A letter to Murray Walker


Unless we are very much mistaken it was your 90th birthday yesterday. So many, many happy returns from me, and all of us at Motor Sport magazine which, as you will know, was founded a mere 89 years ago.

Earlier this year we were all shocked to hear that you had fallen down and broken your pelvis, following which the engineers discovered that you were also suffering from a cancer. We knew, however, that you wouldn’t take that lying down and that you’d defy any gloomy predictions with your customary energy and determination. No thoughts, I wager, of an early pitstop. And so it was with joy that we saw you bounce back at the Goodwood Revival in September. A bit wobbly on your legs, yes, but as feisty and cheerful as ever despite the aches and pains.

We first met way back in the 1970s when you did an interview for my ‘Track Torque’ radio programme – well, you did the talking, I asked the occasional question… then, when I was doing some commentary for Eurosport, you were more than generous with your hints and tips. And it was then that I discovered just how tough it is to be a good motor racing commentator on television. A lot of people are competent but precious few excel, and that is why you have become a living legend. Yes, I know you are averse to mutual admiration societies, but it is true.

What you understood so well, of course, is that first and foremost you are there to entertain those who watch from their sofas on Sundays. Almost without exception, they reckon they could do a better job, but they could not.

Standing in a commentary box, surrounded by screaming tifosi and shrieking Grand Prix cars on a hot Sunday at Monza, is a far cry from watching in the comfort of your favourite armchair.

Ironically it was blunders and blusters that made you a star, and it was ‘Muddly Talker’ that the man on the Clapham Omnibus took to his heart. Never mind the hours of research, the painstaking preparation and the foot-slogging round the paddocks. No, they wanted to be entertained as well as informed, and that is exactly what you did for so many decades. ‘Absolutely fantastic!’, as you might say.

This was a mighty hard act to follow and I am not convinced that anyone has found your shoes to be an entirely comfortable fit. You would say that times change, the sport is ever-changing, and it was time to give new talent a chance. This is all true, and there is surely a limit to how many times you are prepared to fly around the globe in search of the perfect line, the unforgettable quote.

Talking to you at the Goodwood Revival was, as ever, a pleasure, a mixture of mischief, scurrilous stories and that considered view of the sport that comes only with so many decades of experience. I am not at all surprised that you have celebrated your 90th birthday. For a man with your passion, energy and curiosity I’m sure it’s simply another milestone, another lap of the track.

In closing I’d like to say thanks, on behalf of millions of fans right round the world, for your part in bringing Grand Prix racing to a huge new audience.

Oh, and please don’t shout out the winner at Suzuka on Sunday as you sit glued to the race at home. He’s bound to get a puncture on the final lap.

Click here for more from Rob Widdows

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