The Beat was at #9, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris. We, John and Anne, and Murray, lived next to each other in the hotel, 3rd or 4th floor. The time was '62 and '63 .We knew him in the context of friendly, funny , fellow Commonwealth blokes, living in humble circumstances, in the stimulating 6-ieme. We knew about the Sixpence , and could hear him typing sometimes. We were more interested in blowing our minds than in using them and so didn't follow much his interests. Living off-and-on in the Beat were Burroughs, Ferlingetti, Corso, Kerouac, Ian Somerville, etc. but I don't recall if Murray spent any time with them. I have chosen the airplane here because of a certain stewardess who would show up at any hour of the night, in her powder-blue uniform and matching suitcases, banging upon his door; followed by the smell of curry and wine, accompanied by shouts of laughter, etc. finally finished off with louder banging of mediaeval bedframe. All of our monies ran out later and by coincidence we ended up in Geneva; Anne and I were living in a tent in a city park, covered in snow and great with child. Murray had applied his rear end "...to the stool." as he put it, meaning working commercially for dough (or bread.) Bernie Cornfeld was the Man, and The Dreyfus Fund was the game. Murrays job was to make it all sound both legitimate and intriguing. He came up with a blurb which ended up some thing like, "...taking productive steps in that direction..." I remember seeing ads later which used his phrase. We all ended up sharings digs later, at the Bude', with author Paul Fregosi and lovely wife Olive. Basic human times sharing fellowship and survival techniques. Anne and I went up into the mountains with our new-born; as for Murray, well, the rest is History; toast to a good man; with best wishes to his wife and children !
Besides the rat-like cunning Murray considered necessary to the practice of journalism he developed other useful qualities. One was the ability to find help with the amenities of life. During one of his Paris periods he holed up with Alan Ginsberg and some disciples in a hovel on the Left Bank called the Beat Hotel. Only a few hundred yards away I occupied a delightful flat, paid for indirectly by the Daily Mirror in whose Paris Bureau I worked. The Beat Hotel—it must have had a proper name but no one knew what it was—did not go in for bathrooms, as the term is generally understood. Murray did his bathing chez Delano. He was always welcome—unless someone was using the bathroom. We had, after all, known each other since I was a lowly caption writer on the Sydney Daily Mirror and he was the infinitely glamorous front page columnist Sydney Mann (sic). He would do the same for me. Did, in fact, when I visited him in Japan. No surprise then when, some years later, self and wife arrive at a house being built for us in the South of France and find an answerphone message from Murray. He was on the road from Italy to Marseille and would drop in that very evening. A Sunday as it happened. In midwinter. No time specified. No callback number. Eventually he phoned about 9.00pm for final directions, arriving soon afterwards as a passenger in car belonging to a couple he had met at the wedding they had been to in Italy never did find out whose). We could put them up, right? Dinner? Oh, dear. Midwinter Sunday night in deepest Provence. Might just as well have been at the South Pole. No shop open. No restaurants. Only the living room of the half-finished house was habitable—we were sleeping on the floor. A hotel in the next village agreed to take them in if they got there by 10.00pm. Pressing a bottle of Scotch on Murray, I pointed the way. When I phoned the next morning, planning to give them breakfast, a surly voice complained they had never arrived. That was a bit alarming. But Murray was soon on the line himself. Didn’t I know the place he was calling from? Only a couple of kilometers out of town, set back from the road. Big gates. I DID remember, although I had forgotten it completely the previous evening. It was a sinister looking motel, believed locally to have been built as an exercise in money-laundering by the Marseille mafia. No one in our village or the next would go near it. I’d never seen a car there. Never seen those big gates open. Murray, though, had pushed the gates open and insisted they drive in. Banged on the door. “Guy answered in his pyjamas,” Murray reported. “Didn’t seem worried. Went into the kitchen and cooked us all steak-pommes frites. Not much of a bill, either.” Two months later the place burned down. So then, two additions to the Sayle list of essential attributes for journalism. Develop an instinct for the nearest decent loo. Be ready to push at a closed door.
