So now we know. Murray Walker is the greatest commentator of all time. Well, we’re happy with that, aren’t we? Maybe not the other commentators, but Mr Walker himself will be chuffed to receive this news.
Who says Murray is the greatest of all? To be precise, it is the opinion of 8879 people canvassed by a company called 72 Point in a survey of TV sports pundits. But this is not the point. We all know that he was the best and we still miss his extraordinary enthusiasm and the terrible muddles he talked himself into on occasion. OK, his mistakes helped to make him a household name, but he was always acutely aware of one vital thing, and that’s entertainment. He understands that television is entertainment, that not everyone knows the depth of tyre treads, and that the average person simply wants to enjoy a couple of hours in front of the box. He also knew that he had to be on top of his game, do his research, but the act of broadcasting is a performance. And he was a performer.
Surely his finest hour was his partnership with James Hunt. Two very different people, with very different attitudes, but somehow it gelled and, again, this was a double act determined to entertain. And, in the case of Mr Hunt, to annoy and wind up those he felt were not fully up to speed. Murray did not take to James at first and their relationship was a little frosty, Walker disapproving of Hunt’s bohemian lifestyle. But they became good friends and the commentator speaks fondly of his ‘co-driver’ these days. Somehow it just worked, there was a chemistry, and this is rare in broadcasting, especially in sports coverage. Martin Brundle does his best to liven things up in the post-Walker era but – in my view – he’s never had a ‘partner’ with whom he can really get something going.
Speaking of Brundle, I was delighted to see that he popped up in sixth place in the survey’s top 20 commentators of all time. Quite right too – he’s a natural, another man who understands how to entertain as well as inform. Not an easy trick. Brundle’s contribution these past years has been invaluable, especially the grid walks, while his pithy and often funny observations add enormously to the enjoyment of Grand Prix viewing. Well done MB, I say.
To be on top of your game on television you first have to be a genuine and passionate enthusiast. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks. And that’s where Murray scores every time. Like John Motson with football and John McEnroe with tennis, you get the feeling that they just love their sport, they want to communicate it to the viewer with passion and humour, as well as with hard facts and no-nonsense directness.
I first met Murray back in the 1970s and we still keep in touch. Whenever I see him for a chat he is always the same, never waivers from his absolute passion for Formula 1. He knows the sport is far from perfect, but he loves it. And that’s what matters. That’s why he is, in the view of 8879 people – if not the rest of the world – is the best of all.