June Don-Murray (1927 – 2019) in mid-performance as part of An Audience With… Live Event for the Luminate Festival 2017
It Runs in the Family
Art transcends generations, in one form or another, and those who do not take an active part in its grandeur have the capability, perhaps in ways, they don’t even recognise. June Don Murray, a stage name she inherited from her father, was born into a family who always kept a foot on the stage in one way or another, though, she was the first to have her name in lights. You might, if you’re lucky, have a few of the playbills which would contain family members of June dotted here or there in the attic. Her grandfather, Happy Tom Parker performed at the very Empire Theatre where June herself would work years later. Found upon the same billing as the legendary Houdini, this was a destiny the family couldn’t escape. It was the very same boards he performed upon, where Tom met his future wife Julia Flavour, a burlesque dance.
Together, they had five children, one of who was June’s father, Roy Don, who would go on to remain with theatrical circles, starting in a different career path, off-stage as a manager of the Palladium in Edinburgh. A man of principle, Roy slowly built upon the existing theatre, now also onstage as musical arranger and occasional performer. He achieved licensing for the bar, and to be blunt, raised the Palladium to new standing.
Similar to fellow performer Doreen, June undertook training with Madam Ada’s Dance School. From the age of four, she was dancing and showed no signs of stopping. By fifteen, June was moving in professional circles where she would step into the dazzling, glittery world of Pantomime, and given her daintier frame, spent quite a few years as the ethereal fairy. It wasn’t all champagne and caviar however, June was open about the trials and sacrifices which came with the job, particularly at such a young age. Often recalling the struggles of the industry, she adored, having to kip for the night on the hard stage flooring after the companies were unable to secure accommodation. She recounts the thrilling sensation of stepping out of the ballet school into the frost laden air, taking out a poke o’ chips, unable to afford the luxury of dining inside – simple pleasures which many take for granted, but taste all the better knowing the hard work which came before them.
A True Moxon Girl
Ah yes, if there is one feature of which June is most proud, it is her time as a notorious Moxon Girl. A selection of remarkably talented young girls who fell under the care of May Moxon. For over four-decades May Moxon would send dancers to theatres across Scotland, primarily to the big four cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, or Aberdeen. For June, her first engagement was in Glasgow’s then Empress Theatre. Before this time, June was lucky enough to perform with the Hamish Turner Dancers, but if there is one thing May Moxon could spot – it was potential. If ever there was richer evidence of the importance of a Moxon Girl it was how, for once in history, June and the girls managed to force a ferry to turn midway during its voyage to return for them, so not the miss a show.
It’s fitting that An Audience With… would draw many who had once graced The Festival Theatre stage, then Empire Theatre. Like the other ladies of the group, June had performed several times at the theatre, but perhaps the one which struck most with June was her time with The Great Levante, an Australian Illusionist. He was searching for a dancer, someone to assist with the fearsome stunts and trickery which would dazzle the Scottish crowds, and June was put forward for the role. Take time though, to feel for June’s poor younger sister Sylvia, who on opening night would witness her older sister, hands held aloft to the Theatre’s roof and being shot at by the Illusionist. This was relatively small-scale in retrospect, as June was touring with Levante, she was involved in the signature stunt, in which she was fired from a cannon on stage high into the rafters of the gods (the upper circle), much to the distress of June’s mother.
Ironically enough, June’s mother was a dancer herself, but the fears that her daughter would take flight from the cannon were real, at least in metaphor. For June Don Murray did indeed soar, throughout Variety theatre’s history as a Moxon Girl, a Hamish Turner Dance, a Levante Dancer and always a daughter loved by her family.
Keep Fit, Keep Happy, Keep Laughing
What better way to continue a legacy, than by coaching and teaching woman for nearly forty years, and not always in the way one might imagine? Working alongside the Scottish Women’s Keep Fit Association, June was spreading the message of valuing the body, and maintaining physical health with movement to music. Further, until the age of eighty June was dancing and teaching with the Education department at Edinburgh City Council, giving back to generations long after those theatre doors had closed and the lights of Variety had dimmed, even taking time to teach our Katie a thing or two, hopeful that she might make a good dancer yet.
The formation of An Audience With… would see June trotting down her memory lane, once more rehearsing in a theatre she, and so many of her family had a part in. Bringing her fondness for teaching, encouraging a natural rhythm, June would hold a routine of chair ballet for An Audience With… during the live production in 2017. Noted for her inclusion of the audience, her openness in engagement – it was a sight to behold, and a testament of June’s unwavering ability. Poignantly, her mantra of ‘be a butterfly’, the very words she used with her granddaughter Millie, a future dancer in the making, capture the delicacy in June’s methods – approachable to all.
In 2019, June Don Murray would join, as she beautifully described; ‘The Big Cabaret in the Sky’. An awfie busy place where the finest parties, wildest crowds and world’s top-class performers will live on forever.
“You gain knowledge every time you perform: you gain knowledge of some kind.”.June Don Murray- An Audience With…