Colin was overseas and this tribute was read on his behalf by his son Max at the celebration of his life in Sydney, 24 September. I first encountered Murray when I ran the foreign desk of the Sunday Times, then edited by Harry Evans. Murray was out of a job, having recently left the popular Sunday paper, The People, writing stories that bore headlines like “I took a lorry ride to shame”. My colleague, Bruce Page, had found an empty office in the newsroom with a desk and a typewriter, and installed Murray there so he could prepare job applications. During this time Murray was given a freelance assignment for the Sunday Times - to go to Oxford and find out what an official inquiry into the future of the university would be recommending. It took him only a few days to prise this story open, and he was rewarded with a full page in the paper. But then it was back to the lonely office and the job applications, relieved only by convivial evenings with the so called Sunday Times Australian mafia - Page, Phillip Knightley, Tony Clifton, Alex Mitchell, Nelson Mews, and myself, then an honorary member, Murray’s letters produced no job interviews, but one week later Mike Randall, the managing editor, spotted us talking. “Are you free?” he asked him. ”Sure”, said Murray. Randall sent Murray to Belfast to write a profile of the Rev Ian Paisley, who was turning his pulpit into a political platform. Ten days later Murray was back, clutching a Bible, dressed all in black, trousers in long socks, and regaling us with such Paisley-isms as “we’ll not bend the knee to old Red Socks”, and “no gaily-gaitered gartered bishops here”, delivered in a cross between a mild Australian accent and an Irish burr. The article was the main feature in the following week’s edition. Two other assignments followed. Soon after, Randall appeared at my office. “Sayle has just put in a big invoice. Isn’t he on staff?”, he asked. “No, just freelancing while he looks for a job”, I said. “Jesus”, said Randall. Harry Evans inevitably had the solution. “We’d better take him on from last month”, he said. So began Murray’s extraordinary career at the Sunday Times. He went to Israel to cover the Six Day War. I remember to this day my joy when the tele-printer in my office started clacking, and I saw the words “ex-Sayle, Golan Heights”. There followed brilliant, insightful coverage of other wars - Vietnam, India-Pakistan, and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, where he and I wrote and published a book in 24 days. There were his adventures too - competing in rival newspaper The Observer’s single handed Transatlantic yachting race (during which he broke a mast), reporting from the high Himalayas on the International Everest Expedition, tracking down Che Guevera, interviewing the British spy Kim Philby in Moscow. It was at the Sunday Times that he met Jenny, who worked for the paper’s features editor, and subsequently became not just Murray’s wife but his indispensible researcher and copy editor. It all came to an end rather sadly after Bloody Sunday in Ulster. Murray had reported that British paratroops had shot dead 13 unarmed civilians. The Army claimed that the killings were justified because the civilians were thought to be armed. Under pressure, Evans spiked the story. Not long after that Murray left the paper, and he and Jenny went to Asia, first to Hong Kong, and then to Japan, where they lived as the only foreigners in a small town in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Murray turned to television, and to magazines, and continued to write in his accomplished style. On one of my last visits to see Murray in his nursing home, it was good to see him vindicated for the Bloody Sunday report, as a result of the long overdue findings of the Saville inquiry, which confirmed his reports were right. It was good too that the University of Sydney gave Murray the recognition he richly deserved - by awarding him an honorary doctorate. Last time I saw Murray - a few weeks ago - we talked about writing styles. Murray insisted the secret to crafting good features was always to write them in draft, and then to review and rewrite, review and rewrite until you feel you have got it right. He saw writing as a craft, a craft he learned and practised with consummate skill. Murray, we thank you for elevating the role of reporter to where it belongs, the real core of journalism. One of the most thoughtful obituaries to have been published over the last few days was published not here in Australia but in Fleet Street, Murray’s spiritual home for so many years, by the Daily Telegraph. It reflects on his fine writing skills, his powers of investigation, dogged persistence, and a determination to master the subject matter of every assignment. I count myself lucky to be among those who have known Murray as both a good friend and colleague. We will remember him as one of the finest minds in journalism.
