Damon Hill spoke for the world of motor racing on Sunday in hailing a ‘legend’, one leading figure in a community in mourning but more than that, one sharing a sense of celebration.
Murray Walker died aged 97 on Saturday, of old age really, and all the Murray-isms, the malapropisms that added lustre to his status as the Voice of Formula One, were recalled in delighted detail.
How many fans watched old footage of his commentaries online for a joyful reminder? Many, of course.
Damon Hill (right, seen in 2001) paid tribute to Murray Walker (left) after he died aged 97
Walker’s passing marks the end of an era and he was part of the soundtrack of F1 fans’ lives
His exuberance at the microphone, which spanned the late 1940s into the early 2000s for the BBC and ITV, was exalted.
And, even after he gave up the race-calling role that defined him and a sport for half a century, he would often be ushered into the studio to add his memories or appreciations in myriad TV appearances.
He was word-perfect to the end, and no actor given time to rehearse could have delivered the lines better. He turned a trade as a broadcaster into an art, and I can attest to that, for this reason.
‘Give us your best 10 best grands prix, 30 words on each,’ I would ask him for yet another nostalgia piece for Sportsmail. He would launch himself into it, that high-voltage voice suddenly enunciating precisely 30 words and then he would stop. Job done. On to the next 30 words, all perfectly researched, every single statistic right.
He was merely 95 at the time.
Walker was infamous for his mistakes as well as his genius, branded ‘Murrayisms’ by the public
Murray — we must use first names in his case — was an enthusiast but he was not an amateur. He was a thorough professional and, it should be said, as famous in Australia as he was in Britain, a sort of reverse of Richie Benaud, for his coverage of the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars race in Adelaide. On the other side of the world, he could not walk to his car without being mobbed by autograph hunters.
So back to Damon, the 1996 world champion. Murray’s portrayal of his triumph that year in Japan is lodged in television legend.
‘I have to stop because I have a lump in my throat,’ said Murray. That chiming voice is the soundtrack to the back catalogue of anyone aged 40, or perhaps younger, to all our motor racing memories through a glorious period that took in Mansell, Prost, Senna, Schumacher and more.
Hill, one of Murray’s personal favourites, told Sportsmail: ‘I thought he might live to 100 and get a letter from the Queen and maybe a knighthood. I knew he hadn’t been well, so I am not entirely shocked.
‘He had treatment for cancer and a hip operation. But I don’t know exactly what did for him in the end. I was a bit surprised, frankly. I had been trying to contact him but couldn’t get through. I let it ride for a while, so yesterday’s news was a bit of a shock, a sense of loss, but that is pretty quickly quelled by memories, happy and positive memories.
The iconic commentator (left) was a staunch defender of Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher
Walker (left) and Hill (right) once collaborated off the race track in an advert for Pizza Hut
‘He was very affectionate towards me. My father (double world champion Graham Hill) was a big personality he would have admired and followed, so he knew the Hill story. He was there with Steve Rider and Co following my early story with the BBC and I had a few interviews with him on the way up.
‘And then I got into Formula One and he was there to ask me why I crashed into Michael Schumacher! I’ll be honest, there was a time when I dreaded having an interview with him because it was like going to the headmaster, like having your school report read to you. “Hill’s got a lot of good points but unfortunately he keeps crashing into the German driver”.’
I suggest that Murray was the greatest defender of Schumacher, forgiving him almost any transgression, even excusing his ramming of Hill in their title-decider in Adelaide in 1994. ‘No malice of forethought,’ as Murray always said.
‘He admired talent and professionalism and Michael had those in abundance,’ added Hill.
‘Schumacher contrasted in every single way with James Hunt, with whom he worked in the commentary box so brilliantly.’
Walker was poetic with his words and rarely wasted them even until the end of his life
A famous collaboration was the Pizza Hut advert starring Hill and Murray — something that took both men to greater depths of public appreciation.
‘I had the uncomfortable job of grabbing Murray by the lapels and giving him a shake,’ said Hill of that partnership. ‘He was a much better actor than me.
‘As for his comment about having a lump in his throat, it has become the tagline, the key phrase in my whole story. It took someone of his stature as a commentator to do that. I think he was genuinely emotional and happy for me and willing to convey that. I am eternally grateful to him to come out with one of those classic moments.
‘He had a voice that was made for the microphone and for motor racing. A two-stroke engine voice from years hanging about motorcycling! He could just up the revs and cut through all the fluff of other noises in the background.
‘His off-screen work in advertising showed he had a kind of poetic streak in him. (‘Opal fruits, made to make your mouth water.’). He managed to put together couplets well.
Captain Walker was in the military before broadcasting (pictured, crossing the Rhine in 1945)
‘In some ways his performance was an act. But it was in essence a reflection of the young kid who went round with his notebook and duffel coat, the kind of person who would have filled in the programme. He was one of those. He would have had programmes going back to the TT in the 1940s and written in all the results.
‘In Australia they warmed to him. They had T-shirts made, “If I’m not very much mistaken, I’m not Murray Walker”. They liked something about his personality. And wherever the show went, it wasn’t just a case of Murray talking about F1, it wasn’t just Piquet versus Mansell; it was about Murray too. What a legend!’
Graeme Murray Walker, tank commander during the second World War and TV broadcasting legend, who lived down a long lane in the New Forest, Hampshire, leaves his wife of more than 60 years, Elizabeth.
This content was originally published here.