Murray Walker

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Murray Walker OBE
MurrayWalkerAutosportInternational2009.jpg
Walker in 2009
Born Graeme Murray Walker
(1923-10-10) 10 October 1923 (age 91)
Hall Green, Birmingham, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Highgate School
Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
Occupation Commentator
Journalist
Years active 1948–2001, 2005–present (recurring)
Employer BBC Sport (1976–96, 2009–)
ITV Sport (1997–2001)
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Walker

Graeme Murray Walker, OBE (born 10 October 1923), known as Murray Walker, is a semi-retired Formula One motorsport commentator and journalist. For most of his career he worked for the BBC, but when it lost the contract for Formula One coverage to ITV, Walker continued his commentating after the change of broadcaster.

He is known for his distinctive, enthusiastic commentary style and gentlemanly and considerate conduct, seeing the best in drivers who had attracted controversy. He rarely criticised drivers and preferred to give the benefit of the doubt in attributing blame for incidents.

Early life[edit]

Walker was born Graeme Murray Walker at 214 Reddings Lane in Hall Green, Birmingham, Warwickshire on 10 October 1923.[1] His father Graham Walker was a despatch rider and works motorcyclist for Norton Motorcycle Company, who participated in the Isle of Man TT. His mother Elsie Spratt was the daughter of Harry Spratt, a businessman from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.[1] In 1925 Walker and his family moved to Wolverhampton when Graham became the Competition Manager for Sunbeam. The family later moved to Coventry in 1928 when Graham worked as the Sales and Competition Director for Rudge-Whitworth.[1]

Walker's education began with a governess at the family home which followed by attending preparatory schools around the country. Walker attended Highgate School gaining a Distniction in Divinity. Within two years of Walker's arrival at Highgate he joined the School Bugles, learning to play the Bugle. At the outbreak of World War II Highgate governors became concerned about the possible extent of bombing raids on London with Walker and his fellow students being evacuated to Westward Ho!. Students returned one year early and later returned to Devon remaining there until 1941. Within this time Walker rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major of the School Corps.[1]

Walker was later conscripted into the armed forces and applied to volunteer for tanks but was required to wait due to the lack of resources supplied by the Armed Forces. Walker worked with the Dunlop Rubber Company where they offered 12 scholarships yearly and was based at Fort Dunlop. As part of the evacuation scheme imposed by the British Government Walker was evacuated to Erdington living with the Bellamy family at 58 Holly Lane. On 1 October 1942 he took a train from Waterloo to Wool where he reported to the 30th Primary Training Wing at Bovington, the headquarters of the Royal Armoured Corps.[1] He later graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys. He went on to command a Sherman Tank and participate in the Battle of the Reichswald with the 4th Armoured Brigade. He left the Army having attained the rank of Captain.

Walker then worked in advertising for Dunlop and Aspro. He was then employed by the Masius advertising agency, with clients including Mars,[2] Vauxhall Motors and British Rail. He did not retire from this until the age of 59, long after he was famed as a commentator. He also briefly competed in motorcycle races himself.

Walker is often wrongly attributed with having invented the famous slogan "A Mars a day helps you work rest and play": "[it] was something that I administered, but I never invented it. I'll tell you how it got ascribed to me. It got put into an obituary file, maybe all of my obituary files, and I can't get rid of it. It's amazing the way it sticks."

Walker did, however, create the slogan "Trill makes budgies bounce with health" - a famous advertising slogan for bird seed in the 1960s as well as the slogan "Opal Fruits, made to make your mouth water." [3]

Career as a commentator[edit]

Walker made his first broadcast at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in 1948.[4] By 1949 he was commentating on races alongside Max Robertson, although it wasn't until the late 1970s that each Formula 1 race was given extensive coverage on British television. He did occasional Formula 1 commentaries during the 1970s, going full-time for the 1978 season. He commentated on Formula 1 through to the 2001 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

His first regular work was on radio coverage of the Isle of Man TT, initially alongside his father. After Graham's death in 1962, Murray took over the lead role. He covered motocross (initially for ITV) during the 1960s and rallycross in the 1970s and early 1980s. He occasionally commentated on motorcycle racing and rallying. Walker also covered the BTCC for the BBC between 1988 and 1997, and the Macau event for Hong Kong TV on nine occasions.[1]

On Formula One coverage from 1980 to 1993, Walker struck up a surprisingly successful, and extremely popular, double act with 1976 World Champion James Hunt. Initially they did not get on, as Hunt's interests, personality and private life appeared to have little in common with Walker's. However, the pair eventually became good friends. Walker and Hunt were to work together for more than a decade at the BBC, until Hunt's sudden death from a heart attack two days after the 1993 Canadian Grand Prix.

