"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
click HERE and access his website
Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 12 March 2018

R.I.P. Doddy

From the chapter ‘The Meaning of Scouse’ in my book So Spirited a Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool (Liverpool University Press, 2007)

One summer I took a job as a horticultural labourer.  Each morning the small gang of three labourers would muster in the yard to find out where the boss – a well-meaning Quaker with an awed reverence for The Guardian  – was going to take us that day.  One sunny morning he announced that we were off to trim the lawns and tidy the flower beds at an old people's home in Knotty Ash.  We all erupted into spontaneous laughter.  For Knotty Ash is both the home and focal point of the humour of the city's most famous comedian, Ken Dodd – "the face that launched a thousand quips" as his website informs us.

Born on 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Ken Dodd is an interesting phenomenon in the history of British popular entertainment.  Starting out as a traditional end-of-the-pier variety entertainer he seized the opportunity provided by television.  His career flourished and still appears to be flourishing as he approaches 80.  He has even appeared at the Hay on Wye Festival of Literature.  He took off as a professional performer in the mid-1950s and6, topping the bill there in 1958 at the Central Pier.  This led to appearances at the London Palladium and on television.  He had his own TV series such as The Ken Dodd Show and Doddy's Music Box and in the 1960s he developed an additional career as a singer of romantic ballads.  The titles of some of his recordings say it all: Love is Like A Violin (1960), Happiness (1964) I Can't Seem to Say Goodbye to You (1966).  This was the sort of stuff that the explosion of the Merseybeat and the whole Beatles phenomenon was supposed to have relegated to the dustbin of light entertainment but Doddy wowed them throughout the sixties with these schmaltzy ballads.  His 1965 single Tears spent four weeks at the top of the Hit Parade which could not be matched at the time by the Beatles, The Hollies or the Rolling Stones.  Moreover he kept it up for ten years.

But it is the comedy that counts.  Dodd represents the softer side of Liverpool comic surrealism.  He is no Alexei Sayle. His repertoire of comic characters from Knotty Ash is drawn from the tribe of Diddymen which he invented originally to appeal to children in the audience. ‘Diddy’ is Scouse for ‘little’. Dicky Mint, Mick the Marmaliser, Evan, Hamish McDiddy, and Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece (check the familiar ethnic and class stereotypes) worked at the Jam Butty Mines in Knotty Ash. In panto the Diddy Men are played by children in costume but for his stage act Dodd used just a puppet of Dicky Mint with whom he did a ventriloquist routine.  Another of his properties is the tickling stick which looks a bit like a feather duster.  The jokes are Liverpool jokes.  At the Liverpool Empire he looks up at the people in the Gods and announces: "It's a privilege to be asked to play here tonight on what is a very special anniversary.  It’s a hundred years to the night since that balcony collapsed."  The asides to the audience, the women addressed always as "Missus", the daft routines, the puns, the old jokes (he famously keeps copious notebooks of jokes classified according to what will work where) the cracks about the Inland Revenue with whom he had a famous confrontation and court case ("Self-assessement - they stole the idea from me."), add up to a style of comedy that is almost certainly on its way out and that is utterly removed from the patter you hear in the comedy clubs listed in Time Out.  There's a common quip you hear in Liverpool after some possibly less than Wildean witticism: "Well it made me laugh."  This is impossible to translate but means something like: "This may not be regarded as funny by anyone applying strict canons of criticism, especially people who live south of Watford, but I have decided it's funny and that's all that matters as far as I am concerned. Don't think you or anyone else can lecture me about what is or is not funny. You's be wasting your breath.  It's my freedom to laugh at whatever I like."

Ken Dodd has occasionally made me laugh.


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My new poetry pamphlet The Museum of Truth is published on 14th February and can be ordered in advance now from Melos Press.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Quiet Life of the Literary Blogger

The fact that it is nearly four months since my last post perhaps says all that needs to be said. When the idea of the literary blog was first launched it seemed like a great idea. With one bound Jack or Jill was free of the suffocating restrictions of the literary establishment. One could now say what one liked, ignore the prevailing assumptions of the literary world, champion a different set of writers, and be listened to for this final miracle seemed true. Literary bloggers were being taken note of.

Of course the Bibliophilic Blogger never took itself too seriously and was probably not itself taken seriously but it was fun to do at the beginning. Since those heady days, however, we have all been washed away by the floods of online matter and the shorter and sharper social media like Twitter are more than enough to cope with.

Last Sunday at the Ledbury Poetry festival I read (see picture) below the ancient market hall my latest poetic satire A Dog’s Brexit and other political and topical poems to a lovely receptive audience who afterwards cleaned me out of the entire stock of books and pamphlets I had brought with me. Thank you to them all. When I was being introduced by the Festival Chair, Peter Arscott, he mentioned the Bibliophilic Blogger and asked shrewdly whether I was still writing it. “Intermittently,” I replied, shiftily.

