Obituary: Ruby Murray

Ruby Murray's huskily girlish voice, its plaintive tunefulness enhanced by an involuntary catch in the throat, took the pop world by storm in the mid-Fifties and made the young Irish singer one of the most successful stars in the history of British popular music.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower