Murray Walker and his cycle-mad dad
SERGEANT Graham William Walker served in the First World War with the Signals Company of the Royal Engineers Regiment.
In the course of his duties on the Western Front in France as a dispatch rider, he was the successful target of a German shell resulting in repatriation to Grove Hospital, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire; one of many hospitals requisitioned by the War Office.
Between 1913 and 1916 The Grove treated over 15,000 officers and other ranks. On return to his regiment it is said that Sgt Murray was presented with a new motorcycle, specially modified to cope with the result of his leg injuries. Unbeknown at the time the two-wheeled machine and Leighton Buzzard were to play an important part in in the coming years of the 1920s and beyond.
Before hostilities began, at the age of 18, Graham Walker was passionate about motorcycles, a subject which probably occupied his mind a great deal when confined to bed at The Grove Hospital, along with 550 other wounded comrades.
As was often the case in wartime, Graham found his wifeto-be in one of many nurses whose tireless dedication became a cornerstone of the British resolve. The union between Graham Walker and Elsie Spratt delivered in 1923 a boy child of 9lbs 12oz, born at home in Hall Green, Birmingham. He was christened Graeme Murray Walker. Drop the first moniker and if that name is not familiar, his voice would be a giveaway as one of the most recognisable on British Television as the leading commentator of motorsport.
In 1925 the family relocated to Wolverhampton when Walker senior clinched a top job in joining Sunbeam to manage the firm’s motorcycle racing team. His former employer was the much-fabled Birmingham based Norton motorcycle company where he had achieved countless awards for the hallowed Bracebridge Street factory, such as second place in the 1923 Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy).
At the time the TT was heralded as the most important of the world’s motorcycle competitions. For John Marston to have tempted Walker to join Sunbeam was indeed an accomplishment as the year ahead proved to be one of the most successful for the Sunbeamland, Paul Street works located in the Penn Fields area of Wolverhampton.
Outright victories in highlycontested international events in Senior TT races in Austria, Italy and Hungary, plus a 24 hour event in France, sat nicely with nine gold medals, won in punishing overland trials in the homeland. The following year Graham Walker took the chequered flag, claiming victory in the Grand Prix of Europe riding a 350cc OHV (Overhead Valve) factory-prepared Sunbeam.
Commonly described as the ultimate challenge for rider and machine the Isle of Man TT circuit of 37.73 miles is staged on closed public highways notable for having 200 bends and several hair-raising bridges, and through town centres flanked by the hazards of walls, buildings, kerbs, trees and road side posts.
Mist and often thick fog at the highest point on the 1,300 ft (396m) Snaefell mountain could also pose an unwelcome menace. A typical Senor TT race at the time meant riders endured up to four hours in the saddle.
Graham Walker’s best ever for Sunbeam was fifth in the 1927 Senior TT at an average speed of 64.72mph. Interestingly, whilst we have no record of the weather conditions at the time, in the following year, the highly-regarded rider Charlie Dobson won the event also for Sunbeam at the slightly slower average speed of 62.98mph.
In an epic duel for the first man to reach the highest speed, it was in the Ulster Grand Prix, Northern Ireland, a couple of months later that Graham Walker claimed the title for Sunbeam of the first rider to win a GP at an average speed of 80mph.
Charlie Dobson, another member of the Sunbeam racing team, lost out by only 11 seconds in the contest, which is recorded as being comparable to two gladiators in wheel-towheel combat for over two and a half hours. And this was the man that had sustained serious injuries in World War One in the quagmire that was the Western Front in France.
Walker’s aspiration to win the Isle of Man TT came to fruition in 1931, riding to victory three years after joining the Coventry firm of Rudgewhitworth in the elevated capacity of Sales and Competition Director.
Retiring from the sport around 1935 saw an opportunity to maintain his grass roots passion in the role of editor for Motor Cycling magazine from 1938 to 1954. With the political clouds of World War Two gathering, the man who had spent most of his working days championing the merits of two wheeled transportation it must have been second nature to volunteer in supporting a Home Office campaign to recruit dispatch riders for the armed forces.
Looking back at his Army career in the 1914/18 conflict it would have been ironic to learn his motorcycle on the fateful wounding by an enemy shell had been a Sunbeam. A strong possibility perhaps? Hundreds of export crates were shipped from the Sunbeam motorcycle works bound for the British, French and Russian armies in the Western and Eastern fronts.
Almost as if he was paving the way for son Murray, Walker senior joined the BBC as a commentator of motorcycle events. It must have been a joyous occasion when in 1949 father (53) and son (26) partnered several live commentaries for the BBC.
Graham Walker died in 1962 at the relatively young age of 66. Son Murray celebrated his 95th birthday in September this year. Page upon page of his autobiography published in 2002 are given over to listing highlights and awards in his competitive and broadcasting career. For many, his voice will be memorable for his uniquely passionate commentating style at 350 Formula One motor racing Grand Prix events in 21 different countries.
Where Walker senior excelled on two wheeled machines, son Murray preferred four, but in one glorious moment on two, he won a 250cc race at Brands Hatch in 1947, riding a Wolverhamptonmanufactured AJS motorcycle.
1921. At the age of 25, Graham Murray at the French Grand Prix on a Norton, most likely 500cc. Four years later he left Norton to head up the Wolverhampton based Sunbeam motorcycle racing team
1931. Father and a camera-shy son in the paddock after Graham won the 250cc class Isle of Man TT. Murray Walker was eight years old
This Sunbeam 3.5 hp single cylinder model was typical of the type used by dispatch riders in the 1914/18 conflict. Some models had a side car addition which was often removed to provide for stretcher bearer use
In his autobiography Murray Walker said:‘i worshipped my father. Had there been World Championships in those days, my father would undoubtable have won at least one of them.’ (Photo by Gray Mortimore/getty Images)