Murray Walker, the voice of Formula 1 and motorsport for seven decades has passed away, aged 97.
For many Australians growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and into the 2000s, his voice was the soundtrack to late Sunday nights, his passionate commentary helping bring to life the characters of F1.
His commentary always erred on the side of enthusiastic, a foil to the more measured and often critical approach taken by his long-time colleague behind the microphone, James Hunt. They made the perfect team.
Australian broadcaster Clive James once labelled Walker’s commentary style as “pants on fire”, and it remained true throughout his long career, Walker’s voluble and instantly recognisable voice forming the backbone of Formula 1 for a legion of fans around the world.
Born in 1923 into a motor racing family (his father Graham was a champion motorcycle racer), Walker tried his hand at racing on two wheels. He quickly realised, however, he didn’t have the same skills as his Isle of Man TT-winning father, hanging up his helmet and pursuing a different path.
In his own words, “You know what they say. Those that can, do. Those that can’t, talk about it, and that's what I started doing.”
Walker’s first commentary gig came at a small hillclimb event in 1948, his excitable tones describing proceedings to spectators at the event, That was enough to land him an audition with the BBC and the following year, he made his radio debut, broadcasting the 1949 British Grand Prix over the airwaves.
That started a career in broadcasting that would last until the 2001 United States Grand Prix. In between, Walker commentated 350 grands prix, as well as countless other motorsport events, first for the BBC, and then from 1997, ITV when it acquired the broadcasting rights to F1 in Britain.
In the intervening decades, Walker became known for his ‘Murrayisms’, his tongue often running far ahead of his mind as he called the action live to the masses.
Classic Murrayisms include, “Mansell is slowing down, taking it easy. Oh no he isn’t. It’s a lap record” and “This leading car is absolutely unique – except, of course, for the one immediately behind it, which is identical” or “There’s nothing wrong with his car except that it’s on fire.”
And who could forget what would go on to become the title of his autobiography: “Unless I’m very much mistaken… I am very much mistaken”?
For his part, Murray referred to on on-air gaffes as something else entirely. “I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong”.
Murray received an OBE for his services to motorsport in 1996, a fitting acknowledgment for a man who helped turn Formula 1 into the juggernaut it is today, an achievement all the more remarkable because it wasn’t his main job.
Displaying the boundless energy he exuded behind the mic, Walker dovetailed his commentary career with a full-time career in advertising spanning three decades. And it was a successful career too, Walker helping to turn a fledgling London-based agency with a single office into a global advertising behemoth, with 50 offices in 27 countries and annual billings of over £1 billion.
His boundless enthusiasm for the sport and for life, served him well, and won Walker a legion of fans who easily forgave him his many on-air gaffes. His colourful and excitable voice endeared him to his audience.
Walker might have been the voice of F1 for a generation, but he was first and foremost a fan. And that made him one of us.
Murray Walker, 1923-2021.