Firstly I can’t resist giving a wider currency to Muray’s London “Times” obit winkled out from behind Murdoch’s paywall, a team effort I am “reliably informed” by John Barry, Harry Evans, Philip Knightley, Lewis Chester and Magnus Linklater...all journos whose mention in the same breath as Murray comes naturally. My own most enduring memory of those glory days at 200 Grays In Road, home of the Evans Sunday Times, will always be of Capt Sayle roaming the corridors as press time loomed, machine gun gum chewing (or were they tooth picks?), trying out theories and phrases on the rest of us us as part of his creative process and usually in the process coining some new aphorism that would stay in our vocabularies for years to come. Times obit: Murray Sayle was one of the outstanding reporters of the postwar era: investigator, story-teller, adventurer, he defined the art of journalism in one of the best works of fiction ever written about the trade, and went on to realise it, in a life as colourful and controversial as those of his invented characters. He made his mark during the great years of The Sunday Times under Harold Evans, where he re-created the 19th-century art of the journalist as hero of his own story. By climbing Everest, sailing single-handed across the Atlantic (cheekily entering a Sunday Times boat in an event sponsored by The Observer), hiring a plane to find the missing yachtsman Francis Chichester in a storm off Cape Horn, hunting for Che Guevara in the South American jungle, he enabled the reader to share his adventures vicariously. He covered wars in Vietnam and the Middle East, and terrorist campaigns in Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan, and though he never turned in individual pieces as memorable as those of reporters such as Nicholas Tomalin or David Leitch, his analysis, for instance, of the Six Day War in Israel was a vital contribution to the paper’s distinctive coverage. His greatest piece of sustained reporting came later, after he had moved to Japan, where he was to live for 30 years. It was his account of the bombing of Hiroshima, to which The New Yorker magazine gave over an entire issue in July 1995. His conclusion — that the destruction of that city did not in fact contribute to the ending of the war with Japan — is disputed, but the quality of the reportage the standard of its writing, and its sheer originality, is not. It remains the definitive account of that cataclysmic event. Murray Sayle was born in the Earlwood suburb of western Sydney in 1926. His father was a railway executive, his mother a skilled cook who later took up ballroom dancing. Educated at Canterbury Boys’ High School, he was colonel of the cadet corps — the birth of a lifelong regard for things military. Reading psychology at Sydney University, he became editor of its student newspaper, Honi Soit, in the course of which he exposed a famous literary hoax and discovered a taste for investigative journalism. He quit college after two years, and won a cadetship on the Sydney Daily Telegraph, later becoming a columnist on the racy tabloid Daily Mirror, then one of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s first on-air radio reporters. He abandoned Australia in 1952, embarking for England with the love of his young life, the singer Shirley Abicair, to whom he had been attached since college. In London her career flourished; their relationship did not. Sayle talked his way on to The People — then a roistering Sunday scandal sheet with a circulation above five million — and became leg man for its celebrated crime reporter Duncan Webb. Webb’s “crusade” against the gangs and vice rings populating postwar London with the complaisance of a corrupt Metropolitan Police Force was courageous and carefully researched, however brashly presented. Sayle was given a column — predictably, “Sayle’s Talk” — in which to cover current affairs. “A bit up-market for The People, actually,” its veteran reporter Laurie Manifold reflected. Sayle finally grew disenchanted with popular journalism. At the same time his marriage in 1955 to Maria Theresa von Stockert, an Austrian countess, was falling apart, and in 1956 he quit, not merely The People, but London and even journalism. In Europe, he sold encyclopaedias to American Service families in Germany, worked at the newly-founded Federation Mondiale des Anciens Combattants (World Federation of Veterans), which promotes the interests of old soldiers, and then, poverty-stricken in Paris, wrote his novel about journalism, A Crooked Sixpence. In it, the hero explains his theory of journalism: “You have to understand that newspapers are all, more or less, in two distinct kinds of business. There’s the intelligence side. You know, meat will be dearer tomorrow, the president of Peru just shot himself, bond-holders beware. That sort of thing’s supposed to be true. The other side’s the one the money’s in ... It’s called human interest, and it’s really a branch of showbusiness. Non-stop vaudeville, changed every day, and always leave them laughing.” Unfortunately, The People’s editor and deputy editor were readily identifiable. Legal action was threatened, and the novel was withdrawn and pulped before publication. Only recently has it been finally published. The novel was a forerunner to other memorable aphorisms, coined by Sayle. The celebrated dictum that a journalist’s essentials are “rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability” is commonly attributed to Nicholas Tomalin, but colleagues recall Sayle as its original inventor. They rank it alongside another, more caustic: “There are only two stories: ‘We name the guilty man’ and ‘Arrow points to defective part’. Everything else is PSJ — public service journalism.” Before returning to journalism, Sayle worked, remarkably, for Bernard Cornfeld, the insurance salesman, later exposed by The Sunday Times in a book bearing a phrase originally coined by Sayle: Do You Sincerely Want to be Rich? By 1964, Sayle was back in London, where a fellow Australian already on The Sunday Times, Phillip Knightley, got him newsroom shifts. Sayle’s stories were, from the start, “elegant, funny and informative”, Lewis Chester, who edited the first of them, recalls. He