Murray Walker 1923 – 2021

It is with huge sadness that I must report that Murray Walker died this morning at the age of 97.

It has been nearly 20 years since Murray attended Formula 1 races on a regular basis, but he remained an enthusiast until the end. Murray’s enthusiasm was what often got him into trouble as a TV commentator and he was famed for his mistakes. He always used to do endless research for his commentary – but then was so excited during the races that he forgot most of it. People called him a British national treasure – and that is absolutely right.

Murray had a remarkable life, but he rarely talked of his adventures which began in 1923 in Hall Green, Birmingham. His father Graham was a celebrated motorcycle racer, after serving as a despatch rider in World War I. Graham Walker was the European 500cc Champion in 1927 and won the 250cc class on the Isle of Man TT in 1931. By then he had become the Competition Director of the Rudge motorcycle firm in Coventry and travelled to races all over Europe. From 1938 onwards he became the editor of Motor Cycling magazine, a job which he held until 1954.

Murray was given a motorcycle when he was 14 and was soon competing in trials, although such activities were restricted by attending Highgate School, in north London. Despite this in the holidays he sometimes travelled with his father and as a result attended the Donington Grand Prix in 1938, watched the famous Silver Arrows in action and was even introduced to Tazio Nuvolari. In the summer of 1939 the family was touring Germany and Austria when it became clear that war was coming and they made a hurried return to the UK before the war began. Highgate School was soon evacuated to Westward Ho! in North Devon and Walker spent the next two years in a very peaceful environment while the war waged elsewhere. In the autumn of 1941 when he reached 18 he volunteered for the Royal Armoured Corps, but he would not be called up for nearly a year, which he spent in Birmingham, working for  Dunlop.

Finally he was ordered to Bovington Camp in Dorset, where he underwent basic training before being sent on to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst for the next 18 months. He finally graduated in April 1944 but then underwent further training before being sent to Europe to join the Royal Scots Greys, a cavalry regiment that was equipped with Sherman tanks. He joined the regiment in Holland in the autumn of 1944, just after Operation Market Garden, the airborne assault up to Arnhem. It was then a quiet sector but in the spring of 1945 Walker was in the thick of it, as the Scots Greys fought across northern Germany, liberating Bremen and Lubeck and ending the war in Wismar, on the Baltic coast, where they linked up with the Russian Armies coming from the east. Later he would be sent to the Belsen camp, near Hannover, although by the time he arrived the concentration camp had been demolished and it had been turned into a training facilty for the Royal Armoured Corps.

In 1947 he was sent home and immediately began to involve himself in motorcycle racing. His father was by then a BBC commentator and Murray got his first break at a hillclimb which his father was unable to attend. He would then become the stand-in commentator for motorcycle and motor racing events, replacing his father and Raymond Baxter when necessary. But that was his weekend job because during the week he worked in advertising. He started out at Dunlop but then in 1955 went to work in Asia with Aspro, a kind of aspirin. He then joined McCann Erickson to work on the Esso account. In 1959 he joined a smaller agency called Masius Ferguson, where he would remain until 1982. This would become the second largest advertising firm in Britain, after J Walter Thompson, largely as a result of a successful relationship with Forrest Mars, for whom the agency launched pet food products Kit-E-Kat and Pal. Walker admits that he was responsible for the hugely successful slogan for Trill bird food: “An only budgie is a lonely budgie” which increased sales considerably as many budgie owners bought a second bird and thus sales increased. The success with Mars led to the firm being used to promote Mars Bars, Maltesers and other confectionary. It is a myth that Murray invented the famous “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” but he was the director of that account and he was responsible for another celebrated slogan: “Opal Fruits: Made to make your mouth water”.

After his retirement from advertising, Murray became a fulltime commentator, although the BBC did not send him to all the races until the early 1990s, usually missing the non-European events. He would remain with the BBC until 1996 and then moved to ITV from 1997 to 2001 before finally stepping back at the age of 78.

