Gray, Tony (George Anthony) (1922–2004), journalist and author, was born 23 August 1922 in Sandymount, Dublin, elder son of George Gray, a first world war veteran (wounded in the Balkans after serving with the Leinster Regiment at the Dardanelles and Palestine), who worked as a radiographer in the Leopardstown hospital for ex‑servicemen (and later acted as Irish representative to some British businesses), and his wife Gertrude (née McKee) from Warrenpoint, Co. Down. One of three children, he had a sister and a younger brother, Ken (see below).
The family grew up in an 'ex‑serviceman's cottage' in Sandymount; Tony Gray described them as 'poor protestants' (Psalms and slaughter, p. xi). The brothers were educated at St Matthew's Church of Ireland primary school, Ringsend, and St Andrew's College, Dublin. Tony remembered his religious education as chiefly intended to warn against Roman catholicism. It succeeded in this if in nothing else; dissatisfied with its narrowness and with the numerous different types of protestantism, he refused to be confirmed and remained for the rest of his life a religious unbeliever (though with a certain fascination for religious belief as a historical phenomenon). He later married a lapsed catholic; their children were not baptised. His rebellion had some political dimensions; while his parents loathed Éamon de Valera (qv), Tony described his own views as vaguely republican. This republicanism does not appear to have extended very far; he later recalled with some shame that when, as an Irish Times reporter, he covered special criminal court hearings, it never occurred to him that the IRA men whom he saw sentenced were (in their own eyes at least) successors to Robert Emmet (qv) and Patrick Pearse (qv). During the second world war he served in the Ringsend artillery battery of the Local Defence Force, commanded by T. F. O'Higgins (qv), a future chief justice; he always thought Irish neutrality had been justified, though he was disgusted at de Valera's offering condolences at the German legation on Hitler's death.
Tony had hoped to attend TCD and then join the diplomatic service, but this was precluded by his father's financial problems. He attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (1939–40), where he acquired the name 'Tony' (considered more arty than George, though as an Irish Times critic he used the initials GHG) and a lasting dislike for the academic style of art represented by Seán Keating (qv) and Maurice MacGonigal (qv). In later years, as an Irish Times reviewer, he was a zealous promoter of the White Stag group and other pioneers in Ireland of artistic modernism.
In 1940 Tony Gray joined the Irish Times as a junior leader‑writer; soon thereafter he was put in charge of the books section and, because of his knowledge of Irish, he was responsible for editing the early 'Cruiskeen Lawn' columns of Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O'Nolan (qv)). Over the following nineteen years Tony wrote the 'Irishman's Diary' feature, and was books editor, arts editor, and editor of a short‑lived stable‑mate, the Times Pictorial; he wrote and edited the special supplement that marked the centenary of the Irish Times in 1959. He also spent much time sailing on Dublin Bay and took an interest in flying; when learning to fly in 1949 he took aerial photographs of Irish towns for the paper in association with his instructor Norman Ashe. They later collaborated on a twelve‑part series of articles on war‑torn Europe, 'As the crow flies', which they illustrated with their own pictures of bombed‑out European cities. Tony saw his experiences at the Irish Times under R. M. Smyllie (qv) as equivalent to a university education; he retained a lasting reverence for 'the Editor', and his style and outlook retained the marks of Smyllie's bohemianism.
In 1959 (after briefly acting as a public relations adviser to Charles Haughey (1925–2006, who had been elected to the dáil in the 1957 general election), Gray moved to London, where he became features editor of the Daily Mirror; he gleefully calculated that he was earning more than the taoiseach, but subsequently fell out with the Mirror editor, Hugh Cudlipp. In 1961 he moved to Associated Rediffusion as editor of the late‑night news feature programme 'Dateline London'; he then became a television scriptwriter. In 1965 he embarked on a career as a freelance writer, and subsequently published eighteen books under his own name, including five novels. Much of his work related directly to his Irish background, although he never again lived in Ireland full‑time. Comparing himself to George Moore (qv) (1852–1933), he wrote towards the end of his life: 'Ireland is a fatal disease from which both of us were lucky enough to escape for the greater part of our lives, though it undoubtedly left its unmistakable mark upon us' (A peculiar man, 7).
