Classic Sports Car
MURRAY WALKER 1923-2021
Murray Walker OBE, who died on 13 March aged 97, was the voice of Formula One for a quarter of a century, and his unmistakable style brought the sport to a new TV audience of tens of millions. What made him different was the affection he generated, earning an almost pop-idol fame that always mystified him. To a world much larger than mere motor-racing enthusiasts he was just ‘Murray’.
His father Graham was a top motorcycle racer in the 1920s and ’30s, went on to edit the magazine Motor Cycling and became a radio commentator. Murray followed in his footsteps, first as a ’bike racer – without great success – and then at the microphone.
His first four-wheel broadcast was the 1949 British Grand Prix, but through the ’50s he was BBC Radio’s motorcycling expert. He came to TV via motocross then autocross, and soon was being called on to commentate on any motorised sport – touring cars, F3, truck racing, even powerboats – except F1, which remained the preserve of the urbane, measured Raymond Baxter and in any case was not regularly covered.
That all changed in 1978. James Hunt had won the 1976 title, F1 had risen in popularity, and the BBC started showing highlights of each race, voiced by Walker. Soon it was doing more and more live coverage. At first his frantic delivery was not popular with the traditionalists, but his audience grew rapidly. He quickly became an integral part of the sport and a respected member of the paddock.
In 1980 the BBC hired James Hunt to be his co-commentator. Initially this filled Murray with dismay, but their mix was hugely entertaining. After Hunt’s death in 1993 the duo format continued with Jonathan Palmer then, when the BBC lost F1 to ITV, Martin Brundle.
Walker’s work ethic and energy allowed him to continue a parallel career with a major advertising agency until he was nearly 60. He covered every F1 race until he was 78, signing off at the end of the 2001 season. The secrets of his success lay in hard work, and the fact that his passion was never artificial.
After retiring he wrote a bestselling autobiography called, with typical self-deprecating humour,
Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken, a reference to the hilarious errors he occasionally made in the heat of the moment. He continued to be in demand for after-dinner speeches, corporate work and the occasional broadcast. Until his death he remained better-known by the public – and better-loved – than most F1 drivers.
See p53 for Simon Taylor’s personal tribute to his friend and