Obituary: Ruby Murray
Wednesday 18 December 1996
Her hesitant, shy quality gave her that touch of amateurism which the British public loves, while the intimate huskiness of her delivery added sex appeal. She set a pop-chart record by having five hits in the Top Twenty at one time (a feat equalled only by Elvis Presley and Madonna), while her name has entered British folklore as rhyming slang for "curry". Her private life, though, was not happy and blighted by the chronic alcoholism that caused her death.
Born in 1935 in Belfast to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, Murray had an operation for swollen glands when she was six weeks old which left her with an unusually husky voice. A childhood visit to see the minstrel performer G.H. Elliott at the music-hall inspired her to join a children's choir, and soon she was performing solo. When she was 12 she made her professional debut on Irish television and two years later, with her mother as chaperone, she was touring in variety.
Over the next five years she appeared in revues throughout Ireland and Scotland. When her touring show Yankee Doodle Blarney played at the Metropolitan Music Hall in London in 1954, the television producer Richard Afton, who had been responsible for her Irish television appearance as a child, spotted her again and signed her to succeed Joan Regan as resident singer in his television series Quite Contrary.
Murray's first appearance on the show prompted the record producer Ray Martin to give her a contract with Columbia Records. Her second release, "Heartbeat", went to No 2 in the charts, and was followed by the song which was to become her signature tune, "Softly, Softly" (by Pierre Dudan, Paddy Roberts and Mark Paul), a No 1 hit and a sensational success. While these two songs were in the Top Twenty, three more hits followed in rapid succession, "Happy Days and Lonely Nights", "If Anyone Finds This, I Love You", and "Evermore". The same year (1955) readers of the New Musical Express voted her Britain's favourite female vocalist (she received over 1,000 votes more than her nearest rival Alma Cogan), Bernard Delfont signed her to co-star with Norman Wisdom at the London Palladium in the revue Painting the Town, and she appeared in the Royal Variety Show.
The following year she was heard on screen singing "You Are My First Love" in It's Great to be Young, had an acting role as a chambermaid in the Frankie Howerd comedy A Touch of the Sun, and made the first of two successful tours of the United States. Though she was to have two more modest record hits, "Goodbye, Jimmy, Goodbye" (1959) and "Change Your Mind" (1970), and continued to headline variety bills in the provinces for another two decades, her career was never to reach such a peak again, while problems in her personal life plus the stresses of her career prompted addiction to both alcohol and valium.
She married her first husband, Bernard Burgess, of the close harmony group the Jones Boys, in 1957, and in 1962 they started a year-long tour of Britain in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When Murray fell in love with the comedian Frank Carson, who was both married and a Roman Catholic, the stresses it put on her marriage increased her reliance on alcohol. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and twice spent time in a psychiatric hospital after nervous breakdowns. When she and Burgess divorced in 1977, he alleged that she was prone to physical violence and he was awarded custody of their two children Julie and Tim (now the singer Tim Murray).
The same year Murray began living with Ray Lamar, a theatrical manager for Bernard Delfont, and in 1993 they were married. Though it was a loving relationship, the chronic alcoholism persisted, despite repeated attempts by Murray to stop. (When she did stop, she would smoke 80 cigarettes a day.) In 1982 she was arrested and fined for being drunk and disorderly - she spent a night in a cell and is alleged to have entertained the police with her hit songs. Still fondly remembered, she received a standing ovation in 1985 when she appeared in the concert Forty Years of Peace in the presence of Princess Anne, but her final London appearance, at Brick Lane Music Hall in March 1993, revealed a frail, halting performer.
For the last two years she had totally given up drinking, but her liver had become irreparably damaged and for the eight months until her death she was a patient in a nursing home. The LBC broadcaster Lee Stevens, her manager for 12 years, said, "She gave happiness to millions of people, but sadly she never found real happiness herself."
Ruby Florence Campbell Murray, singer: born Belfast 29 March 1935; married 1957 Bernard Burgess (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1977), 1993 Ray Lamar; died Torquay, Devon 17 December 1996.
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is shot dead
Leonard Nimoy dead: Star Trek actor dies after suffering lung disease
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin, says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...