Gray's novel Starting from tomorrow (1965), set in 1958 and revolving around the belated public unveiling of a scandalous artwork, loosely based on Harry Clarke's (qv) Geneva window, fictionalised his experiences as a hard‑drinking journalist in 1950s Dublin; its main interest lies in its evocation of the 'fast' Dublin middle class of that decade. This is developed in Gone the time (1967), a loose reworking of G. B. Shaw's (qv) John Bull's other island; it describes the adventures of a louche English TV presenter (bewildered by such Irish habits as making casual conversation about religion and death) and his despondent Dublin‑born protestant‑agnostic scriptwriter as they travel through mid‑1960s Ireland, making a documentary on a writer based on Brendan Behan (qv) in the hope that the subject's imminent death from alcoholism will make it saleable. Both novels feature characters who share elements of Gray's background and experiences, but they should be seen as comic‑pathetic satirical figures (as in the novels of Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis) rather than directly autobiographical. The central character of The last laugh (1972), who is based on the comedian Tony Hancock (1924–68) and is given an Irish wife (whom he first encounters as a cheerful stripper who believes her activities do not matter so long as she gets weekly mass and yearly confession; she is driven to drink by her husband's relentless gloom), dies in a Galway hotel. (Hancock died in Sydney; the wife is loosely based on Hancock's first wife, who was not Irish.) Gray's other novels are The real professionals (1968) and the novelisation of the film Interlude (1968; screenplay by Hugh Leonard (qv) and Lee Langley).
Gone the time, with its evocation of 'the wave of redecoration and plastification that accompanied Ireland's abrupt and belated leap into the twentieth century' (p.1), may be seen as a companion piece to The Irish answer: an anatomy of modern Ireland (1966), undertaken by Gray in response to the social changes of the Lemass era, and based on extensive research and interviews. Despite the advice of T. P. O'Neill (qv), it contains several minor historical errors and some of its implied predictions (such as the optimistic account of Terence O'Neill (qv)) were rapidly falsified. The book is valuable, however, as an account of mid‑1960s Ireland by an observer who had been absent long enough to notice changes (he contrasts the relatively bland experience of travelling between London and Dublin by air with earlier memories of taking the Irish Mail train in the rough and exotic atmosphere of Euston's platform 15 – 'a little piece of Ireland'), while remaining aware of the ways in which this society differed from metropolitan Britain (the London advertising industry emphasised sex appeal, while its growing Dublin equivalent used a sense of family togetherness as its 'hook').
Gray's dismay at the undisguised anti‑catholicism he encountered among mid-1960s Ulster protestants led him to begin Psalms and slaughter: a study in religious bigotry (1972), which was completed after the outbreak of the Northern Ireland political troubles. This combines a sceptical history of Christianity (based on such writers as H. G. Wells and Winwood Reade), with an account of the history of religious division in Ireland. He capitalised on the troubles with such works as The Orange order (1972) and No surrender: the siege of Derry (1975). In 1982 he was commissioned to write a history of the Irish Times. This project was abandoned after a preliminary draft was submitted to Douglas Gageby (qv). It is believed that this decision was due to sensitive issues surrounding the handling of the Irish Times Trust, established to safeguard the newspaper from takeover but seen by some commentators as having burdened the paper unnecessarily with debt to the benefit of the existing shareholders. Gray, however, used much of the material he had gathered when writing a biographical memoir of R. M. Smyllie: Mr. Smyllie, sir! (1991). A final wave of Irish titles followed in the 1990s, assisted by research in the Colindale Newspaper Library (he developed a fascination with old newspapers after compiling the Irish Times '25 years ago' feature in the 1940s), and perhaps reflecting a desire to sum up his life as it neared its end). These included St Patrick's people (1996 – the title suggested by his brother Ken), a reworking of The Irish answer which gleefully notes such developments as the declining influence of the catholic church and the demise of sexual scrupulosity among the younger generation; A peculiar man (1996), a biography of George Moore whom he finally studied systematically in the 1990s and found to posses a particular affinity; Ireland this century (1996), a chronicle‑history of twentieth‑century Ireland interspersed with such memories as witnessing the Russian Sputnik satellite over Dublin Bay and the removal of Queen Victoria's statue from Leinster House; and The lost years: the emergency in Ireland 1939–45 (1997), which draws on personal reminiscence.
Gray also wrote some 150 film scripts (mostly for industrial documentaries, public relations and training films – the latter for such bodies as the London Metropolitan Police, Shell Oil, the British army, and the Irish Industrial Development Authority) and co‑authored such books as The white lions of Timbavati (with the naturalist Chris MacBride, which gave Gray a chance to visit Africa) and Some of my best friends are animals (with Terry Murphy (qv) of Dublin Zoo). Fleet street remembered (1991) was another work of memory combined with interviews by a veteran surveying a changed landscape (in this case after the breaking of the print unions in the Thatcher years and the migration of the London newspaper industry from its traditional homeland). His other books included a commissioned history of the McAlpine construction company, a book on winners of the Nobel peace prize, and Europeople: a guide to the nations of the European community (1992), to mark the extension of the European single market. Much of his writing was done in France, where he spent several months annually in later life; he was a bon vivant reacting against the restraints of his upbringing and the restrictions of 1940s and 1950s Dublin.
