Ann Murray: Actress and broadcaster whose credits encompass ‘The Archers’ and ‘Star Wars’


Peta Steel
Wednesday 15 December 2010 01:00

Ann Murray, the actress, writer and lecturer, and mother of Christopher Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was the daughter of the founder of Canadian Broadcasting and a well-known broadcaster in this country.

Murray was born in England, where her father, a Canadian, Major Bill Gladstone Murray, a former Rhodes Scholar and a pilot, had settled after the war. A war hero, he had won the MC, DFC and Croix de Guerre. He was appointed by his fellow Canadian Max Beaverbrook as Special Air Correspondent with The Daily Express, before moving on in 1920 to join the League of Nations in Geneva. There he met and married a Welsh woman, Ella Powell, who also worked for the League.

They returned to England in 1924, when he joined the BBC as its first head of publicity. Bill and Ella were responsible for setting up Radio Times. Huw Weldon, later Director General of the BBC, was a cousin of Ann's, and AA Milne, a family friend, attended her christening. When Ann was five the family moved to Canada, where her father, supported by the head of the BBC, John Reith, returned to set up the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

She was used to seeing and meeting many of the leading Canadian intellectuals who were constant visitors to the family home. She had her own radio interview programme at the age of 11, and auditioned for the film National Velvet. She lost the part to Elizabeth Taylor but claimed the producers had actually wanted her because she was better at horse-riding. Both she and her brother Ian were taught to swim by Johnny Weissmuller, the first Tarzan.

Her father took her on frequent trips to the theatre, as far afield as New York. Although she studied history of art at Toronto University, she found herself drawn towards the world of acting, and appeared regularly on stage.

Married in her early twenties to a BBC management trainee, and later businessman, Peter Paul-Huhne, she returned to London, where she pursued her acting career mostly on television, and had a part in Shaun Sutton's production of Chorus Girls. With her bubbly personality and short bobbed auburn hair she drew comparison with Louise Brooks.

Following the births of her children in the mid-1950s she concentrated on radio, joining the BBC repertory company, where she acted between the 1950s and 1970s. At that time BBC radio was home to poets such as Louis MacNeice, Roy Campbell, Terence Tiller and WR Rodgers, who, along with directors such as RD Smith and Alan Burgess, played prominent roles in establishing the BBC's reputation for top drama and as patron of the arts. Her many roles ranged from those of Marie Kelly, an Irish prostitute who spoke in French, to that of a five-year-old Mexican boy. Later she played Joe Grundy's Canadian fiancée in The Archers. Her narration of Anne of Green Gables, recorded for the BBC, still sells overseas.

Her home in London became a centre for visiting Canadians. Friends would find themselves being herded along to some out-of-the-way theatre where someone was giving a performance. It was on a cold wet night that a group led by Ann went to see a young Canadian actor appearing in a play which had received terrible reviews; her encouragement cheered up Donald Sutherland.

She loved poetry, and gave recitals and readings in halls and lecture theatres throughout London. She acted in small independent productions always wanting to encourage young up-and-coming playwrights and directors. During one such performance, staged in Toynbee Hall, about the Warsaw Ghetto, she was shot in the arm when a blank from a pistol misfired. She received a rave review for her dramatic collapse on stage.

In the Sixties Ann went to Russia with Marjorie Sigley's Cit Lit Movement and Mime Group and performed to children. They took long train journeys across the USSR, at a time when very few foreigners were allowed to do so, and she returned full of stories of samovars on trains, and with gifts of communist badges. She made only a few films, but appeared in Star Wars, where she was paid double for hanging upside down in one of the aircraft.

Later on in her career she trained as a Blue Badge Guide and created a series of walks on the theme of London Belongs to You. Her research on the history of London and her enthusiasm for anecdotes led to her being invited to America to give lectures. She recently made a recording of her Sherlock Holmes walk.

Her house became a place where friends congregated to be cheered up when they were down, to be supported when they were doing something, and generally welcomed and loved. Her natural warmth and enthusiasm attracted everyone to her, and there were few who meeting her failed to become friends. Her last few months fighting cancer were spent among those friends and her family, a poetry book opened beside her.

Ann Murray actress, lecturer: born London 14 April 1929; married 1952 Peter Paul-Huhne (marriage dissolved 1971; one son, one daughter); died London 19 October 2010.

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