Friday 10 September 2021

Murray Melvin

Murray Melvin, British actor

Murray Melvin:
† Aug 10 1932 - April 14 2023

What, really? Yes, you may be surprised to see me add Murray Melvin to this particular blog, celebrating as it does the tier of British actors who are much admired but just below the status of household name. He's certainly a touchstone for that most inventive and creative period in British film and drama, the kitchen-sink school of the '60s, Joan Littlewood's visionary open-door theatre and the work of the British film outsider auteurs who went on to great things. Yet, outside an increasingly rarefied audience for classic cinema, his name might not be on every lip.        

In 'A Taste of Honey' 

A truly individual actor, Murray Melvin's acid-camp performances are always mesmerising in their precision, microtonally nuanced in emotion. His path took him from West End office clerk to sweeping the stage at the East London's Theatre Royal Stratford East, where Joan Littlewood nurtured a company of remarkable natural actors plucked from all walks of society. She chose him to play the implicitly gay Geoffrey in the ground-breaking play 'A Taste Of Honey', a role he reprised in the film version in 1961, winning himself a Best Actor award at Cannes.        

As the feckless Lupin Pooter in Ken Russell's 
1964 film for the BBC, 'Diary Of A Nobody' 

His other early film appearances include Joseph Losey's 'The Criminal' (1960), 'Petticoat Pirates' (1962), 'HMS Defiant' (1962), 'Sparrows Can't Sing' (1963), the with-it 'Kaleidoscope' (1967), and a pair of '60s classics; 'Alfie' (1966) and 'Smashing Time' (1967).

Reunited with Rita Tushingham at the day-glo end of
the '60s with a cameo in 'Swinging Time' (1967)  

The next decade saw things step up a bit in terms of arthouse cinema, with his old friend Ken Russell, in 'The Boy Friend (1971), 'The Devils' (1971) and 'Lisztomania' (1975), with Stanley Kubrick in 'Barry Lyndon' (1975), and in the likes of 'A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg' (1972) and 'The Bawdy Adventures Of Tom Jones' (1976).      

In Ken Russell's inquisition emission, 'The Devils' (1971)

During this long purple patch there were small-screen roles in 'The Avengers', Ken Russell's TV movie 'Isadora' (1966) with Vivian Pickles, 'The Flaxton Boys', 'Bulman', 'The Onedin Line' and a smattering of Plays for Today. He also turns up in the odd thing like 'Super Gran', the star-studded 1999 TV movie of 'Alice In Wonderland', and the obscure but well-liked Canadian sci-fi series 'Starhunter'

Unmistakably neat and dapper, the astute and erudite  
 Mr Melvin is a popular interviewee for students of the arts. 

At the grand age of 89 (at time of writing), I'm pleased to see that Mr Melvin is still quite active and busy. His work since the '90s has included the film version of 'The Phantom Of The Opera (2004), and 'Jonathan Creek' and 'Torchwood' on television. Familiar rather than unknown then, I hope this small salute will alert new viewers to his unique cinematic presence.    

You can (as of Sep 2021) watch the 1964 Ken Russell film 'Diary Of A Nobody' via the YouTube link below. It stars Bryan Pringle and features a great cast including other Familiar Unknown alumni: Avril Elgar, Brian Murphy, Vivian Pickles and Jonathan Cecil. With harmonium score by Ivor Cutler. Enjoy.

'Diary Of A Nobody: The Domestic Jottings Of A City Clerk'   

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