I have a feeling that intermittence will be its continuing fate.  Or maybe not? There could be life in the old dog yet.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Dog’s Brexit

My new verse satire, A Dog’s Brexit, is now available! I will be reading it at the Ledbury Poetry Festival on 2nd July.

Published by Melos you can order it here using the Paypal button.

Here is the Melos blurb for the pamphlet:

Nicholas Murray's poetry is marked by fine craftsmanship and a warm and precise wit, particularly in his political satires. The first of these, an attack on the Coalition government, Get Real! was described in the Times Literary Supplement as a “bravura display of finely controlled outrage” The second, Trench Feet, concentrates on the crass and cynical attempt by an academic to make a TV documentary on the First World War poets, and was commended by the Poetry Book Society as a “witty and erudite lampoon.”...and now comes, A Dog’s Brexit, a funny and caustic look at the Brexiteers’ case and the rise of far right populism.

Already the poem has been liked by the Times Literary Supplement:-

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Où sont les piscines d'antan?

Following the recent death of my mother I dug out an old photograph of my parents walking out to the no longer existing Sea Bathing Lake at Southport on the Lancashire coast.  As well as the photograph here is a passage from my book So Spirited a Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool

Summer days at the Sea Bathing Lake were punctuated by family picnics around the pool, which consisted of tomato sandwiches, banana sandwiches and –  the mere thought of it – jam sandwiches.  Jam sarnies!  I can still hear the clatter of feet on the planks of the wooden bridges over the Marine Lake as we strode towards the pool.  There is a photograph in a family album which shows my parents, newly married, not long after the War, marching forward with their swimming costumes tightly rolled in a towel under the arm, something in their confident stride emblematic of the new world into which so many Britons were stepping in the late 1940s and 1950s, a world of semi-detached houses, washing machines, then fridges and cars, a land fit for consumers.

Brenda and Wilfred Murray 1940s

Monday, 5 September 2016

Robert Owen Plaque Unveiled in Bloomsbury

Camden’s Labour mayor disappears behind the red flag for Robert Owen
The latest blue plaque to be unveiled in Bloomsbury was revealed today at a ceremony outside 4 Burton Place where ‘the father of the Co-Operative movement’ Robert Owen lived from 1832-1840. There were guests present from Wales (Owen was born in Newtown, Powys which honours his memory in a museum) and New Lanark in Scotland where one of his experiments in co-operation was launched. It was good to see representatives national and local from the co-operative movement and to note that the covering of the plaque was of the right colour!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The French by The English

An amusing book (or at any rate a book that tries very hard to be amusing) arrives from its publisher: France: a nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown by Jonathan Miller. The premise of the book is that the French, unlike the English, are hypocritical, self-deluding etc etc. What a novel approach for a British journalist to adopt!

Estimates of the number of British people living in France seem to vary but half a million would probably be about right. Go into a British bookshop, however, looking for translated contemporary French fiction, switch on the TV expecting to see a contemporary French film or a documentary about life in France (preferably made by a French filmmaker) and you will find that the British, who claim to love France, have very little interest in it except as somewhere to acquire a holiday home and cheap booze.

Jonathan Miller is different. He has lived since 2000 in the Languedoc with his family (with a pied à terre in Westminster) and in 2014 he stood for election to his local council in the village of Caux “in order to introduce some Anglo-Saxon common sense” (presumably that’s the same commodity that Nigel Farage brings to the European scene) to the benighted peasants. This rather arrogant belief in his mission to bring enlightenment to the French sustains this book which is wonderfully free from any doubts about its own rightness on every topic.  In fairness it is not Peter Mayle.  Arranged as a sort of A to Z gazeteer of a whole range of topics it is well-informed (he has read all the stuff that expats don’t read including the late, acute, Tony Judt whose politics he can’t possibly share but whose critical historical perspective on 20th Century France he draws on and respects) and the definitions are punchy and often very funny (“Meet the real French, and laugh!” his blurb-writer nudges us rather desperately). Sometimes they fail to deliver like the Charlie Hebdo entry, subtitled “National Hypocrisy” where we don’t in the end get to hear about the hypocrisy, only the security failures which is another issue – but mostly they are snappy and diverting.

The author is a former Sunday Times journalist which means that the political analysis (free markets good, unions bad, welfare state, public subsidy bad etc etc) is the product of the usual off-the-peg British right wing journalistic mind-set so there are no surprises.

My real problem with this book is its confidence that “the French” can be identified as a single, undifferentiated concept like “the British” when as his own book reminds us there is much division, often on ethnic grounds, in France.

But I look forward to his next book about “the British” a nation every bit as self-deluding, hypocritical and contradictory as “the French”.