Murray Walker obituary 1923-2021

F1

Murray Walker commentated on Formula 1 from 1978 all the way up to 2001 and was an iconic part of the sport's history

Murray Walker

Murray Walker was the voice of Formula 1 through to 2001

Darren Heath/Getty Images

He never won a grand prix, nor even took part in a major race, but Murray Walker – who has passed away, aged 97 – was an international motor sport treasure, a man as widely recognised and respected as most of the drivers whose exploits he reported. When he and Nigel Mansell teamed up to open a new hospitality centre at Thruxton during the summer of 2018, both were swamped by autograph hunters… but the queue for Murray was slightly the longer.

Born in Hall Green, Birmingham, he was the son of motorcycle racer Graham Walker – winner of the 1931 Isle of Man Lightweight TT – and competed for a while on two wheels, albeit at grass-roots level. After attaining the rank of tank captain during the Second World War, he left the army to work in advertising and is credited with creating a number of slogans that became part of Britain’s everyday lexicon during the 1960s and 1970s, not least ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ and ‘Trill makes budgies bounce with health’.

“I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies that immediately turn out to be wrong.”

He made his debut behind the microphone at Shelsley Walsh in 1948 and was assigned to commentate on the British Grand Prix from the Stowe box at Silverstone in 1949, but advertising remained his main occupation. He obtained his first regular commentary slot by providing radio coverage of the IoM TT alongside his father during the 1950s, then assumed the lead role after Graham’s death in 1962.

He began to become more widely known over the following two decades, covering motocross and rallycross for the Saturday afternoon sports programmes on national television. F1 was rarely covered at that time, but the BBC began regular highlights programmes from 1978 and recruited Walker as its front man – a role he maintained when full live race coverage commenced during the early 1980s. As F1 extended its media footprint, so Walker’s fame grew – his popularity augmented by his enthusiastic delivery and occasional habit of saying things at inopportune moments. In his own words, “I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies that immediately turn out to be wrong.”

From the archive

Walker forged strong bonds with a number of co-commentators, notably James Hunt (even though he once almost thumped him while they wrestled over a single microphone) and Martin Brundle, and continued working in F1 – for both ITV and the BBC – until the 2001 United States GP at Indianapolis.

Even after stepping down, however, he remained a frequent paddock fixture, fulfilling ambassadorial roles and undertaking occasional TV and radio commitments – something he continued until he was well into his 90s.

Away from the microphone, he was an old-school enthusiast – a man who sounded as passionate as he did because his love for the sport was absolute. He was also charming, engaging company, and generous with his time to all those who sought a signature or else, simply, a quick chat.

There will never be another quite like him.

 

Simon Arron remembers Murray Walker

Silverstone was cloaked in its traditional autumn grey when the message came through to the press room: “The BBC’s lap charter hasn’t turned up and Murray Walker will need some help. Why don’t you put yourself forward?”

It was 1982, long before live timing’s invention, and the Beeb was making one of its occasional dips into the British F3 Championship. I was directed towards the Outside Broadcast trucks, parked close to Woodcote, and poked my head through a gap to see what the inner sanctum contained: there were assorted cables lying around and Murray Walker stood in the middle, apparently unoccupied. I wandered up to introduce myself, wondering how a 21-year-old cub reporter might be received by a household name, and his welcome could not have been warmer. The lap-charting crisis had already been averted, but he thanked me for volunteering and wished me well as I headed back towards the paddock.

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We would not meet again until the 1984 Macau GP, when we were assigned to the same table during an official pre-race dinner. Before it began, Murray stood up and said, “Let me introduce everybody…” I cringed. There was surely no chance he’d remember our brief encounter two years beforehand, but when he reached my section of the table it transpired that he seemed to know more about me than I did. As our paths crossed more frequently over the years, I discovered that his research was never less than meticulous – irrespective of circumstance. He loved his job, certainly, but he also worked extremely hard at it.

I did eventually have the pleasure of collaborating with him for the BBC, compiling his lap chart during a Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival in the mid 1980s… and keeping my head down as his arms flailed around, every bit as expressive as his voice.

The opportunity to watch a master in his realm, and at such close quarters, was a privilege not easily forgotten.