Murray Walker, 1923-2021

F1 history

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“He talks as if his trousers are on fire”: There was surely no better description of Murray Walker’s high-octane commentary style than that coined by another great broadcaster, Clive James.

For a generation of Formula 1 fans in Britain and beyond, Walker, who passed away today, was “the voice of Formula 1”.

His irrepressible passion for motorsport, ten-tenths delivery and, of course, those celebrated gaffes brought him fame beyond motor racing.

Though his high-octane commentary on the BBC and ITV made him synonymous with Formula 1, he was a motorbike racing fan first. He made his debut as a commentator on four-wheeled motorsport at the 1949 British Grand Prix, the year before the world championship began.

Over the years that followed, he dovetailed commentary duties on a varied assortment of motorsport on two wheels and four with his work in the advertising industry.

Walker regularly returned to the F1 paddock after retiring
Having commentated on a handful of Formula 1 races in the sixties and seventies, Walker’s big break came in 1978 when the BBC expanded its coverage of the world championship to include all 16 rounds, and producer Jonathan Martin chose him to be their commentator.

To begin with Walker attended the opening days of the races, then returned to their studio in Britain for the race, adding his commentary to a half-hour highlights package. BBC’s Grand Prix programme proved a success, and in 1980 it was expanded to include more live race coverage.

The commentary line-up was expanded as well: Walker now had to share the microphone with 1976 world champion James Hunt, a change he strongly opposed at first. The partnership eventually blossomed and lasted for 13 years, until Hunt’s sudden death in 1993.

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By then Formula 1’s popularity had rocketed, aided by Walker’s unfailingly passionate commentaries, which brought the heroics of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and, above all, home-grown hero Nigel Mansell into British living rooms.

In retirement, he could be as big a draw as the drivers
Capitalising on its success, in December 1995 F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone called the BBC to inform them he had sold the UK broadcasting rights to ITV. Wisely, the rival broadcaster was quick to secure Walker’s services.

It was a testament to his popularity that the two allowed him to work for both simultaneously. Walker initially continued his work on the BBC’s popular British Touring Car Championship coverage. But with the F1 calendar expanding, the BTCC increasing its demands on his time by switching to live broadcasts, and Walker already in his mid-seventies, he soon dropped the BTCC to focus on F1. He hung up his microphone late in 2001, having commentated on almost 400 grands prix.

As the voice of British Formula 1 coverage, Walker was inevitably closely associated with British drivers. One of his most celebrated moments as a commentator came at the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, his last live broadcast for the BBC, when Damon Hill won and clinched the drivers championship. For once, his adrenaline-charged delivery gave way to a different kind of emotion. “And I’ve got to stop,” he memorably quavered, “because I’ve got a lump in my throat.”

But he was never hesitant in his praise for the other greats of the time, especially Michael Schumacher, who Walker steadfastly defended against criticism among fans and the press in Britain.

“I just tried to be fair and balanced and the fact that I got very few complaints hopefully indicates that I got it about right,” he wrote in his 2002 autobiography. “I always tried to speak as I found and to be non-partisan.”

Every motorsport commentator who has followed him since knows he set the standard they will inevitably be measured against.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Murray Walker, 1923-2021”

  1. Great man, rest in peace 😔

    1. <a href="http://Murray Walker was the best commentator r.I.p and also when he touched Damon hill forhead

  2. I remember his commentary high pitched fast paced. Some times wrong, but funny. F1 needs another Mr Walker.

  3. Rest in Peace Mr. Muarray! Great speaker and friendly man. It was his time and we will remember him!

    1. Mr. Murray

  4. If the dictionary had pictures, Murray Walker would be the photo next to “Enthusiasm”.

    I genuinely think that Murray was part of the reason I love F1 today. His unmatched excitement got a fairly complicated sport through the short attention span I had as a kid. I struggle to imagine a commentator that will ever match his verve.

  5. People like mr Walker never die. In my ears he will ring forever.

    So whatever heavenly race he is commenting next goodspeed!

    1. That’s very true!

    2. Jack (@jackisthestig)
      14th March 2021, 6:08

      Absolutely! Motorsport will always be accompanied by the sound of Murray’s voice in my mind. It was terribly sad to hear the news that he had passed away yesterday but on reflection, what a life well lived.

  6. See you at the chequered flag Murray.

  7. Noooooooooooooooo….
    I love this guy, he added so much colour to the races and it has not been the same ever since he retired…….. I met him a few years back and even though we only chatted for a couple of minutes he was so nice. RIP. May you be getting ghost rides from all those legends in the afterlife (whatever that may be)

  8. For me as a child watching F1, Murray Walker’s voice was as much the sound of F1 as the car engines themselves.

    He existed in a sport he loved, and then had a 20 year retirement.A wonderful man who earned the love and respect of millions before reaching his own chequered flag.

  9. People say that it is easy to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses and overstate what was great in their favourite years of the sport.

    But, Murray was a legend and no commentator has come close since.

  10. The best motor racing commentator who really added so much to F1. He could liven up even dull races. We knew he was special at the time, and he transcended the role of commentating and presenting to without trying to do so.

  11. One of the most memorable personalities in F1 history.
    He managed what very few of us can ever dream of. Being engraved in history.

  12. I’ve got to stop reading this, because I’ve got a lump in my throat.

  13. Murray Walker and James Hunt, simply the best TV commentary pairing ever. Their voices are ingrained in my love for Formula 1 decades on, I can hear them chatting away right now. RIP Murray.

  14. His enthusiasm for motorsport drew me to F1 as a kid. Splendid chap.

  15. Really a shame about murray walker, but in the end even reaching the age of 97 is an achievement, I honestly thought he was around 90.

    Really a great commentator.

  16. Eternal legend.

  17. Despite being error prone and often blind to strategic race developments, I loved him because when he screamed it was because of genuine excitement and not because he was trying to inject excitement into the race itself. I loved him because of the blazing glow of his warmth that was his humanity, purity of spirit and simple joy, which made each race weekend feel like Christmas come early. He was Santa Claus. And we were the lucky kids.

  18. I recommend this for some nostalgic and emotional viewing:
    Murray Walker’s This Is Your Life from 1998

  19. RIP Murray

    An icon of the sport for his commentary, which whilst gaffe strewn at times was never dull. His voice always carried a current of excitment that dragged uou along even during the quieter parts of the race.

    Even after his retirement he was a regular face at the British GP each year until recent years and he will be missed

  20. Two things that should happen.

    A part of Silverstone such as a corner or stand be named after him.

    The trophy they present to the British GP winner to also bear his name

  21. A thousand times every comment in here.

    Murray’s inimitable commentary not only brought F1 to life during my formative years, giving me a love for the sport which still endures 20 years after he retired, but also a deep admiration for anyone who exudes enthusiasm for their field, no matter what that field might be. Most of the stuff I watch on TV, take part in, or am engaged with in any other way, comes from Murray.

    A true national treasure. How about a statue at Silverstone?

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