Murray was a friend as well as a colleague and I worked with him for quite a lot of years when the BBC would not send him to far-flung races. My job was to be a “ghost commentator” for him and James Hunt, providing them with live information from the BBC commentary box, via the producer Mark Wilkin. James hated this situation and always used to say “And I cannot quite see from where I am sitting”, but Murray showed his understanding of the arts of TV directorship by very often pre-empting the shot that the directors would switch to after something had happened. It was astonishing how often he was right…

44 thoughts on “Murray Walker 1923 – 2021

  1. Very sad news indeed. Murray entertained us all with his Murrayisms and great commentary on all types of motorsports. He will be missed by us all, perhaps now he’s having a drink with Sir Stirring Moss reminiscing of times past.

    Rest In Peace Murray.

  2. Sadness is definitely the word. People will all have their views as to who and who wasn’t the best commentator. One thing’s for certain, his limitless passion inspired several generations to become equally as passionate and life long fans of F1. That’s surely the ultimate tribute to any commentator of any sport. May he RiP.

  3. Unless I’m very much mistaken, a legend has died, and it is indeed dead.
    RIP Murray, we still miss you.

  4. So many of my memories of F1 were formed with his narrative. Seemed a great guy, I held him in high esteem and am sad to hear this news.

    My thoughts are with his family, friends and F1 professionals that knew him.

    Thanks Murray

    “That’s history. I say history because it happened in the past.” Murray Walker RIP

  5. The Voice of Motor Sport is gone.

    RIP Murray. Your reporting style entertained many over the years.

  6. I am a lucky man, I met Murray Walker at the first US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. He was walking outside the paddock unrecognized by many. I went over and said hello, and we talked for some time until he had to leave “for work”. He was interesting, humorous and above all he didn’t come across with the untouchable attitude of a celebrity. I met him a couple of years later and he remembered our conversation – we didn’t have long to talk this time, but again I felt fortunate to share that time with a personal hero.

    RIP Murray

  7. Sad news but a long life well lived.
    I first met Murray when he was doing his homework prior to a race at Brands. I’m ashamed to say that even though I worked in the industry I had never heard of him, but then I did my homework He was pleasant and as chatty as his schedule permitted.
    He was certainly as responsible as anyone for the growth of F1. Another link with the past has passed.

  8. I started watching F1 in the mid-90s and listening to Murray is burned in my memory as “the voice of F1”.

  9. Accompanied by screaming V10s and then the V8s Murray Walker will forever be one of fondest F1 memories. Rest in peace Mr Walker and thank you.

  10. The Legend Murray Walker has died…(R.I.P.) but The Legend of Murray Walker will live forever

    1. R.I.P. Murray, but as time passes, to quote Lando Norris to Ted Kravitz on Sky F1

      “Sorry, I have no memory of him, I was 2 when he retired!”

  11. The Murray, James (and unknown to us, Joe) combination has never been equalled. Those days were for many of us old gits, the proper F1 days!

  12. The Voice of motor racing, Murray will be sadly missed. A nice tribute from Joe in the last paragraph. I’m a big fan of Joe and subscribe to his Grand Prix Plus magazine but I think it’s an exaggeration to say Murray’s enthusiasm often got him into trouble or he forgot most of his research whilst commentating. The so-called Murrayisms are over-emphasised now and weren’t really apparent contemporaneously. Murray is totally synonymous with decades of motor racing F1. A true legend.

  13. Fantasy dinner party – Sir Stirling, Prof Watkins and now Mr Walker. I could happily just serve the food, let the tipples tipple and listen quietly all night.

    The voice of my F1 childhood. RIP sir.

  14. Hi Joe, When you talk about the passion for F1, the perfect example of that is Murray. Like many he was my introduction into F1.

  15. What sad news to wake up to here in Australia. I spent many late nights as a teenager listening to his and James’ every word in the late 80s and early 90s along with my dad. Murray’s enthusiasm about the sport was infectious and I remain an F1 fan all these years later.

    Godspeed Murray – you’ll be greatly missed!

  16. Wow, I didn’t know that Joe: the man who put the soundtrack to the last laps of Dijon 79, my childhood hero Gilles beating Arnoux to 2nd, actually met my adult hero himself (Tazio Nuvolari) in 1938.

  17. “Go! Go! Go!”

    The podcast interview with Tom Clarkson is worth a listen. He is so lucid at a grand old age. What a character, RIP.

