Clive Murphy, Autograph Hunter
“May I have your autograph?”
My friend Clive Murphy, Oral Historian, Novelist, Writer of Ribald Rhymes, Philumenist, Snapper and Exhibitionist, was once also an Autograph Hunter. “I was already collecting at eight, writing around to radio personalities for their autographs,” he recalled fondly, “When I went to Castle Park Prep School it became my craze. Although it was a lot of work writing the letters, it was very exciting waiting for the replies.”
Recently, when Clive gave many of his personal papers to the Bishopsgate Institute, his childhood Autograph Album from the late forties came to light and we spent an hour going through it together. With its pages of inspirational verse written by teachers and autographed studio portraits of radio personalities from long ago, this modest volume is a poignant evocation of the post-war affluent middle class world in Dublin that Clive left behind. “It was a phase I went through,” he assured me with finality, once we had studied the Album.
Growing up in a sheltered suburb, Clive’s well-connected mother hoped he might eventually become Solicitor to Trinity College but instead, once he qualified, Clive ran away to London in search of the bright lights and became Lift Attendant at Lyons Corner House in the Strand.
Subsequently, Clive won success for his novels and a ground-breaking series of oral history books, entitled ‘Ordinary Lives.’ Thus he rejected the privileged world of his upbringing – and the fascination with celebrity incarnated in his Album – for a modest existence comprising menial jobs and rented rooms, while exploring his personal interest as a writer in the lives of working people.
In 1974, Clive moved into a tiny flat above the Aladin Curry House on Brick Lane where he lives happily to this day. “There I was living in a goldfish bowl, but here I am a non-entity,” he admitted to me without regret.
(Clive is currently working on the oral autobiography of Joan the Cat Lady of Spitalfields, entitled ‘Angel Of The Shadows.’ He kept in regular touch with her from 1991 until her death in 2011.)
“My Latin teacher”
Jimmy O’Dea - “The most famous Dublin comedian that ever was – I think I stood at the Stage Door of the Gaiety Theatre to get that. I went there every year to the Pantomime. The great shame at school was if you went to a matinee, everyone wanted to go in the evening when the jokes were much naughtier. I don’t know why they call it ‘adult’ humour - it doesn’t say much for adults does it?”
Leslie Malcolmson - “A most gifted teacher of English who would go to infinite pains upon behalf of favoured pupils such as myself. He thought I might have some talent. He directed me in the role of ‘Dopey’ in ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.’”
Donald Wormell - “He became Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, but he didn’t like it and had to be relieved of it. All public speeches were done by him in Latin.”
Sandy McPherson “A popular organist, the kind of music that would be played in the cinema before the film begins. I heard him play many times on the radio.”
“He and his wife were close friends of my mother. We often went to the theatre together and I called him ‘uncle.’ He was a Director of the Bank of Ireland.”
“This was a real coup”
Kenneth Horne - “He was with Richard Murdoch in ‘Much Binding in the Marsh.’”
“This was written by my English teacher”
Gracie Fields – “I was a terrific fan of Gracie Fields, she had a gift of being terribly funny. ‘The biggest aspidistra in the world,’ she made it sound terribly rude. But she could sing ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ and be terribly serious. She had this marvellous untrained voice.”
Tommy Handley – “We listened in to ‘I.T.M.A’ at Prep School.”
“This was my first teacher at eight years old. We called here ‘Braddy Depth Charge’ because she was a large lady. She wrote this when I left at thirteen.”
Stephen Goodin - “He designed some of Britain’s coinage. When he died I got his cast-offs – his tailcoat and his dinner jacket.”
“I especially like this picture of Richard Murdoch star of ‘Much Binding in the Marsh.’ As with the others, he was kind enough to send it to me even though I couldn’t enclose a stamped addressed envelope as Irish stamps were no use in the United Kingdom.”
Richard Dimbleby, Broadcaster -“I asked him to get me the signatures of everyone else on a show and – as you can see – he wrote ‘You must get the others!’”
“This is a drawing by Marcus Clements, my best friend at Castle Park Prep School. When he went to Eton, he never spoke to me again, not even when he returned to the school on a visit. It’s a pretty little drawing.”
“My mother’s housekeeper, Maureen McDonnell, was my favourite person in the world, apart from my mother. Although she worked in Woolworths, she devoted her life to taking care of me and my mother. I’m very happy to read what she wrote because she really did mean it.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea who this genial fellow is. Oh yes, he was conjurer – the Great Bamboozlem and he appeared at the Olympia, Dublin.”
“When I was thirteen and moving on to Public School, my mother wrote out the last verse of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If” for me. If you live by that poem, you’ve got principles to last your whole life. There’s nothing in it that isn’t useful.”
Clive Murphy as a schoolboy in the back garden in Dublin
Images courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute
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