Walker in 2009
Graeme Murray Walker
10 October 1923
|Alma mater||Highgate School|
Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
|Years active||1948–2001, 2005–present (recurring)|
|Employer||Channel 4 (2016–), BBC Sport (1963–96, 2009–2015) |
ITV Sport (1997–2001)
Graeme Murray Walker, OBE (born 10 October 1923) is an English semi-retired motorsport commentator and journalist. He provided television commentary of live Formula 1 coverage for the BBC between 1976 and 1996, and for that of ITV between 1997 and 2001.
During his 23-year run as full-time commentator, Walker became known for his animated enthusiasm, authoritative voice and uttering would-be-famous comical blunders – dubbed “Murrayisms” by fans – during live races. He is regarded by many as the greatest sports commentator of all time.
Despite retiring from commentary after the 2001 United States Grand Prix, he returned to broadcasting part-time in 2005 and has since made occasional appearances on the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1.
Walker was born Graeme Murray Walker at 214 Reddings Lane in Hall Green, Birmingham, England on 10 October 1923. His father Graham Walker was a despatch rider and works motorcyclist for the 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. 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.
Walker's education began with a governess at the family home, followed by spells at preparatory schools around the country. He attended Highgate School, gaining a Distinction in Divinity. While at Highgate he joined the School Bugles, learning to play the bugle. At the outbreak of the Second World War the Highgate School governors became concerned about the possible extent of bombing raids on London, and Walker and his fellow pupils were evacuated to Westward Ho! in Devon, eventually leaving there until 1941. During this time, Walker rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major of the School Corps.
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, which offered 12 scholarships annually 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 in Dorset, where he reported to the 30th Primary Training Wing at Bovington, the headquarters of the Royal Armoured Corps.
Walker later graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys. He went on to command a Sherman tank and to 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. Following this, he was employed as an accounts director by the Masius advertising agency, with clients including British Rail, Vauxhall and Mars, for whom they created the slogan "A Mars a day helps you work rest and play". He did not retire from this until the age of 59, long after he had gained fame as a commentator. He also briefly competed in motorcycle races himself.
Career as a commentator
Walker made his first broadcast at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in 1948. 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 and BBC) during the 1960s and rallycross in the 1970s and early 1980s. He occasionally commentated on motorcycle racing and rallying during the 1960s through to the 1980s. Walker covered the BTCC for the BBC between 1969 and 1971 and also 1988 and 1997, and the Macau event for Hong Kong TV on nine occasions.
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 death from a heart attack in 1993.
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 so. 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 (Pit reporter for BBC F1) joined Walker in the commentary box until the end of 1996, though in 1993 others such as 3 Time World Champion Jackie Stewart took the role as Walker's partner for the 1993 British Grand Prix and 1980 World Champion Alan Jones took the role as Walker's partner for the "fly away" race in Australia at the end of the season, both requested by Nine's Wide World of Sports (an alliance of BBC to give out in Australia). 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 a 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).
Walker 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. 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, and the last race win for Mika Häkkinen. Upon his retirement, Walker was awarded an original brick from "The Brickyard" by track president Tony George.
In November 1997, Walker was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Bournemouth University. 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.
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. 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, a 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. 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. He was also Sky Sports' commentator for their coverage of Grand Prix Masters. In March 2007, Walker 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.
In November 2008, Walker's presence in the BBC's recovered coverage of F1 – as a website columnist – was confirmed as a freelancer. Earlier that year, while being interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live, Walker was asked if he would consider a return to the TV commentary box. He answered, "Never say never". 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.
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. During treatment for the fall, Walker was diagnosed with the early stages of lymphatic system cancer. 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 stated that he no longer requires chemotherapy.
In 2015 it was announced Walker would present a new F1 show for BBC Two with Suzi Perry. The show called Formula 1 Rewind will involve Walker looking back at some of the BBC's archives. In November 2015 he appeared on BBC's game show Pointless, paired with Nigel Mansell.
In 2016 Walker moved with many other BBC F1 staff to Channel 4 to present a range of 1:1 interviews with the sport's key players. Walker also provides continuity announcements to F1 programming and races. Walker withdrew from Channel 4's commentary British Grand Prix coverage due to ill health but appeared in recorded features. In September Channel 4 began broadcasting uncut versions of the interviews under Murray Meets...
- Unless I'm Very Much Mistaken (2002) ISBN 9780007126965
- Murray Walker's Formula One Heroes (with Simon Taylor, Virgin Books, 2011) ISBN 9780753539026
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1987 (First Formula Publishing, 1987) ISBN 9781870066044
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1988 (First Formula Publishing, 1988) ISBN 9781870066099
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1989 (Hazleton, 1989) ISBN 9781870066228
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1990 (Hazleton, 1990) ISBN 9780905138824
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1991 (Hazleton, 1991) ISBN 9780905138909
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1992 (Hazleton, 1992) ISBN 9780905138992
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1993 (Hazleton, 1993) ISBN 9781874557302
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1994 (Hazleton, 1994) ISBN 9781874557012
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1995 (Hazleton, 1995) ISBN 9781874557562
- Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year 1996 (Hazleton, 1996) ISBN 9781874557173
- Formula One legend Murray Walker voted best commentator of all time, The Telegraph, 1 December 2009.
- Walker, Murray (2002). Unless I'm Very Much Mistaken. London, UK: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-766373-0.
- Owen, Oliver (1 July 2007). "Interview: Murray Walker". London, UK: Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "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...
- Greenslade, Interview by Nick (1 October 2005). "First and last: Murray Walker". Retrieved 28 June 2017 – via The Guardian.
- "James Hunt". The Official Formula 1 Website. Retrieved: 22 September 2013.
- "Ex-Formula One champ James Hunt dies at 45." Reading Eagle, 16 June 1993.
- Donaldson 1994, p. 369.
- Leonard, Tom (12 December 2000). "Murray Walker quits while he's ahead". The Telegraph.
- "An evening with Murray Walker". Bournemouth University. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "GPM - Murray Walker returns". Uk.sports.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on 13 January 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
- "Murray Walker makes F1 comeback with Honda". F1Technical.net. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Hamilton, Fiona. The Times. London, UK http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/formula_1/article2112643.ece. Retrieved 22 July 2015. Missing or empty
- "Beeb Presenters". Sundayafternoonclub.blogs.topgear.com. 25 November 2008. Archived from the original on 13 July 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Murray Walker: Life in the fast lane". BBC SPORT. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-05.
- "Murray Walker breaks pelvis in holiday fall". Birmingham Mail. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "Murray Walker: F1 commentator diagnosed with cancer". BBC SPORT. 17 June 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "Formula One's legendary commentator Murray Walker reveals he no longer requires chemotherapy". The Metro. 28 July 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
- "Formula 1: BBC offers extensive coverage of the 2015 season". BBC Sport. 5 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "2015 Formula 1 on the BBC". BBC. 5 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "BBC One - Pointless Celebrities, Series 8, Formula One". BBC.
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