The man who brought Formula 1 into our homes

Murray Walker’s unique tones worked in perfect harmony with a revving race engine. Simon Arron bids farewell

Murray-Walker-with-microphone

Shutterstock

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

159

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

It is almost 20 years since his formal retirement as a full-time commentator, but he never really abandoned the job completely. Still working at an age that the majority simply don’t reach, Murray Walker was an institution, the like of which we might never see again. His death at 97 has left a huge hole in the fabric of motor sport – not just in the UK, but around the world.

With Murray, the passion you heard was 100% genuine – a by-product of his upbringing in a racing family.

Born in Hall Green, Birmingham, on October 10, 1923 – less than a year before Motor Sport made its bow – Murray was the son of motorcycle racer Graham Walker, winner of the 1931 Isle of Man Lightweight TT. He would go on to ride bikes at grassroots level – quite literally so, in some instances, as he competed at Brands Hatch when it was still just a field – though he enjoyed his greatest competitive successes in trials events.

It speaks volumes for his character that he was a prosperous businessman long before he became internationally famous.

He rose to the rank of captain while serving with the British Army during the Second World War and, after stepping away from military service, he went on to have a long and distinguished career within the advertising industry, initially with Dunlop. He later worked for a number of leading agencies and was credited with several slogans that became part of British TV’s lexicon during the 1960s and 1970s: ‘Trill makes budgies bounce with health’, for instance, or ‘Opal Fruits, made to make your mouth water’.

“Murray had a way of making everyone feel like a friend”

His commentary career evolved in parallel, albeit very much as an extracurricular activity.

He first picked up a microphone at Shelsley Walsh in 1948 and later that year took his mother’s Morris Minor to Silverstone to watch the RAC International Grand Prix at the circuit’s inaugural meeting. Little did he realise that, seven months hence, he’d be back at the venue, this time sitting in the primitive commentary box at Stowe. “I saw John Bolster have an absolutely enormous accident in his ERA,” he recalled, “and felt certain he was probably dead. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so just blurted out something like, ‘And Bolster has gone off.’” Bolster recovered and later became technical editor of Autosport.

He obtained his first regular commentary job during the 1950s, working alongside his father to provide radio reports at the Isle of Man TT and assuming a lead role after the latter’s death in 1962. Wider recognition was forthcoming over the next two decades, when he covered rallycross and motorcycle scrambling for TV sports shows on Saturday afternoons. By day, though, he remained an advertising executive – as he would until he was almost 60.

It was only in 1978 that the BBC began to show recorded highlights from every grand prix and Walker was chosen as lead commentator, a role he maintained when full live race coverage came on stream during the early 1980s. He remained in situ until late 2001, switching between BBC and ITV as the contract changed hands. And long after his ‘retirement’, he continued doing documentary work for BBC and Channel 4 into the late 2010s. At the Nürburgring in 2007, aged 83, he stood in as lead commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live during the Grand Prix of Europe. Yes, there were occasional gaffes throughout his career, but they made up a tiny percentage of his output. And to many listeners or viewers, they became an endearing trait. As he often put it, “I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies that immediately turn out to be wrong.”

Along the way, he forged strong partnerships with several former racers, including James Hunt, Jonathan Palmer and Martin Brundle. Walker was happy to admit that he hadn’t initially wanted to share the booth with Hunt, but despite their contrasting personalities the chemistry worked – even if he did once come close to punching the 1976 world champion, who had just snatched their shared microphone from his grasp. A stern glance from producer Mark Wilkin helped restore equilibrium.

Walker’s popularity blossomed thanks to his effervescent manner and warm personality. It didn’t much matter whether you were a multiple champion, an aspiring racer, a cub reporter or an autograph hunter, he saw no distinctions and would always make time.

I was fortunate to collaborate with him on various projects, including Murray Walker’s Grand Prix Year, an F1 annual I edited for several years. On a number of occasions during this period I’d come home to hear my wife chatting happily on the phone and she’d give me a wave before continuing her conversation. Ten minutes later she’d bring me the phone, “It’s actually for you, it’s Murray…” He had a way of making everybody feel like a friend.

I also had the privilege of lap-charting for him during the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in the 1980s. As well as scribbling notes that might usefully be weaved into his commentary, I had to duck frequently to avoid Murray’s arms as he jumped around the box, pointing out things to an audience that couldn’t see him. But that was the norm, a man totally absorbed in the task at hand and trying to make the racing sound exciting because he found it exciting.

And whenever you phoned to pick his brains about bygone races he’d seen first-hand, just as you started to wind down the conversation he’d pick it up again and turn the tables, throwing in questions about a feature he’d read in this magazine or elsewhere, asking what you thought about Team X signing Driver Y, or perhaps the latest F1 regulations. His enthusiasm was infectious.

I’m sad that I’ll no longer be able to make such calls, but above all this should be a time to celebrate a life lived to the full – and then some. Thank you, Murray