like many of his contemporaries, played a significant part in helping to establish ITV as a genuine public broadcasting service which, at its best, could rival the BBC both for quality and innovation.

Murphy's good mind, integrity, dedication to quality and deep and wide-ranging interest in public affairs made him an ideal member of Granada's young team of writer-producers and although he never became as well-known as a number of his Granada contemporaries - the idea of self-promotion was far outside his book - his work for independent television during its first quarter-century (he contributed over 900 hours of documentary network programming) carried always the stamp of his sharp intellect and total honesty of purpose.

Among the many well-known Granada programmes on which, as writer or producer, he put his mark, were World in Action, All Our Yesterdays, What the Papers Say and, in later years, such splendidly ambitious efforts as The Christians and Man and Music on which he was both writer and producer. He wrote with an Orwellian clarity in a fine simple, lucid style which had the same candour and unaffected simplicity as his own personality. He was educated first at that excellent northern Catholic school, the De La Salle College in Salford, and after reading geography at Leeds University followed by a short period as a sub-editor on the Yorkshire Post, he joined Granada as a researcher.

He played a leading part in Granada's pioneering early coverage of British party politics, covering the party conferences and, before his retirement three years ago, three general elections. As a producer and writer for World in Action, he reported on such momentous events as the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and he was one of the first television journalists to give an account of the new China after Mao - Next Year in Peking. His programme for World in Action on heroin addiction achieved the highest audience ever recorded for a British documentary.

Before his retirement from Granada he had become Head of Press Relations. The last television programmes which he made were that very distinguished series for Channel 4 - Cities at War.

He was a delightful and unfailingly amusing companion, always with strong views expressed in characteristically trenchant terms and possessed of a warm and open nature reflected both in his handsome Irish looks and boisterous frankness of manner. Although he was born in Timperley, Cheshire, he remained very close to his true Irish roots. Indeed, he had possessed for some time a cottage in Newry, near the border, where he retreated from media pressures to walk and potter and think. Socially he remained a very private person but close colleagues knew that it was his very close-knit family life from which he drew all he really needed to inspire and sustain him through his fine career.

In 1967, we wrote together the commentary, spoken by Orson Welles, for the Granada documentary Ten Days that Shook the World, the story of the young American John Reed who found himself with a heroic walk-on part at the start of the Russian Revolution which had him scaling the walls of the besieged Winter Palace in the very first onslaught. Our task, in setting commentary to picture, was an arduous one for the film had already been edited. Now we had to run through the film frame by frame on the Steenbeck machine to try and tell the story of Reed's adventures in as cogent and graphic a style as we could manage and in the shortest possible time.

As the programme was due for transmission in 48 hours' time we had to work without pause for 40 continuous hours. What could have seemed an exhausting and exasperating ordeal became in the presence of Mike's buoyant and unquenchable spirit a thoroughly happy and enlivening experience.