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Now we’ve lost Johnny Murphy, the heart and soul of Camden Town

Former taxi driver who lived his whole life in Camden dies from coronavirus

30 April, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Johnny Murphy [Photo: North London Cares]

HE would take over an hour just to pop to the shops because he would end up stopping to chat to so many friends and neighbours on the way.

That was John Murphy, or Johnny as many knew him; one of Camden Town’s great storytellers, a great-grandfather who had lived in the area all his life, seen the changes, bought the t-shirt.

He died last week at 82 after contracting the coronavirus, another friend taken from this neighbourhood by Covid-19. His family say they will remember the black cab driver as being able to “charm the birds out of the trees.” Anybody who met him would agree.

“What is so hard is that he was so fit and healthy,” said Karen Murphy, John’s daughter-in-law.

“He never smoked and never drank. It is a mystery how he caught it. He was always careful. Even before it got bad he would say ‘I can’t kiss you but we have got to do elbows at the door’.”

Mr Murphy had worked as a black cab driver since 1973 until he was 79. He undertook nine months training and knew London’s streets like the back of his hand, never having to resort to a Sat Nav.

Born in 1938, Mr Murphy grew up in Royal College Street and went to Richard Cobden School. He met his wife Pat Murphy at a club in Greenland Street and they married in 1961. Together they had five children, Paul, Tony, Karen, Tracey and Carly.

He leaves behind 19 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren.

“He had a nickname for everybody, every grandchild, every great grandchild,” said Ms Murphy. “He knew everyone, everybody knew him – the postmen, delivery drivers, the Rosary school where he walked his grandchildren to school.”

He had lived in Widford in Castle Road since 1968. One of the first tenants to move in when it was built, he stayed there for the rest of his life. Later, he was the chairman of the tenants and residents’ association there, helping secure the estate with a gate and create communal spaces.

He campaigned against plans for a housing development on the playground. In his spare time, Mr Murphy ran and boxed, and taught himself carpentry, building a shed, wardrobes and a chest of drawers.

“People would go in there, trained carpenters, and say: you can’t be serious, you built that with no training,” said Ms Murphy.

“When he would pop to the shops or went to get a paper he would take an hour and a half stopping to talk to people.”

Johnny nearly always wore shorts – even in winter

“He even learned how to say hello in different languages to greet the neighbours properly. I never saw him in a bad mood and I’ve been in the family 40 years, never saw him without smiling and joking. They say superheroes don’t always wear capes but we say ours wears shorts and a T-shirt, even in winter – that’s how people will remember him.”

John Murphy’s funeral is on May 12 for immediate family. A larger funeral service will be held at St Dominic’s Church once lockdown rules are lifted.

Due to the same restrictions, his family could not be at UCLH when he died but video called in his last moments.

Ms Murphy said: “We just hope he could hear us.”

A lifetime in Camden captured on film

JOHNNY Murphy’s life was perfectly captured by a film-maker working for the community charity North London Cares seven years ago. In the film, we’re taken on a ride in his cab and listen to how proud he was to be “Camden born and bred”.

He recalls sleeping in Camden Town tube station during the war and jumping into the canal to swim as a boy, and he talks of how the area has changed over the year.

People had worked together to make it better, he explains.

On being a cab driver, he says he’s had Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse in the back, but also Frank Sinatra during one of the singer’s visits to London. He didn’t leave a tip, he laughs.

And he jokes about the idea of moving to a cottage in the countryside but says he’d miss Camden too much.

The film can still be seen on video sharing website, Vimeo.


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