  18. A full stop to a different time in Formula 1 in particular, but all the motor racing Mr Pants on Fire commentated on.

    The legend that is Murray Walker. Rest is Peace sir

  19. Sad news indeed, but a great rewarding and fulfilling life. He and James did pack an awful lot into their time.

    Bernie Ecclestone knew damn well that Murray was a critical factor in F1’s growth from the late 70’s and onwards, so much so that BCE always looked after Murray – lifetime all access passes, gifts, checking if he or his family needed anything in later life.

    His commentary, enthusiastic and passionate, was broadcast on a lot of the English speaking world – from Australia and New Zealand, through South Africa, parts of Europe, Canada and USA – and did so much to foster the popukarity and TV growth of the sport.

    We must all thank Murray for helping our sport to develop as it did.

  20. Interesting that you were involved in the commentaries of Murray and James Hunt. I have his autobiography – “Unless I Am Very Much Mistaken” on the shelf, due for a re-read I think. RIP.

  21. Murray and James were the greatest F1 double-act.

    These days, the race show begins more than an hour before the start and several hours after the chequered flag and with multiple presenters etc. etc. the show is hardly any better than the 80s and early 90s. Give Murray a mike and he could transform a static race into the most exciting moments of the week.

    I still miss him, the fact that James is not being asked for his thoughts today utterly astounds me.

  22. In Canada we used to get the F1 broadcasts at midnight Sunday and Murray Walker’s voice was the first I ever related to F1. Not knowing the work that goes on behind the scenes, to a kid in the countryside of Canada, Mr Walker had the best job in the world other than driving. He knew everyone, travelled the world and worked 2 days a week calling an F1 race and qualifying. It was only with age and life experience that I truly came to appreciate how good at his job he really was. I wasn’t able to stay awake in the middle of the night because the racing was always exciting, it was as much the man calling it.

    97 years, a life well lived and the respect of a nation and everyone you meet. That’s as good as it gets.

  23. And I’ve got to stop reading about him now, because I have a lump in my throat.

    RIP Murray Walker. Thanks so much for all the memories and fun.

  24. The only person who I have ever been starstruck with. I was very lucky to have lunch with him in 2005, and barely said a word! He was a true gent, and an actual legend of the sport. The word is bounded about far too often now, but it definitely applies in this case. A wonderful man and a great loss.

  25. This is sad news – Murray’s enthusiasm was infectious.

    I’d be fascinated to read more about the work you did with him Joe – maybe a subject for a future GP+ feature?

  26. Many Thanks Joe,

    I remember in the early 1950s listening to Graham Walker’s commentary at a motorcycle race at Silverstone, on the BBC Light Programme. The commentary went something like this: “I am right beside the track with my microphone at the right height so that you can listen to the exhaust from Geoff Duke’s 500 c.c. Norton at full revs!” We heard it alright!

    Then, at one of the Grand Prix held at Adelaide, I met a large group of Murray Walker fans with tee shirts emblazoned with Murray’s special quotes. A really enthusiastic fan club.

    My hearing has not been good, but I understood every word of Murray’s commentaries, and loved them all!

    R.I.P Murray, we will not forget you.

  27. Being British and born in the mid 50’s I’ve always thought of Murray Walker as a kindly (and lovely) uncle who kindled my love of motor sport through the TV. Not just the pinnacle of Formula One, in the earlier days he commentated on (amongst other things) Scrambling, Rallycross, trials and Touring Cars and always with the same enthusiasm and excitement. Thank you for everything Murray, Rest In Peace.

  28. Very sad news. So many people of so many ages and eras all seem to have Murray intertwined with their motorsports lives, 30s, 40s, 50, 60s, no matter what age Murray was there, usually as childhood memories of our first forays into the GP world (or rallycross!) and then the continued regular Murrayisms as we grew up. What a life though eh! Long and by word didn’t he live it. My faves will always be the Murray and James show but still loved what came after. RIP Chap and thanks for all the wonderful memories.

  29. A very sad day for motorsport.

    The epitome of enthusiasm and passion.

    Met a few times in the 1980s and 1990s, a genuine and lovely person. Unmistakable smile and voice.

    His legacy sits alongside F1 drivers and teams. That says it all.

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