made an early impact by following a golden eagle called Goldie which had escaped from London Zoo, round Regent’s Park on a bicycle. The Sunday Times’s editor, Harold Evans, recognised that he had acquired one of the paper’s “licensed eccentrics”. One of his first exposés was of the crooked insurer Emil Savundra. Posing as a potential buyer of the company, with Evans as his accountant, he landed a memorable scoop. Realising that Sayle was happiest as a lone operator, Evans sent him abroad as the paper’s main “foreign fireman”. For the rest of the decade, Sayle traversed the world. He covered the Vietnam war; two Indo-Pakistan conflicts; the 1967 Middle East war; the Soviet invasion of Prague; Northern Ireland; and “Black September” in Jordan in 1970. He relished the drama as well as the fulfilment of covering big stories. He hung on the wall of his small West London flat a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle (ultimately confiscated by the police) which he had smuggled back from Vietnam. His expenses were legendary. After buying some cord to tie up a yacht, he put in a claim marked “money for old rope”. The apogee was Sayle’s return from the 1967 Six Day War with a Mini-Moke, which he had acquired — at any rate, registered — in Cyprus. Sayle parked it illegally all over central London. The West End police took this as a challenge, which climaxed with a chase up Tottenham Court Road, in the course of which the pursuing police car was written off in collision with a truck. Remarkably, Sayle escaped with a fine. The Mini-Moke he sold as an historic vehicle. He was named Journalist of the Year for his Vietnam coverage; other awards followed. But the great piece eluded him. Instead he turned to the journalism of adventure. Dispatched to South America in March 1967 to cover, somehow, the lone yachtsman Francis Chichester’s passage round Cape Horn in Gypsy Moth IV, Sayle embarked in a light plane from the southernmost Argentine airstrip to over-fly the straits. Bucking in gale-force winds, they spotted Chichester and photographed his tiny vessel battling tumultuous seas. Then he drifted up to Bolivia. Intrigued by a tip from the Bolivian President Barrientos that an army patrol had recently encountered a guerrilla group whose leader was a Cuban called “Ramon”, Sayle set out to track the group down. After an arduous four-day trek with the army through “the jungle-clad Andean foothills”, Sayle discovered the guerrillas’ abandoned camp and, among the debris, a recent photograph. He recognised its subject as Che Guevara, with whom he had spent an evening in Havana in 1964. Sayle’s dispatch of April 11, 1967, was the first news that Guevara had quit Cuba to foment revolution in South America. In 1970, Sayle took part in an international expedition to climb Mount Everest. He reported next year on a round-Britain yacht race; and in 1972 was intrepid enough to take part in the single-handed transatlantic race. His lack of mountaineering or longdistance yachting experience did not appear to deter him. Jenny Philips, the editorial assistant deputed to help Sayle prepare for the race, subsequently became his second wife. His career on The Sunday Times was, however, effectively ended by Bloody Sunday, in January 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on civilians after a civil rights march in Derry. Sayle had worked in Northern Ireland on and off since 1968, striking up a friendship with the Rev Ian Paisley based on mutual admiration for Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Dispatched to Derry with a scratch team of reporters, Sayle established in four frenzied days that the Paras had faced no fire from those they shot. But he then took a step further and concluded that the killings had followed a predetermined plan. His colleagues in London found his file asserting this some way short of the evidence needed and persuaded Evans not to publish it. Sayle was heartbroken, and, to the end of his days, remained convinced he was correct. Sayle took himself and Jenny off to Hong Kong as Asia editor for Newsweek. He elected to live in the remote New Territories, where the only telephone was in the bar of the Hebi Haven Yacht Club. The upshot, Newsweek legend has it, was that New York would phone the bar, to ask the barman to relay to Sayle the query: “What news from Asia this week?” The barman would return at length to report: “Mr Sayle, he say no news from Asia.” Like many journalists’ yarns, this is a coloured version of a core truth. It was not a relationship destined to endure. In 1975, Sayle and Jenny went to Japan. They would stay for six months, he told Jenny. They stayed for almost 30 years, living in a tiny village 60 miles outside Tokyo in the simplicity of a traditional house with internal walls of paper which his golden retriever learnt to leap through. There Sayle freelanced, writing copious, elegant and erudite pieces for The Spectator, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, The New Yorker — “anyone who would accept a 10,000-word piece”, he said. He made numerous television programmes, including series on topics from travel to modern history. His Japanese never rose much above rudimentary; but the three children he and Jenny reared there achieved a fluency in language and customs attained by few foreigners. Sayle was proud of his daughter Malindi’s victory in a prestigious national calligraphy competition, an unheard-of feat by a gaijin. His climactic journalistic effort was a 20,000 word essay — “Did the Bomb End The War?” — revisiting the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and questioning their roles in bringing Japan’s surrender. Sayle’s narrative was so compelling that The New Yorker cleared its issue of July 31, 1995, to run it. The piece ensures Sayle’s reputation as one of the ablest story-tellers of his generation. In 2004, declining health and the onset of Parkinson’s disease, forced Sayle back to Sydney, and the care of Australia’s health service. In May 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney, whose citation described him as “a witness to history in the classic tradition of journalism and foreign correspondence”. He is survived by his wife Jenny and three children.
