Legendary Formula 1 commentator Murray Walker was the latest celebrity to be honoured on the Walk of Stars in Broad Street, Birmingham. Annie Roberts talks to a man who even in his eighties shows little sign of taking life easy.
Formula 1 fans can be forgiven for not knowing that Murray Walker had a successful career long before he became a household name.
While many of his peers were considering plans for retirement, Murray was rounding off a career in advertising and claiming a regular seat in the commentator’s box at racing tracks across the world.
His life is revealed in a new book, The Murray Walker Scrapbook, which gives a fascinating insight into the life of Murray.
“It really is fantastic how all my different memories have been brought together,” says Murray, who first began commentating in the late 1940s.
By then Murray had graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and was given an officer’s commission with the Royal Scots Greys. World War II was raging and Murray saw frontline battle action including commanding a tank during the Battle of the Reichswald.
Murray’s father, Graham, a major influence in his life, was a former dispatch rider and the two would regularly commentate on Isle of Man TT.
“In the book there are many memories of growing up – my father was a very important influence on me and had a real passion for racing,” says Murray.
But it was the world of advertising that first lured Murray after he left the army working with clients like Mars, Vauxhall Motors and British Rail.
Murray recalls: “I went straight into the advertising business and they were great times.”
In spite of the great times it was still motor racing that demanded Murray’s attention – he did occasional Formula 1 commentaries during the 1970s but only went full time in the 1978 season.
“There is something about it, the build-up and the race,” says Murray.
“It has become more political but nobody is in F1 just for the money. A lot of people, including the drivers, can earn a great deal of money but it is more than that – it is the enthusiasm and passion people have, the excitement.”
Murray’s commentating style has helped ensure his popularity in the motor racing industry – his enthusiasm shows no signs of diminishing and rubbed off on viewers and fellow professionals.
One of the most memorable pairings was with James Hunt, the calmly spoken Englishman, who joined Murray in the commentary box after retiring from Formula 1. His death from a heart attack was a blow to the sport but on the track there have been major improvements to ensure the better safety of drivers and spectators.
Murray was given an impressive send off at the end of his 52 year career in 2001 with the great and the good including the head of motor racing teams and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone leading the celebrations with drivers from David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher.
Murray says: “The sport is measurably safer than it was, which can only be for the better. The engine used to be in front of the driver and the drivers wore cotton and there were no safety belts.
“So much has changed – facilities were once so minimal and the technical advances that have now been made do make all the difference.”
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham Chauhdry Abdul Rashid JP presented Murray with his civic honour, just days before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone that was won by Lewis Hamilton, who has clearly made an impression on the seasoned commentator.
“There is every chance that Lewis will win the championship. He had an incredible debut last season and nobody has ever seen someone make such an impressive start in their first season.
“In Grand Prix it is always risky to predict what might happen and who knows who can make up the points difference.”
Murray has a soft spot for the Silverstone circuit, which from 2011, will no longer play host to the British Grand Prix. One of his memorable moments was being driven around the circuit by another former F1 driver, Martin Brundle, who is now a co-commentator on the ITV programme.
“It was so exciting. I did eight laps in an F1 two-seater McLaren with Martin – hitting 190 – miles an hour, fantastic.”
The fact that Murray made the ride well after reaching pensionable age is testament to his unbounded energy. His office at home is crammed full of memorabilia and was where he undertook intensive research in preparation for each race.
It is not often that Murray finds the time to simply relax and browse through the wealth of books that have helped him attain an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport. Instead he is in demand around the world speaking to fans and giving his expert opinion on race days.
“I just love it – the atmosphere and the buzz on the day.”
But while an F1 circuit is still where Murray truly feels at home, he admits to have not grasped another sector of motoring – the brave new world of sat nav:
“My worst experience was trying to get into Coventry,” he admits. “I blundered around for over an hour trying to hit the right road and then I realised I was on the right road. It was absolutely hopeless!”
* The Murray Walker Scrapbook is available through www.porterpress.co.uk