It was with much sadness that I received the news of Gordon Murray’s passing recently. In 2014 I interviewed Gordon about his war experiences. Gordon and his two brothers all attended Emanuel in the 1930s. Below you can read the piece I wrote about Gordon in Emanuel School at War. The photos belong to the estate of Gordon Murray and may not be reproduced.
Gordon Murray (Emanuel 1929–1937)
Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock.
Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never
too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time
A generation of children in the 1960s and 70s grew up watching the Trumptonshire Trilogy. It was a gentle, nostalgic, children’s animation, was ground breaking for its day, and was shot both in colour and using stop-motion animation techniques. Its creator was Gordon Murray who attended Emanuel School between 1929 and 1937 and was interviewed
by Daniel Kirmatzis in 2014. Whilst at School Gordon was involved in the Dramatic Society playing a number of roles. On his love of drama Gordon said, ‘It was built in as it were.’ He made his debut playing a servant but later he says, ‘I got quite good parts.’ Gordon was also a member of the Officer Training Corps.
Gordon’s brothers, who were older than him, attended Emanuel in the 1920s. The family lived in St. James’s Drive, Wandsworth Common. On leaving School Gordon was
learning the business of journalism, working as an office boy on Home Gardening and the Smallholder in the Strand. Whilst working for Home Gardening he joined the local Territorials, who were part-time soldiers. Gordon went once a week to the Territorial
Head Quarters in Victoria taking part in their drills. He was in the Territorials when war broke out and on 2 September 1939 he received his call up papers from the London Scottish Regiment. Gordon’s brother Norman was also called up in the London Scottish and both became full-time soldiers. At this time the eldest Murray brother, Richard, was working for the Bank of India. He became the Adjutant in the local Territorials in Malaya rising to the rank of 2nd Lt. As the Japanese swept through the Pacific in 1942 Richard was made a POW and wasn’t released until September 1945.
On 3 September 1939, Private G. Murray (Service Number 314644) was in Olympia and was told by the Territorial Officer that war had been declared. As the war progressed
Gordon was trained as a Radio Mechanic in the London Scottish, receiving private instruction on electricity and radio. He trained with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers and after three months found himself on a searchlight patrol, where he had responsibility for the radio controlled searchlight. Searchlights were used to light up German bombers over Britain’s skies and assisted Fighter Command pilots and anti-aircraft guns at night as they made attacks on these bombers.
Gordon then applied for a commission into the Royal Corps of Signals. His war service had been carried out in England until 1944 when the Allies launched D-Day. As a platoon
commander Gordon moved to Portsmouth as preparations were made for the crossing on 6 June 1944. Gordon described the atmosphere amongst the men as being ‘quite ebullient.’
He recalls, after landing at Gold Beach, sleeping in a ditch on the first day after D-Day.
The Royal Corps of Signals were given the task of keeping the lines of communication opened for the Allied advance. The RCS set to work repairing switchboards and cables and laying new cables in what was essentially the most important aspect of the Allied advance, for without their vital contribution, the advance would have been considerably hindered.
During a halt in the Allied push forward in the winter of 1944 Gordon organised a play in Belgium called By Candlelight, which was performed to the various Allied Units. Gordon
both produced and took the leading part in the production. After the war ended Gordon also performed in a play called Women Aren’t Angels, produced by Bill Fraser, who ran a
repertory company in England.
Gordon’s brother Norman was commissioned into the Royal Scots and also took part in operations to liberate North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. Aside from the business of
war Gordon took the opportunity one day in 1945 to drive in a jeep to see Norman whose birthday it was. Norman was stationed on the banks of the Rhine at this time and no
doubt was pleased to share the bottle of brandy Gordon had brought him.
With the conclusion of hostilities and after serving in the Regular Army for six years Gordon was soon demobbed. It wasn’t long before his passion for drama was renewed. In the 1950s he was in a specially built tent on the sea front doing puppet shows. His love of puppets he describes as having been ‘built in’ and was ignited by his father who took him
to theatres in London which had puppet shows playing, including ventriloquist acts.
Gordon had established a puppet company touring theatres around the UK when one day in the mid 1950s his talent was recognised by BBC producer Freda Lingstrom whom he had invited to a performance. From this Gordon’s career took off. He operated Spotty
Dog in the BBC Children’s show The Woodentops and oversaw the BBC’s puppet theatre in the 1950s producing an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s Nightingale and thirtythree episodes of the Rubovia Legends. In the early 1960s Gordon
was offered Head of Children’s Television but he turned it down and decided to form his own production company.
Gordon then created Camberwick Green which became the first series of the classic children’s television trilogy, Trumptonshire, which included Trumpton and Chigley. In 2014 the character Windy Miller from Gordon’s Camberwick Green, was made into a Royal Mail stamp for their Classic Children’s Television collection.
Millions of children in the 1960s and 1970s adored Gordon’s programmes. They had a gentle and nostalgic feeling and a host of memorable characters. Perhaps most fondly
remembered are the Trumpton Firemen, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Their names were given in a roll call given by their commander, Captain Flack and as with all of the Trumptonshire series there were memorable musical numbers or rhythms as in the opening titles of Trumpton: ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock…’
After the Trumptonshire series Gordon made new animations Skip and Fuffy and The Gublins which appeared during Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, another classic children’s television show aired between 1976 and 1982.
In 2012 the original Trumptonshire series was restored by BBC Studios and Post Production and can now be enjoyed by a new generation.