by Patrick Leigh Fermor
First published in The Independent 24 July 1993
John Arnaud Robin Grey (Jock Murray), publisher: born 23 September 1908; MBE 1945, CBE 1975; Senior Director, John Murray 1968-93; married 1939 Diana James (two sons, two daughters); died London 22 July 1993.
JOCK MURRAY took such trouble about his authors, and in so many ways, and so unobtrusively, that perhaps they – or we , for I am one of them – were inclined to take it for granted, writes Patrick Leigh Fermor. But not quite: other publishers at home or abroad – not that I know much about them as I have only had one – would remind us now and then of our luck and our spoiled and privileged estate. This was because of Jock’s passionate interest in the work of his authors, his great kindness, and his gift for friendship. Nobody, in the Doctor Johnson sense, kept his friendships in a state of better repair.
It is hard to think of a more apt setting for him than No 50 Albemarle Street, with its beautiful rooms, and portraits and books and cases of mementoes, and its mixture of archaic style and informality, of activity and unhurried leisure. The traditions of Byron’s friendship with Jock Murray’s ancestor played a great part in the life of No 50, and the poet’s spirit seems to pervade those rooms. Looking through typescript, then galleys then page proofs there with Jock was a great delight. Especially when they were tossed aside to make room for tea or sherry or whisky and soda, and Osbert Lancaster on the way back from drawing his daily caricature would wander in full of marvellous gossip; or Kenneth Clark with an armful of illustrations or John Betjeman with news of a new Early English discovery in some remote Fenland parish – could they talk about it with John Piper? (Betjeman and Jock shared an expert knowledge of campanology.)
Cannon Lodge, halfway between Hampstead Heath and a slender steeple, with its Keats’-eye view of all London, had a similar uncontemporary charm. At the end of a day of last- minute corrections, under one of the tall trees, or by a blazing fire, any of the above might come to dinner, or Freya Strak fresh from Asia Minor, Ruth Jhabvala from Rajasthan or Dervla Murphy from the Andes and, very often, Jock and Diana’s favourite neighbour, Peggy Ashcroft.
Jock and Diana came several times to Greece and it was a great surprise to discover that Jock was an accomplished tree surgeon: one glance at an ailing growth would send him shinning up into the branches and putting things most knowledgeably to right with saw, twine, bast and tar.
Five weeks ago we were talking about the ravages of time that we noticed in ourselves and he said, halfway between a sigh and a laugh, ‘Yes. Old age is not for sissies.’ He confronted his own with great Stoicism, and leaves us all diminished.