Murray, Gladstone

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Murray, Gladstone

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  • Murray, (William Ewart) Gladstone

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Murray, (William Ewart) Gladstone (1893–1970), publicist and television company executive, was born at Maple Ridge, British Columbia, on 8 April 1893, the son of Paul Murray and Hannah Mackay. He owed his forenames to the Grand Old Man of British Liberalism who had become prime minister for the fourth time the previous year. He was educated at King Edward's High School, Vancouver, and McGill College of British Columbia. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal he worked for a year as a journalist in North and South America; he then went as a Rhodes scholar to New College, Oxford. Between 1914 and 1918 Murray served in the Royal Flying Corps. He logged 2000 hours of combat flying and was several times wounded; he was awarded the DFC, MC, and Croix de Guerre and was also decorated by the Italian government. After the war, he was for two years the aeronautical correspondent of the Daily Express. He subsequently worked briefly as publicity director for the League of Nations Union and as publicity manager of the Radio Communications Company. Murray married in 1923 Eleanor, daughter of John Powell JP, of Wrexham. They had a son and a daughter.

Murray's managing director at the Radio Communications Company, Major Basil Binyon, became one of the founding directors of the British Broadcasting Company. It was partly on Binyon's recommendation, in 1924, that he was taken on by John Reith to be the fledgeling company's director of publicity. Murray was also on friendly terms with Peter Eckersley, the BBC's chief engineer; another who spoke highly of him to Reith was Lord Beaverbrook, his employer at the Express. As was customary in those post-war years, he styled himself Major Gladstone Murray. Asa Briggs, in his History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, describes him as ‘colourful’ and ‘convivial’ and gives him credit for the skill and energy with which he watched over BBC interests in those early years. It was at his suggestion, during the 1926 general strike, that the BBC broadcast ‘editorials’ giving nightly appreciations of the strike situation, and Murray shared the writing of these with Reith.

Murray remained at the BBC for eleven years. He was acting controller (programmes) for three months in 1934–5, an appointment that occasioned serious conflict with the then controller (administration), Admiral Carpendale. Later in 1935, following a major reorganization, Murray became one of two assistant controllers in the programme division. He was popular with his subordinates. One of them, Maurice Gorham, wrote later that they felt better off under him than under any other chief in the BBC: ‘Throughout my time at Savoy Hill he remained the most talked-about of BBC personalities, rumoured simultaneously to be about to replace Reith and to be about to leave’ (Gorham, 38–9).

Such rumours were not calculated to improve Murray's relations with a director-general always jealously watchful of his own position and profoundly mistrustful of the whole breed of journalists. ‘The Beaverbrook press have resumed their filthy personal articles’, Reith noted in his diary in March 1934, adding, ‘I am more than disgusted with Murray's complete ineffectiveness’ (Reith diaries, 23 March 1934). And a year later, more ominously:
I have had Dawnay get out of Murray an exposé of his so-called ‘intelligence’ work, with respect to the press. It is a most damning document and confirms all the suspicions and uneasiness which I have felt with respect to him for all these years. (ibid., 3 April 1935)
In March 1936 Reith persuaded the board to require Murray's resignation. The ground had been well prepared by the classic BBC device of character assassination by annual report. ‘He is a bad case’, Reith wrote in his diary, ‘and it is monstrous, and not my fault, that he has been tolerated for so long’ (Reith diaries, 1 April 1936)—a curious observation for a famously autocratic chief executive. Murray appealed, was granted grace leave, and before his dismissal took effect was appointed general manager of the newly formed Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). (Three years previously he had been seconded to the commission set up to advise the Canadian government on the development of broadcasting.)

Murray did the job for six years, and did it well. In 1942, however, the CBC came under the scrutiny of the committee on broadcasting of the Canadian House of Commons. Although they praised Murray's work, they also reported that the CBC board had felt some lack of confidence in his ability in financial matters. He was replaced as general manager and appointed director-general of broadcasting, Canada. It was a grandiloquent title for a non-job; he sensibly resigned from it the following year. At the age of fifty, Murray's career in public service was effectively over.

Murray then founded the Responsible Enterprise Movement. He lectured for several years on its behalf, and contributed frequently to reviews and magazines in North America on a range of topics. There was a strong emphasis on free market economics and industrial relations, but he also addressed himself to more nebulous subjects, under such headings as ‘Will freedom survive?’ and ‘Canada's place in civilization’.

Murray was a life associate of the Royal Society of St George and he had an honorary LLD from Florida Southern College. In his youth he was a notable track athlete; he also played squash, tennis, and golf. His health in later years was indifferent. He died in hospital in Toronto on 28 February 1970, aged seventy-six.

Ian McIntyre


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Added by S Rogers, 1 November 2018.




J. C. W. Reith, diaries, BBC WAC · A. Briggs, The history of broadcasting in the United Kingdom, rev. edn, 5 vols. (1995) · P. Scannell and D. Cardiff, A social history of British broadcasting, [1] (1991) · M. Gorham, Sound and fury: twenty-one years in the BBC (1948) · broadcasting files, BBC WAC

Ian McIntyre, ‘Murray, (William Ewart) Gladstone (1893–1970)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed ]
(William Ewart) Gladstone Murray (1893–1970): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/65430

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