There was one week in history when a singer had five hit singles within the British Top 20. Not reissues of old hits, nor former record companies cashing in on current success, but five genuine new hits encompassing 25 percent of the entire chart (which was only a Top 20 at that time). Can't remember who that was? It's not surprising, as the singer in question was Ruby Murray and this was the week of March 17, 1955, when ballads and novelties ruled the charts and rock & roll had still not quite broken through into the mainstream.
Ruby Murray was born in Belfast on March 29, 1935. On a tour of Northern Ireland as a child singer in variety shows, she was spotted by producer Richard Afton, who encouraged her to go for a career in show business, and she made her TV debut at the age of 12 despite the laws regarding child performers -- although her work was severely restricted until she was 14. Joining Tommy Morgan's touring revue, she was offered a regular spot as a singer on the [RoviLink="VN"]BBC show [RoviLink="VW"]Quite Contrary as a replacement for Joan Regan. After Murray signed a recording deal with Columbia, her first hit single was the ballad "Heartbeat," which hit the Top Ten at the end of 1954 and was quickly followed by her first and only number one, "Softly Softly." It was during the early months of 1955, as Columbia released further Ruby Murray songs, that she found herself dominating the charts as "Happy Days and Lonely Nights," "Let Me Go, Lover," and "If Anyone Finds This, I Love You" joined "Heartbeat" and "Softly Softly" in the charts, giving her five simultaneous entries on that week in March, all of them eventually peaking inside the Top Ten.
Two further hits followed in 1955, "Evermore" and "I'll Come When You Call," but at the end of 1955 the tide of rock & roll could be held back no longer and singers like Ruby Murray -- sweet and innocent and belonging to a fast disappearing world -- were swept aside. During the mid-'50s she expanded her activities, starring in her own TV show and appearing at the London Palladium in the show Painting the Town with Norman Wisdom, and she even had one film role in [RoviLink="VW"]A Touch of the Sun with [RoviLink="VN"]Frankie Howerd and [RoviLink="VN"]Dennis Price. While appearing in a summer season at Blackpool, she met and married Bernie Burgess, a member of the vocal group the Jones Boys. A couple of minor hits followed, "Real Love" and "Goodbye Jimmy Goodbye," which was her final appearance in the charts almost at the end of the decade. Her marriage did not last and she remarried Ray Lemar, settling in Torquay, Devon.
A wave of nostalgia has kept her name in the public consciousness for over half a century, reflecting on a bygone age when singers were clear and every word was pronounced beautifully. EMI put together a compilation of her hits on CD in their EMI Years series in 1989, including songs that regularly featured in her act -- standards such as "Mr. Wonderful," "Scarlet Ribbons," and "It's the Irish in Me" -- and updated this with the release of The Magic of Ruby Murray in 1997 and a triple CD, Anthology: The Golden Anniversary Collection, in 2005, the 50th anniversary of her peak successes on the charts. A play by [RoviLink="BN"]Marie Jones about her life, called Ruby, opened in Belfast in 2000. Ruby Murray remained active in cabaret and nostalgia shows until her death on December 17, 1996, from liver cancer, after a period of illness. ~ Sharon Mawer
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