Framing Mr Specs

Simon Mr Specs Murray
I’m a bit of a movie buff so when I saw recruitment ads for background actors to shoot the epic Marco Polo here, I was absolutely thrilled.  The company using Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Nusajaya to film the historical drama TV series was seeking extras for the cast.  Suddenly it’s as if the movie world has moved to our very doorstep! 

I later learnt that the project was completed successfully and the TV series is on schedule to be screened later this year.  This is why I was surprised when a friend wanted me to meet Simon Murray, the key crowd costumier on the Marco Polo project.  He is still in JB and had volunteered to do a charity project at a recent craft fair. 

I was told that Murray has one of the biggest private collections of spectacles which he loans and made for films and television.  Some of his handmade glasses which he brought along were used for blockbuster movies like Star Wars, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter and Batman, and he was keen to show them to me!  Intrigued, I quickly arranged to meet him. 

Simon Murray, who has created many famous bespectacled characters on screen, shows Peggy Loh his collection:  He's the man behind many iconic bespectacled characters in moviedom.

Some interesting spectacles in his collection:
Specs for Prof Henry (Sean Connery) [Top Left] in
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Specs for Harry Potter
(Daniel Radcliffe) [Top Right] in the Harry Potter series
Simon Murray, 58, the key crowd costumier on the recently completed Marco Polo epic shot at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Nusajaya, Johor, has one of the biggest private collections of spectacles which he loans and customises for films and television.
Some of his handmade glasses which he brought with him on his trip here, were used for blockbuster movies like Star Wars, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter and Batman.

Murray, fondly known as Mr Specs, is also passionate about fund-raising.  He has a charity project to get every celebrity he has worked with, to design a pair of spectacle frames that best describe themselves to raise funds for Breast Cancer Research and Fight for Sight charities in the UK.  When we met, I find out that Murray is dyslexic. But even though he has a reading disorder (he has only read one book in his life!) he has no difficulty recalling dates, names and lots of movies.


Born in London to silversmith Michael Bryan Murray and ballerina opera singer Rosemary Veber, Murray, is the second of three sons and two daughters.  His father’s clients included the Queen Mother and his commissioned works had been installed in churches like Holy Rood Oxford, Coventry Cathedral, Guildford Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

Brought up in a creative environment, Murray was often in his father’s workshop to lend a hand in crafting items.  He was a student at Holloway County Public School and at 10, he was diagnosed as dyslexic.  He left school at 15 and vividly recalls that day when he walked across the playground and thought to himself: “I’m going to be famous for something one day!” It was not just wishful thinking because his determination to excel turned into reality and the BBC has done documentaries on six of his family members who have established reputations in the world of art and advertising.

The cover of his coffee table book,
Fashion Spectacles Spectacular Fashion
In the humble beginning of his career, he polished shoes before going on to work with senior costumiers.  One day an actor asked Murray: “Are you taking this up as a career?” Murray was convinced that he wanted a career in costumes because the actor told him, 60 per cent of a character depends on the costume.  That actor was Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Working with Michael Douglas on the, Jewel Of The Nile, marked a milestone in his career and he dedicated his coffee-table book, Fashion Spectacles Spectacular Fashion, a collaborative project with Nicky Albrechtsen, to Douglas, his friend and mentor.

Murray is very much self-taught and he lives by his motto, “You can dream and be awake.” He explained that the reason why he talks so much is because if he lets others talk, they will talk about things that are out of his world.  So talking non-stop is his way of maintaining control and motivating himself because once he has said it, he will be driven to do it.


The writer with Simon Murray in JB
In 1984, in the Apple Macintosh commercial directed by Ridley Scott, Murray the costumier observed that the Big Brother-like character wore two pairs of spectacles, and he recognised the demand for optical props among film companies and costume designers.  This sparked off a keen interest to collect spectacles and sunglasses from every decade and he began to forge relationships with the world’s leading eyewear companies.

With a vast collection of eyewear that includes vintage glasses dating back to 1790, he established his company, Onspec Ontic in 1987.  By supplying to the film, television and advertising industries he successfully turned an optical appliance into a fashion accessory.

“A pair of spectacle frames can change a person’s perception or reinforce an existing feeling or belief the viewer has about a particular character,” said Murray.

Original frames in Murray’s collection have been worn in period dramas or appeared on films, theatre productions and commercials either on loan or specifically designed and handmade for key characters.

A collection of vintage spectacles against the signatures
of team JDT FC, the Southern Tigers
Murray showed me the glasses used by Daniel Radcliffe in his role as Harry Potter and told me he met children who said they wear glasses because of Harry Potter.  Because Radcliff has sensitive skin and was allergic to metal, the spectacles were specially made for him in rolled gold in various sizes.

Recently Murray met the Southern Tigers from team Johor Darul Takzim FC and felt a strong connection with them because the three stars in the club’s crest mirrors the three stars in the Murray family’s coat of arms.  

And when I asked him who he would like to design spectacles frames for, Murray promptly replied: “The Johor Sultan!”


• American actor Harold Lloyd was credited with making spectacles popular for everyday wear, particularly af ter he spor ted horn-rimmed frames for his signature suit-clad, bespectacled character in the 1917 silent movie comedy, Over The Fence.

• Actors wore protective glasses on-set to shield their eyes from bright studio lights and when they wore them off-set, apparently to hide their bloodshot eyes, they made sunglasses seem stylish and glamorous.

• The harlequin or cat’s eyes frames were perfect for actress Lucille Ball in the popular 1950s sitcom, I Love Lucy, who played a character that was both comic and elegant.

• Since the 1940s the mirrored pilots’ Aviator frames with anti-glare, was a military issue until decades later when Tom Cruise in 1986 film, Top Gun, made this style popular.

• The spectacles for Johnny Depp in the 2012 movie, Dark Shadows, was the most difficult pair of spectacles that Murray ever made because it was designed with “D” shaped blue lens with matching shaped side lens and no nose pads.

• Spectacles that Jude Law wore in the 2012 movie, Anna Karenina, was made of solid gold and he had a bodyguard to keep them secure during filming.

• Murray said all Bond fans wanted a pair of the special Q-branch sunglasses with X-ray features designed with blue tinted lens that James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) wore in the 1999 movie, The World Is Not Enough, because it could see through clothes!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 25 Oct 2014

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