When in the commentary booth together, Walker would provide his typically animated descriptions of the action, with Hunt bringing in his expert knowledge (which included inside information from the pits, typically from his former team McLaren), and often opinionated nature, in his co-commentary role. The pair didn't always get along in the commentary box though. Typically, they had to share one microphone which meant passing it back and forth to each other, with the usually sitting Hunt waving a hand (often unsuccessfully) in Walker's face when he wanted the microphone (Walker would often stand while doing race commentary, especially at the start of a race). On one occasion early in their partnership, Walker wouldn't hand the microphone over after repeated attempts by Hunt for him to do to. In frustration, Hunt stood and grabbed the microphone from him, which caused the normally cool Walker to grab the former World Champion by the collar and raise his fist to hit his partner, though cooler heads prevailed and they continued to form a successful partnership.

After Hunt died, former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer joined Walker in the commentary box until the end of 1996, though in 1993 others such as 1980 World Champion Alan Jones took the role as Walker's partner for the "fly away" races in Japan and Australia at the end of the season. The following year, the television rights for the UK coverage transferred to ITV, and Walker followed. His co-commentator from the 1997 season onwards until his retirement from commentating was another F1 driver, Martin Brundle. There were few Grands Prix between 1978 and 1996 that Walker did not commentate on while employed by the BBC, usually as a result of his actually commentating elsewhere. Some of these included the 1979 Belgian Grand Prix and 1988 Hungarian Grand Prix (when Simon Taylor deputised for him), the German Grands Prix of 1981 and 1984 (both commentated on by Barrie Gill), and the 1985 German Grand Prix (Tony Jardine).

Murray also wrote a series of annuals for the Grand Prix season, Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year, for Hazelton Publishing from 1987 to 1997. The books, which have become something of a collectors item among enthusiasts, usually consisted of a summary of the season as well as each individual race, with Murray's own comments on the individual teams and drivers performances, as well as news about the teams.

In December 2000 Walker announced he was to retire from Formula One commentating.[5] Walker's final Formula One television commentary was the 2001 United States Grand Prix which was also the second F1 race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which, coincidentally, was the last race win for Mika Häkkinen. Upon his retirement, Walker was awarded an original brick from "The Brickyard" by track president Tony George, an honour very rarely bestowed on anyone other than the winning driver of a major race at the venue, such is his standing in the motor racing community.

In November 1997, Walker was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree from Bournemouth University.[6] He was later honoured, in July 2005, with an Honorary Doctorate from the Middlesex University, London.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1997 when he was surprised by Michael Aspel during a promotional video launch at the Sports Cafe in London’s Lower Regent Street.

Later years[edit]

Murray Walker's star on the Birmingham Walk of Stars

In October 2005, it was announced that Walker would be returning to the microphone as the BBC's voice of the new Grand Prix Masters series.[7] After providing the commentary for the inaugural race in South Africa, in January 2006 BBC Radio 5 Live announced that Walker would be part of their team for their coverage of subsequent races.

Years of exposure to loud engines and age-related hearing problems left Walker with hearing loss in both ears. In 2006 he became chief ambassador for David Ormerod Hearing Centres, the high street Audiology chain that fitted his hearing aids.

In March 2006, the Honda Racing F1 Team, formerly British American Racing, announced that Walker would become its team ambassador for half of the 2006 season's 18 Grands Prix, starting with the San Marino Grand Prix in April.[8] Walker welcomed Honda Racing's VIP guests and entertained them with his F1 commentary.