In 1946 Gray married Patricia Walters, editorial assistant in Cahill's printing firm; they had a son and a daughter. He died in Hampshire on 31 October 2004. Although his work represents journalistic haute vulgarisation and relies on outdated secondary material, its elements of interview and reminiscence provide significant insights into the twentieth‑century Irish experience, the Irish Times milieu, and the reactions of the post‑independence generation of protestants to the new state.
His brother Kenneth Maxwell (Ken) Gray (1925–2002), journalist, was born 16 October 1925 and educated at St Andrew's College, Dublin. After briefly working in accountancy Ken joined the Times Pictorial on 19 June 1944 as a trainee journalist (paid one guinea a week). In 1948 he became assistant editor of the weekly and drama critic. His experiences on the Times Pictorial gave him page layout skills, unusual in Ireland at this time, which contributed substantially to his subsequent career. In 1957 Gray moved to the newly launched tabloid Sunday Review, also published by the Irish Times, as assistant editor in charge of production. In 1958–9 he used his innovative tabloid skills to oversee the redesign of the Irish Times format, giving it more pictures and creating the design layout that prevailed until the late 1980s (and, in some significant respects, survived into the twenty‑first century).
In 1960, when the Irish Times acquired the Dublin Evening Mail, Ken was appointed assistant editor and chief sub‑editor, overseeing its change to tabloid format and its move from its traditional offices on Parliament Street to the Irish Times offices in Westmoreland Street. After the closure of the Evening Mail in 1962, Gray moved to the Irish Times as art editor (later known as picture editor) in charge of reorganising the photographic department. He became known for what his Irish Times obituarist called 'his gentlemanly management style and courtesy to his staff, [though] he could take determined stands'. He combined his editorial duties with writing occasional film and theatre reviews, and in 1963 became the paper's television critic. His weekly column, which ran from 1963 to 1978, was 'crisply written and was influential and widely admired…when Telefís Éireann…was in its early development stage.' He served as a judge on the Jacobs Television Awards.
Gray's duties gradually shifted from the art department to administration, where he drew up budgets and production schedules. In 1972 he was appointed assistant editor in charge of administration and became responsible for budgetary control and labour relations in the editorial department. In 1978 he was promoted to deputy editor and joined the Irish Times board. He was strongly involved in the changeover from letterpress production to computerised photo‑composition in 1979–80. In 1984 he oversaw the redesign of the paper after the proceeds of its Reuters shareholding were used to buy a new printing press which required a smaller page format.
Gray delayed his retirement as deputy editor in order to assist Conor Brady, whose appointment as editor in December 1986 coincided with the departure of a number of experienced senior staff. Brady, initially reluctant to accept this arrangement, later recalled: 'I never made a better decision than I did to agree…He was a tower of strength and wisdom' (Brady, Up with the Times, 60). Gray deputised for Brady in his absence and took charge of editorial budgets, editorial personnel matters and legal business; and supported Brady in dealing with matters of detail at board and Irish Times Trust meetings. In October 1990, when the Irish Times obtained a tape recording of Brian Lenihan (qv) stating (in contradiction to his public utterances) that he had phoned President Patrick Hillery (1923–2008) during the 1982 political controversy surrounding the dissolution of the dáil, Gray played a significant advisory role in the paper's handling of the tape, which in turn affected the outcome of the 1990 presidential election.
Gray finally retired as deputy editor in 1991 though he remained a director of the Irish Times until 1998. His value as an elder statesman was reflected in his appointment in 1995 to a committee (consisting of two representatives from the board and two from the editorial committee) which went on to advise on a method for making appointments to senior managerial positions, thereby allaying concerns that had been expressed about such appointments.
In retirement Ken Gray became a proficient water‑colour painter. He had developed an interest in horse riding as a boy; he exercised horses on Sandymount Strand and features in Laurence Olivier's film Henry V (filmed in Wicklow) as an extra in the cavalry charge; he continued to ride for most of his life. He was also involved in amateur drama and theatre appreciation, and became a student of architecture and an aficionado of fly‑fishing.
In 1950 Ken Gray married Hazel Dagg, an Irish champion swimmer; they had two daughters and a son. He died of cancer in St Michael's Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, on 20 May 2002. In 'An Irishman's diary' tribute, Kevin Myers spoke of him as almost the last living link with the virtues of the old Dublin protestant professional classes, one who used his deep and hard‑earned knowledge of every aspect of the paper's workings to 'invisibly bring various strands of its operation together. He was the incorruptible rock of this newspaper, steady under pressure, unswerving in his adherence to his own principles, fierce in the defence of values which he thought this newspaper represented' (Irish Times, 24 May 2002).