Derek Humphry: Murray was an exceptional person in tackling so many adventures and campaigns. A very classy journalist with whom I sometimes had the honor to collaborate. Truly a man of many parts.
My favourite Murray tale concerns Kim Philby. When Murray tracked the British super agent finally to Moscow (Murray could be as importunate as any tabloid reporter but far more engaging), Phliby asked him for his birth date and, magically, it turned out also to be his own. This seemed to establish some kind of bond between them -- and Murray was in some way warmed by it. Some time later he met a woman reporter who had also interviewed Philby and she said, "It was strange, he turned out to have the same birthday as me." It was an entirely different date. From this Murray deduced that this party trick was part of the great dissembler's technique to disarm his interrogators. I had the good fortune to be Murray's editor at Conde Nast Traveler in New York for twenty years. One of the magazine's objectives was to bring seasoned journalism to its subject and nobody better demonstrated the value of this than Murray. He could draw the big picture, bring deep historical context and yet at the same time hone in on the kind of exact detail (about the fish market in Tokyo, for example) that no guide book would ever note. He was also loveably funny in the way that Australians, with their detached and disrespectful perspective of other cultures, often were. To me - and to him - the great irony was that, having been part of the Australian diaspora that brought so much bottle to the Sunday Times Insight team, Murray (along with the rest of us) had to watch that forensic ethic snuffed out by another Australian, Murdoch. Murray's last piece for me, published early this year, was a small lapidary piece about climbing Sydney Harbor bridge in which he said how safe this was - after all, he added, "people die reading magazines."
I had boundless admiration for Murray's journalism, tenaciously researched and sharply written. His style and dedication were impossible for colleagues to emulate. But I think what I liked about Murray most of all was his eccentricity. This was notable even in a journalistic era when certain attitudes - personal priorities, dogged loyalties, anarchic disruptions, strange singularities, rebarbative prejudice, louche behaviour, and other essential rhythms of journalism were, with unmeasured quantities of booze, the fuel that often propelled mediocrity towards genius, though mediocrity is a condition that Murray never experienced within himself. Others, struggling in the shadow of this giant might easily have recognised it within themselves.
Murray was my father's cousin, known even to him more by reputation than relationship, as a bohemian who wore suede shoes and hung out with sydney's post-war demi-monde. Later when I hung out with a similar crowd in the Honi Soit office at Sydney Uni, I would hear apocryphal stories about him and wore out my torch reading a smuggled copy of "A Crooked Sixpence" under the blankets. Years passed with distant reports of Murray's life, mostly from his remarkable mother who was affectionately dubbed "Queen Anne" because of her wit and style. But it wasn't until 1996 while I was living and working in Japan that I got the chance to meet Murray after I came across his formidable New Yorker essay on Hiroshima. It was a brief but memorable encounter, a chance to hear some of his stories first hand in the traditional yet unique family home that he and Jenny made for their children. I remember particularly how he took me to his New Yorker "office", a small shed on the side of a remote mountain, where he kept crates of books and journals, and from which he worked. He surprised me when he said he regarded himself more as an historian than a journalist, but thinking about the remarkable body of work that he left I can't help but think he was right, or to put it in his own words he "wasn't often wrong" about anything he gave his mind to. History is the poorer for his passing.