Seldom can any frontrank outside-broadcast commentator have had an extended span on the microphone, or a voice extra distinctively identifiable with their sport, than motor racing’s Murray Walker, who has died aged 97.
In British broadcasting lore John Arlott’s rural burr will all the time stay redolent of cricket’s roots within the village inexperienced, simply as Dan Maskell’s creamy courtside whisper was homage to the leisured grace of the suburban tennis membership, and Invoice McLaren’s Borderer’s brogue without end implied the blazered probity of olde-tyme novice “rugger”.
So, at grand prix time for bikes and automobiles, for greater than half a century, the passionate yawp and yowl emanating from Walker’s commentary field was an virtually onomatopeic accompaniment to the snarling beasts hurtling previous at 200mph. It could have been high-octane noise, however the descriptions had been additionally expert and professionally achieved.
On each radio and tv, Walker’s florid “pants on fireplace” commentaries had been heard throughout seven a long time. The primary grand prix he described dwell was for BBC “wi-fi” at Silverstone in 1949 (received by Baron Toulo de Graffenried’s Maserati 4CLT) and his tv finale – for ITV in 2001 – was the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis (received by Mika Häkkinen’s McLaren).
His final dwell commentary of a grand prix was in 2007 for BBC radio, when he was 83 – the European Grand Prix for Radio 5 Dwell, as a one-off substitute for the common commentator, David Croft.
In all, Walker coated greater than 350 Formulation One grands prix, greater than 200 Isle of Man TT and senior Manx motorcycling occasions, and numerous different classes from powerboat races to motocross and speedway. For effectively over half a century, if noisy motor sport was broadcast, you possibly can just about assure that Walker’s decibels had been trying to drown it out in his valiant efforts to boost the narrative and embellish the scene. But it surely was not with out price. Years of publicity to the din left him with listening to loss in each ears.
Whereas his stimulating ebullience was interesting to (most) cognoscenti petrolheads, a wider viewers fondly loved the commentator’s accompanying torrent of tautologies and full-spate sophistries, his “Murrayisms”, as he referred to as them. Most exterior broadcasters are embarrassed by (or flatly deny) their reported heat-of-the-moment bloopers, however Walker fortunately revelled in, and nurtured his. “Far too usually I’d function mouth earlier than partaking mind,” he would admit, “however the motion in entrance of me was all the time taking place at such a lick.”
The great ol’ trouper knew, too, that fortunately confessed horse’s-mouth recitation of those touching gaffes not solely saved the trouble of a freshly minted script every time, but additionally handsomely enhanced his charges on the profitable after-dinner circuit.
You might want to squawk for the complete impact: “This main automobile is totally distinctive – besides, after all, for the one instantly behind it, which is equivalent.” Or: “Mansell’s now completely in entrance of everybody on this race, besides the 2 in entrance of him.”
At an Australian race within the late Nineteen Eighties I timed Walker as he spent greater than an hour merrily signing for a shrewd trackside vendor, free, a towering pile of T-shirts printed with one in all his all-time classics. On the entrance of the shirt was the legend: “Except I’m Very A lot Mistaken…” and, on the again: “Sure, I Am Very A lot Mistaken …” And he employed this title for his 2003 autobiography, too.
At all times proud to name himself a Brummie, Walker was born within the Corridor Inexperienced space of Birmingham, the son of Elsie (nee Spratt) and Graham Walker. The toddler was gulping exhaust fumes from the primary. His father was a crack works rider for the town’s fabled Norton motorbike firm. At 4, the boy watched his father grow to be the primary man to common greater than 80mph in profitable a grand prix on the gruelling Clady circuit in Northern Eire. Mom and son would spend their summers citing the rear with the spanners and oily rags as Graham vroomed across the circuits of Europe. By 1935 Graham was working not solely as editor of Motor Biking journal, however as BBC radio’s first devoted motorcycling commentator.
After Highgate faculty, north London, and a crammer course “in tanks” at Sandhurst, Murray was commissioned in 1942 into the Royal Scots Greys, attaining the rank of captain. He helped make the push from Normandy to the Baltic, and on demobilisation, went into promoting, a profession which, by itself, may need made him worthy of be aware.
After spells as an accounts government at Dunlop, Aspro and Esso, within the late 50s he joined the fledgling firm Masius, which had a small London workplace and billings of below £1m. By the point he left the board within the late 80s, Masius (by then with a bunch of companions) was itself a number one worldwide model with 50 workplaces in 27 nations and billings of effectively over £1bn.
On a grand prix weekend, whenever you managed to catch Walker in one in all his benignly reflective moods over a late-night brandy, he would checklist, like a softly sung plainchant litany (and every recollected with a private story to spice the reminiscence) all of the accounts he had helped get off the bottom – Pal, Lassie, Chappie, Package-E-Kat, Trill and Treets; Mars Bars, Milky Means, Galaxy, Bounty, and by no means forgetting Opal Fruits, “made-to-make-your-mouth-water”.
All of the whereas, weekends had been spent shouting right into a BBC microphone on the motorbike racetrack, at first as breathless pit-man interviewer to his father’s commentary field descriptions. On his father’s demise at 66 in 1962, Walker inherited the “household” microphone, and very quickly had morphed into being the BBC’s senior globetrotting motor-racing man as effectively. From 1980 to 1993 he was accompanied within the commentary field by the previous British world champion James Hunt, in a surprisingly profitable double act, till Hunt died instantly of a coronary heart assault, aged 45.
When ITV purchased out the Formulation One grand prix contract from the BBC in 1997, the Day by day Mirror cornily however tellingly ran a Save Our Murray marketing campaign, however in fact it was a completely pointless gimmick and ITV duly signed up Walker who, in spite of everything, had lengthy been a treasured nationwide establishment. The earlier yr, he had been appointed OBE.
On his retirement from promoting aged 59, Walker and his doting and doted-upon spouse, Elizabeth – whom he had married in 1959 – moved from north London to a elegant 13-acre patch of the New Forest – deer, ponies, tinkling trout stream included. Among the many mementoes and trophies that littered his workplace den, and alongside fondly displayed sepia footage of his father in his champion’s leathers, was a hanging, specifically commissioned oil portray of a hell-bent classic 30s race automobile at prime scary lick – his hero Tazio Nuvolari in motion.
“Tazio Nuvolari was the perfect of all,” he mentioned. “I used to be 14 when dad took me to see him at Donington in 1938. He drove an Auto Union. It modified my life, I believe, to look at as he smilingly slalomed into and out of each nook, all arms and elbows and hair-raising four-wheel drifts, all opposite-lock and showers of shale and cinders. Tazio was the person an entire technology queued up all evening to look at, unquestionably the best driver of all of them for me.”
After he ended his common Formulation One commentaries, Walker continued to look on tv for numerous years afterwards, primarily on journal programmes however often commentating on much less high-profile motorsport occasions. Acknowledging the partial deafness he had developed through the years, in 2006 he turned an envoy for the David Ormerod Listening to Centres, and campaigned to assist individuals perceive the significance of frequent listening to exams.
He’s survived by Elizabeth.
Graeme Murray Walker, motor racing commentator, born 10 October 1923; died 13 March 2021