Graduates and University staff outside the Liverpool Cathedral

Tom Murphy

Oration

Presented by: Professor Roger Webster

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Tom Murphy for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.  

This is a truly civic university, firmly rooted in this extraordinary city, and its defining ethos comprises three deceptively simple yet very powerful words: dream, plan, achieve. 

Each year at Graduation, the University's highest honour – an Honorary Fellowship – is bestowed on a select band of individuals outside the University, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personify and inspire others to 'dream, plan, and achieve.' 

As one of the UK's most prolific figurative sculptors, it is difficult to walk through the centre of Liverpool without encountering Tom's work. Over the last two decades, he has documented and immortalised in bronze the characters that have shaped the city's and the nation's political, business and sporting legacy and sculpted memorials to both triumphs and tragedy that provide the focus for celebration and commemoration down through the years. It is difficult to think of a contemporary artist more embedded in the city's history and institutions. 

We propose Tom today, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to art and design in the public realm.

Born in Whiston in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, his early career after leaving school was wonderfully diverse and reflective of the multiple opportunities that were open to all in 1960s Liverpool. Following stints as a salesman, seaman and musician in a pop group, he eventually settled on teaching, graduating from Liverpool John Moores University and going on to teach art in a centre for people with learning difficulties at Liverpool Community College. 

Art had been a constant backdrop to his early preoccupations, initially as a hobby and then as the focus of an intense period of self-study, during which time he mastered a range of techniques across different artistic disciplines, shaped and inspired by an abiding interest in people and his diverse early working life. Success in several open competitions, including the BBC's 'Art 88' event and the John Player Portrait Award led to exhibitions, at the National Portrait Gallery and wider afield, and some major commissions, including John Moores' official retirement portrait on leaving Littlewoods. 

His career as a sculptor dates back to 1996 when his 7 foot 6 inch statue of John Lennon was seen by a senior Littlewoods figure and Tom was commissioned to create two monument-sized bronzes of the Littlewoods founders. 

To this day, Sir John and Cecil Moores can be seen striding along outside the site of the original Littlewoods store in Church Street, hands in pockets in animated conversation. 

His statue of John Lennon was unveiled in its permanent home overlooking the check-in hall at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, by Yoko Ono and Cherie Blair in 2002, to mark the airport's change of name - an inspiring figure symbolizing Liverpool's local and global significance and seen by millions of travellers to and from the city. 

To date, almost 30 public figures have been cast by Tom: some are quiet and contemplative, such as the figure of this University's first Chancellor Henry Cotton and our namesake John Moores, that grace the LJMU campus and that of former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who continues to oversee the comings and goings of his Huyton constituency from his seat in Concert Square. 

Others, like Bill Shankly in characteristic victory pose and standing 8' tall outside Anfield and Dixie Dean striding out on Walton Lane, are busier. A hip-swinging Billy Fury greets arrivals at the Pier Head and who below the age of 30 would understand why Ken Dodd and legendary Liverpool MP Bessie Braddock might be greeting each other so enthusiastically on the concourse at Lime Street station, and why Bessie is brandishing an egg. 

His knowledge and understanding of the city and its people have also led to commissions to produce a number of major public works, commemorating some of its most significant events. 

The Blitz Memorial standing in the grounds of Our Lady & St. Nicholas Parish Church near to the Royal Liver Building, commemorates the many thousands of civilian casualties in Liverpool and Bootle during the sustained Luftwaffe bombing campaign of World War II. The names of the casualties are inscribed on scrolls deposited in the base of the memorial. 

A powerful and moving sculpture, like all of Tom's work, it conveys complex multiple meanings: the mother who is clutching her baby while frantically trying to encourage her young son to escape down the staircase to a safer place; the small boy playing with his airplane standing precariously at the top of the stairs; the staircase, shrinking as it rises, symbolizing the diminishing options of the family group, also indicating the way bombs spiral as they fall; each step of the stairs has jagged cut-outs, which give the impression of shards of glass, particularly on a sunny day, when they can be seen within the shadows cast by the sculpture; the toy airplane held by the innocent small boy can be seen both as an instrument of destruction, or as a cross in remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives during the Blitz. 

Other notable commissions include the 7' tall bronze Hillsborough memorial standing on Old Haymarket, and the Chavasse memorial in Abercromby Square, which commemorates Captain Noel Chavasse VC & Bar MC, the only man ever to be twice awarded the military's highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross, in the First World War. 

On the 31 August this year, exactly 100 years since the first thousand Liverpool men volunteered for service in the Liverpool Pals Battalions in the First World War, Tom's commission by the Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund to create two memorial panels dedicated to the 5,000 men who did not return, will be unveiled at Lime Street Station. They tell the story from the founding of the Pals battalions to the return of the surviving troops up to the present day, when the Pals are remembered at memorial services. 

There is not a contemporary artist who is a more prolific chronicler of the people and history of this city; Tom has given immortality to the city's immortal characters who continue to animate and inspire the city and its people, and remind us of our rich and varied history. 

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Tom Murphy, this most distinguished son of our region, for admission to our highest honour: as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.