TV editor James Murray, the archetypal foreign correspondent

IN HIS PRIME: James Murray meeting Margaret Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition, on her visit to the Daily Express offices in Fleet Street, 1978. She told a gathering of editors that James was her favourite TV critic

James Murray, TV editor of the Daily Express from 1974 to 1986, died on 13 May 2020, aged 89. He was deputy features editor from 1970 to 1974 and deputy editor of the Sunday Express in Manchester from 1969 to 1970.

James, who lived in Orpington, Kent, died in a care home but his death was not related to the Covid-19 virus. His son, also called James, has written the following appreciation of his father’s life and work.

By JAMES MURRAY, feature writer for the Daily and Sunday Express

With a portable typewriter in one hand and a box suitcase in the other, James Murray was the archetypal foreign correspondent in the 1960s and 1970s, bringing Daily and Sunday Express readers vivid dispatches from hotspots around the world. 

While taking a helicopter ride on the frontline of the Vietnam War he was shot at by guerillas and during Israel’s Six-Day War he witnessed the death of a fellow journalist,  killed by a missile while taking a risky taxi journey across hostile territory.

In those days foreign correspondents put the risks to one side because the only thing that mattered was getting the story back back to London and trouncing the opposition. 

After epic assignments across Africa, including a revolution in Zanzibar and uprisings in Uganda, Malawi and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Sir John Junor, then editor of the Sunday Express, sent him a treasured herogram. 

“I congratulate you on the splendid articles you have written as a result of your trip to Africa,” wrote Sir John. “It has been a noteable (his spelling) achievement.”

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James Murray was born in Leith, Edinburgh, one of nine (a brother died in infancy) to Davey, a hansom cab driver, and Maggie, who, despite losing three brothers in World War One, was inspirationally positive about life.

As a teenager he waved three older brothers off to fight in World War Two. They all fought with distinction and survived. 

Following National Service, he joined the Southern Reporter on the Scottish borders before seeing a rougher side of life as crime correspondent for The Bulletin in Glasgow.

In 1954 the Sunday Express in Scotland gave him a roving brief and his stories caught the eye of editors in London who persuaded him to travel south. While Foreign Editor, he built up a four-page foreign news section which was the envy of Fleet Street.  

For a spell he held executive positions in the Manchester office of the Sunday Express before switching to the Daily Express features department in London when he was deployed to cover The Troubles in Ireland, the cod wars in Iceland and numerous specials, including persuading the family of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, to talk about his ‘peace’ mission to Britain. 

Later as Television Editor for the Daily Express, he was a provocative and witty columnist, critic and oversaw the successful expansion of the weekend television section.

During the heyday of television in the 1980s he was on first name terms with all the big TV stars, Bruce Forsyth, Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise and Terry Wogan, to name but a few. 

A newspaperman from a rare vintage, he is survived by his wife, Jessie, 91, three sons, a daughter and five granddaughters.

Rosalie Horner, a former colleague now living in Sydney, said: "When I joined the television pages in the mid-Seventies there were three of us — Jim, Jimmy Thomas and me.  It was an exciting time to be writing about television with great shows and great personalities.  

"Shows didn't — and still don't — get much better than Brideshead Revisited and Jewel in the Crown, and of course the hospitality was legendary. Often we were invited by Thames to dine with the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Michael Caine and John Mortimer, to say nothing of Thames' summer and Christmas parties which you might remember.  

"I loved that time — I think it was the happiest of my professional life and working with Jim was part of that. He usually covered the Montreux TV Festival in Switzerland but in 1980 the first year I was chair of the Broadcasting Press Guild he made sure I was sent to represent the Express. It was an unforgettable experience. As well as the two Jims I was lucky to have other great colleagues such as Judith Simons, Vic Davis, Ian Christie and David Wigg."

James Murray's funeral will be at the Bluebell Crematorium, Knockholt, near Sevenoaks, Kent, on June 1. Donations to the British Heart Foundation.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre