I never knew singer Ruby Murray lived in Torquay. I knew she was Irish and assumed she’d now be lying in a green rural cemetery in her native Northern Ireland but she died in nursing home near central Torquay. While on holiday there I just had to have a 30+ minute uphill walk up to the crematorium, passing the nursing on route.
Ruby was born in a lowly area of Belfast and was blessed with a husky voice which turned velvety when she sang (how much is down to an operation on her throat is unknown.) There were no other ambitions but to sing and her dad encouraged her by finding concert venues locally. Very soon she was a child star, touring and appearing on television aged 12. A producer zoomed in on this precocious talent but laws governing children performing meant she had to attend school until she was 14. He was back and arranged Ruby to attend a test at Abbey Road Studios in big London. She passed and Columbia Records signed a bright new star. Aged 19 she had her first single in charts (the Hit Parade then). Only a year later Ruby set a pop-chart record by having five hits in the Top Twenty in one week.
Her twenties were busy. She had her own television show, starred at the London Palladium, appeared in a Royal Command Performance and toured not just Britain but parts of the world. Television shows loved up. Aged 22 while working in Blackpool she met Bernie Burgess who was part of a musical quartet and secretly married him six weeks after their first meeting. Later they had Julie and Tim who would follow their parents into show business.
Though confident about singing Ruby suffered badly with nerves. Recording studios and television cameras terrified her. The jingling nerves never seemed to retreat even though she was gaining lots of media experience and she started to drink too much.
In the seventies rock and pop music were dominant and there was less demand for singers singing gentle melodies. Ruby had to scale down her recordings and appearances but she regularly toured smaller venues and went abroad entertaining British troops stationed overseas
The marriage to Bernie wasn’t to last and Ruby fell in love with the comedian Frank Carson. He was married and a Roman Catholic. The stress applied to Ruby’s marriage forced her to start relying on alcohol even more. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and twice spent time in a psychiatric hospital after nervous breakdowns. Ruby was 42 when she was divorced Bernie. Later he claimed was awarded custody of their two children as Ruby was prone to physical violence. She couldn’t stop drinking and aged 47 she was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. She spent a night in a cell singing a repertoire of songs to the police.
Aged 56 she married an old friend and theatrical producer Ray Lamar and they moved to Torquay. Though her glory days had passed Ruby still performed until close to the end of her life. She was 58 when she did her last performance at Brick Lane Music Hall in March 1993. The audience noticed a frail, halting performer.
The last eight months of her life were spent in Asprey's Nursing Home where she often treated carers to the odd song. Her friend Max Bygraves was a welcome visitor. Another visitor was her ex-husband Bernie who had always stayed in touch. Though she had not touched alcohol for two years her liver was damaged and she died of liver cancer aged 61 in December 1996. At the time she was seeking a divorce from her second husband but was so ill she didn’t sign the paperwork.
Nowadays a Ruby Murray is a curry rather than a recording artist and she’s nearly forgotten. Perhaps she’d have led a longer more fulfilling life had she avoided show business. Her manager summed her life with some accuracy, "She gave happiness to millions of people but sadly she never found real happiness herself."
I had a stroll around the memorial gardens and crematorium and even went round the back to the ovens/chimney. Somehow you wouldn’t think an Irish lass who did so well would end up here. Ruby still holds the world record of having five recordings in the Top Twenty all in the same one week period. Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson have equalled this but nobody has beaten it.
Walking around the crematorium…
In the memorial gardens….and the nursing home where Ruby died…