Angus Wolfe Murray

Born May 20, 1937, Edinburgh

Died January 15, 2023, Kelburn

Once hailed as one of the most promising novelists of his generation, Angus Wolfe Murray was at various times a film critic, an art-mover, a roadie for Jethro Tull and an amateur cricketer. 

At the age of five, Gus lost his mother in a war time tragedy. Lady Grizel Mary Boyle, the daughter of the Earl of Glasgow was onboard the SS Laconia when it was attacked. Initially rescued by a German U boat flying a red cross flag, she was then pushed off in a lifeboat when the U boat was attacked by American bombers and had to dive.

The lifeboat drifted away and was lost for three weeks. Most passengers, including the pregnant Grizel, perished.  Subsequently, Gus and his older brother James, were brought up in the extended family, initially by maternal grandmother Hyacinthe Mary Bell, the Countess of Glasgow, at Kelburn Castle.

In 1947, his father, Lietuenant Colonel Malcolm Alexander Wolfe Murray, remarried, to Polish aristocrat Zofia (Chouquette) Jaxa-Chamiec, who later gave birth to their half-sister, Tessa.  Angus rejected much of his privileged upbringing, while retaining the friendship of those he had grown up with.

“He hated the class system, he hated snobbery,” son Kim recalls. Gus was not one of the hunting, shooting, fishing set. For most of his life, he lived a fairly Spartan existence in remote country cottages, often alone -  although he could be very gregarious on social occasions. 

However, from his schooldays at what he described as “a beastly boarding school in Berkshire” - Eton - Gus retained a lifelong love both of cricket and movies. He used to escape from school regularly to go to the cinemas of Slough and Windsor. He loved Westerns and James Dean’s movie East of Eden was a big influence. 

Angus became a film critic for the Scotsman and in the late 90s, he co-founded a website called Inside Out. Later, he wrote for ‘Eye for Film’ which hosts thousands of his reviews. A former partner, the writer Bella Bathurst, remembering Angus on son Rupert’s website, wrote: “He taught me never ever to take electricity, light or heating for granted, to love Class A coffee, to fall into the magic of film. He approached everything, whether it was a book or a 40-word bullet-point film review for a tiny website with the same excruciated craftsmanship. He didn’t so much describe things as channel them.”

Angus will also be much missed by Border cricketers. Peebles County team mate Angus Bell remembers: “On sponge pudding cricket fields. Angus would score 75 and the rest of the team combined, 5. People think Ben Stokes does a lot, but he never had to spend every Friday night rounding up 10 other people on their landlines, begging anyone who could walk or spare a pair of chinos to give up their weekends for a golden duck, three dropped catches and one over for 30 in Grangemouth. He would race through the Scottish borders, sometimes with horse trailers in tow, a dog on his lap, picking up farmers in need of double knee replacements and a clutch of enthusiastic 13-year-olds, the club kit bag, plus tea-for-two. His vegetarian sandwiches were always the most popular.” 

In 1961, Angus married Stephanie Todd and the couple had four sons, Kim, Rupert, Gavin and Magnus. The family lived on a shoestring while Angus wrote. In 1967, Angus’ first novel “The End of Something Nice”, a poignant tale about two lonely children was published to great acclaim. A large advance and high expectations led to a long struggle with his second.

Eventually, “Resurrection Shuffle” was published in 1978. A more experimental work, it sold poorly. The Wolfe Murrays separated that same year and Angus never published another book. 

In 1973, along with American writer Bob Shure, and Stephanie, Angus co-founded Canongate Books. He played an instrumental role in publishing Alasdair Gray’s masterpiece ‘Lanark’,  contacting the artist after having read an excerpt of the book. But he left Canongate after a year, leaving it to be run by Stephanie. 

Angus bought a blue Luton van and founded a fine art removal business called “Moving Pictures” which he ran for almost a decade. He packed paintings with obsessive care and spent long hours on the road. But his temperament was less suited to the administrative side of the business. 

In the 90s, Gus moved to a remote off-grid cottage called Hopehead, miles from a graveled road, on the Stobo Castle estate, without electricity. In later life, he has a fifth son named Calum. 

Angus remained close to Stephanie and spent increasing periods of time with her until in 2010, they moved back in together at Glenlude House in the Borders. The Wolfe Murrays’ hospitality was fondly remembered by their many guests. The kitchen table hosted lively discussions and there were competitive games of rounders, charades and cards. Angus also appeared in amateur panto. 

Angus lavished much affection on his animals. He had a series of dogs, but disdained leads or training. He made pets of geese, ducks and hens. There was a hen called Pinkie who would breakfast with him on porridge and cream, and sometimes nibbled guests’ toes, and a black duck called Treacle McTruffle who followed him about. For a time, Treacle could be seen following Angus up and down the rows as he mowed Melrose cricket ground.  

After Stephanie’s death in 2017, Angus was injured in a car accident. Life became more difficult after that. He moved to a cottage near Kelburn, where he had spent part of his childhood.  In the last year of his life, he made a companion of a marmalade cat from a neighhbouring house, often to be found curled up on his lap. His cousin found him dead in the kitchen, wth the radio on and a bowl of soup on the table. 

A funeral and memorial will be held at Eastgate Theatre, Peebles at 11 am  on Thursday 9th February, followed by interment in Traquair Cemetery at 1.00pm.