Ken Murphy – lighting cameraman with an international reputation for excellence

An Appreciation

Ken Murphy (top right) working with Peter O’Toole on RTÉ’s Strumpet City

Ken Murphy (top right) working with Peter O’Toole on RTÉ’s Strumpet City

 

Ken Murphy who died on September 4th, was in the vanguard of young film cameramen who joined RTÉ in the 1960s.

In the early days of the station, it was professionals like him who established its film style and presented both the country and the world to an eager Irish audience.

Today, with a multitude of TV choices and streaming services, it is easy to forget just how much the establishment of an Irish television channel in 1961 would fundamentally change Irish society.

Ken Murphy was born in Dublin in 1942. His father, Peter, was a bank manager with the National Bank of Ireland.

Ken was educated at S. Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge in Dublin and in 1959 succeeded in gaining a place at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London to study photography.

Returning to Ireland after three years, Ken began as a freelance film cameraman with RTÉ until 1968, when he was made a member of staff in film production.

Ken had a deceptively boyish appearance about him, although he was tall and strong and dressed in a conservative style. He was a man of great courage, self-belief, boundless enthusiasm and a wonderful artistic sense.

He was very talented as a lighting cameraman, he had a great eye and he used his skills in the same professional way on any programme he was assigned to, be it a weekly magazine programme or an international drama like Strumpet City.

He spent 40 years with RTÉ, becoming senior film cameraman, and gave each production the benefit of his marvellous eye.

Of the major productions Ken worked on, some stand out, such as Murphy’s America, As the Crow Flies, The Year of the French and of course his favourite, Strumpet City.

But Ken was equally at home filming major international events, such as the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1989.

He had great respect for whoever was in front of his camera and said that the lens was just like eyes giving a person an opportunity to tell their story.

All of us who were fortunate enough to have worked with Ken will always remember his kindness and unselfish attitude to all those who sought his advice.

As Pat Kenny mentioned in his condolences, “Every day in his company was a school day”!

The testament to Ken’s lighting skills was an article in the international trade magazine Variety, which stated that The Year of the French was visually the best thing to come out of Europe in 1982. High praise indeed.

Ken loved all types of transport and learned to fly a glider with the Dublin Gliding Club.

He was also a skilled craftsman, building furniture, model railways.The layout in his attic was the envy of many.

His favourite hobby was building model boats, which he would sail with his friends in the Irish Model Boat Club in Herbert Park in Dublin.

He had a great interest in history and was a member of the Rathmines, Ranelagh and Rathgar Historical Society.

Ken always enjoyed meeting up for a breakfast or coffee with his friends from RTÉ and the boat club.

He was a loving husband to Ann, and devoted father to Karen, Orna and Elaine, and a wonderful grandfather to Aidan, Sean and Liam.

He was also a spiritual man who had a great faith, and on the evening of his passing there was a wonderful blue sky and sunset. The lighting was beautiful, so we knew that Ken had arrived and was already at work.