In March 2006, Walker returned to the microphone for the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercar round in Adelaide, held on a modified version of the Adelaide Street Circuit used for the Formula One Australian Grand Prix from 1985 until 1995. Then in April he commentated on the Australian Grand Prix for Australia's Formula One broadcaster Network Ten, showing he had lost none of his legendary commentary voice. He was also Sky Sports' commentator for their coverage of Grand Prix Masters.

In March 2007, Walker again returned to the microphone for the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercar round, and was awarded a Lifetime Infinite Pass to the event by organisers at a ceremony on pit straight, shortly before the main race. In March 2007 he was again part of Network Ten’s commentary team for the Australian Grand Prix.

In June 2007, Walker visited the Isle of Man to celebrate the Centenary of the Isle of Man TT and work on a DVD documentary about the event, TT: Centenary Celebration with Murray Walker, which was released later in the year.

In July 2007, Walker commentated on the European Grand Prix for BBC Radio 5 Live. This was a one-off in place of regular commentator David Croft who was on paternity leave.[9]

On 28 June 2008, Walker was honoured by the people of his hometown and presented with a "Star" on the Walk of Stars on Broad Street in Birmingham.

In November 2008, Walker's presence in the BBC's recovered coverage of F1 - as a website columnist - was confirmed as a freelancer.[10] Earlier that year, while being interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live, Walker was asked if he'd consider a return to the TV commentary box. He answered, "Never say never".

Now in his nineties, Walker still remains in the public eye and contributes to the sport that is synonymous with his name, although appearances and contributions are a lot less frequent.

On 5 June 2011, a documentary entitled 'Life in the Fast Lane' premiered on BBC 2 that looked into his life, particularly his shaping of the sport we are accustomed to today. The programme itself featured him re-living his tank commander past and rides on classic scramble bikes. Memorable moments of his commentating career are also re-lived, and the documentary also accompanies Walker, aged 87, to Australia to experience the thrills he once faced at the opening race of the season.[11]

On 9 July 2011, he returned to BBC F1 on BBC Five Live and BBC One as a co-commentator for Free Practice 3, and appeared on the Qualifying show alongside Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan, David Coulthard and his former co-commentator Martin Brundle as well as 5live F1 special and occasional commentary on the race on BBC Radio Five Live. He also returned again in 2012.

In May 2013, while on holiday, he had a fall, breaking his pelvis. [12] During treatment for the fall, Walker was diagnosed with the early stages of lymphatic system cancer. [13] 89-year-old Walker told the BBC "They've caught it incredibly early. It's treatable - the doctors say my condition is mild and I'm very hopeful."

In June 2013, it was reported that Walker was to receive chemotherapy in the coming months and had cancelled plans to attend the 2013 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. However, on 28 July 2013, Walker revealed that he no longer requires chemotherapy.

Walker now lives near Fordingbridge in Hampshire in the former home of the late Norman Chance Osborne, Managing director of Lombard North Central.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Walker, Murray (2002). Unless I'm Very Much Mistaken. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-766373-0. 
  2. ^ He was an accounts director at the company which created the slogan "A Mars a day, helps you work rest and play"
  3. ^ Owen, Oliver (2007-07-01). "Interview: Murray Walker | Sport | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  4. ^ "Murray attends as F1 legend honoured". The Shuttle. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 3 April 2009. I made my first ever broadcast from Shelsley Walsh in 1948... 
  5. ^ Leonard, Tom (2000-12-12). "Murray Walker quits while he's ahead". The Telegraph. 
  6. ^ United Kingdom. "Bournemouth University". Bournemouth.ac.uk. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  7. ^ "GPM - Murray Walker returns". Uk.sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  8. ^ "Murray Walker makes F1 comeback with Honda". F1Technical.net. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Hamilton, Fiona. The Times (London) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/formula_1/article2112643.ece |url= missing title (help). 
  10. ^ "Beeb Presenters - Top Gear.com". Sundayafternoonclub.blogs.topgear.com. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  11. ^ "Murray Walker: Life in the fast lane". BBC SPORT. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  12. ^ "Murray Walker breaks pelvis in holiday fall". Birmingham Mail. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-29. 
  13. ^ "Murray Walker: F1 commentator diagnosed with cancer". BBC SPORT. 17 June 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-17. 

External links[edit]