A Tribute to Murray Walker
With the sad news of the death of Murray Walker, Online Sport Editor Harry Scott-Munro pays tribute to the man whose voice lit up Formula 1 for so many years.
On Saturday, motor racing lost a true icon, the voice that embodied Formula 1: The late, great Murray Walker. Many tributes have poured in for the man who bought Formula 1 to life for so many that watched on from their sofas, as he finally completed 97 incredible laps around the sun.
A charming, lovely man, who simply revelled in bringing to life the action in front of him, Walker’s commentary and double acts with both James Hunt and later, Martin Brundle, defined the history that was unfolding on track.
He become known for his ‘Murray-isms’ and his ‘pants on fire’ style of commentary. Walker lived every race in the moment, his mouth moving faster than his brain at times. But his charm, his passion and his sheer joy at bringing what he was watching to life made sure that his voice will always remain the definitive soundtrack to watching a race unfold.
Walker hung up the microphone in 2001, having commentated on racing from a young age. His voice described the action from the 1949 British Grand Prix, the year before the first official Formula 1 World Championship, whilst juggling his full-time job in advertising. He became the BBC’s full-time Formula 1 commentator in 1978 and continued as the sport moved to being broadcast on ITV, finally calling it quits on a full-time basis in the early 2000s, two years shy of his 80th birthday.
Reticent to ever criticise the drivers on track, his chalk and cheese pairing with the brash no-nonsense voice of 1976 World Drivers Champion James Hunt became an instant classic for Formula 1 fans.
His more comical moments in the commentary box became cult classics in their own right, as he proudly declared through the microphone that “There’s nothing wrong with the car except it’s on fire,” when describing the action in front of him. As Murray said himself, ‘I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong.’
Murray loved Formula 1 and Formula 1 loved him back. When he retired from commentating in 2001, the outpouring of affection for the man from fans and drivers alike, (the drivers presented him with a bottle of champagne signed by all on the grid that season,) proved that in abundance.
His sheer joy in seeing long-time friend Damon Hill cross the line to win the Japanese Grand Prix in 1996 and with it, the world title, will forever remain one of the sports iconic moments. As he watched Hill cross the line, Walker declared ‘and I’ve got to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat,’ as he was overcome with emotion at watching Hill achieve his dream at the pinnacle of motorsport.
He was a master of his craft and a true one-off. An instantly recognisable voice, that joyfully proclaimed ‘it’s lights out and go, go, go,’ at the start of every Grand Prix race.
When needed, Murray would always find the right words. He was there at Imola in 1994, when the motor racing world lost Ayrton Senna. Despite the heartache and heartbreak going on around him, Murray found the words to eloquently and articulately convey the thoughts of the paddock, providing the words to an outpouring of emotion and respect for the great Brazilian.
The term legend is used all too frivolously nowadays. However, in this instance, it is absolutely deserved. Even those who never watched Formula 1 would still recognise the excitable voice when it came on air. He was simply Murray. A wonderful man with time for everyone and an unrivalled passion for motorsport.
Often mimicked, never surpassed, there will never be anyone quite like Murray Walker. As Martin Brundle said in his touching tribute to his late friend, “They broke the mould when Murray was born, there will never be another Murray Walker.”