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The Voice of Motor Racing: Murray Walker and his Cars

The late Murray Walker was a legendary motorsport commentator who was renowned as the voice of motor racing during a career spanning more than 70 years.

His unique commentary style led to the birth of the affectionate term “Murrayisms”- coined after his enthusiasm and excitement for the sport he loved led to some memorable one-liners.

Murray Walker

© Matthew Spencer / / CC BY 2.0

The web remains full of famous Murray Walker quotes today, two years after his death, which is testament to the massive impact one man has had on motorsport in general and Formula 1 in particular.

No F1 meeting would be complete without hearing the broadcasting icon’s excited shout over the roar of the engines at the start of each race as the lights went off – signalling it was time to “go, go, go”!

Murray’s love of cars was obvious in his private life too, as he was the proud owner of a succession of classic cars and motorbikes that he enjoyed after the cameras stopped rolling.

Murray Walker early life

Born in Hall Green, Birmingham, in October 1923, Murray grew up around motorcycles. His father Graham was a keen motorbike rider who worked for Norton, Sunbeam and Rudge-Whitworth motorcycle companies and took part in the Isle of Man TT.

Murray joined the Royal Scots Greys during World War II and commanded a Sherman tank, participating in the Battle of the Reichswald. He attained the rank of captain before leaving the Army in 1946.

Following in his father’s footsteps, he took up motorcycle racing, later switching to competing in motorbike trials, where he won the International Six Days’ Trial gold and the Scottish Six Days’ Trial first-class trophies.

Although he worked in advertising after the war, he started commentating in 1948 at the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb, a motorsports event organised by the Midland Automobile Club.

After auditioning for the BBC in 1949, Murray’s first radio broadcast was for the British Grand Prix, followed by his TV debut commentating at the Knatts Valley motorcycle venue in Kent in the same year.

Murray was joined by his father at the BBC, and they became the network’s only father and son sports commentating team until, sadly, Graham died in 1962. Murray then became the chief BBC motorcycling commentator.

Formula 1 commentaries

In the early 1970s, he did occasional commentaries for the F1 Grand Prix, before being given the role full-time in 1978. He also covered motocross for both the BBC and ITV, the British Touring Car Championships, the Macau Grand Prix Street racing event, Formula 3 and Formula Ford.

Between 1980 and 1993, he struck up a successful commentating partnership with the former racing driver James Hunt. It was during this period that Murray’s vivid and animated descriptions of the race began. Hunt contributed his expert driving knowledge, getting insider information from the pit lane.

Despite being described as “like chalk and cheese”, they became good friends, working together until Hunt’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1993, aged 45, just two days after their final commentary on the Canadian Grand Prix.

Murray was then joined in the commentary box by the BBC pit lane reporter and former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer. Other former drivers also took the microphone for certain events, including three-times world champion Jackie Stewart and the 1980 World Champion Alan Jones.

After the F1 television rights in the UK moved to ITV in 1997, Walker followed, striking up a long-term commentating partnership with another one-time F1 driver, Martin Brundle.

In December 2000, at the age of 77, Murray announced his retirement. His last full-time F1 television commentary was at the 2001 United States Grand Prix. However, he remained involved with F1 coverage on a part-time basis, presenting programmes such as reviews of the season throughout 2002.

In 2015, Murray was invited to present a new F1 programme on BBC2, called Formula 1 Rewind, with co-presenter Suzi Perry. It involved looking back through the BBC’s motor racing archives.

In 2016, at the age of 90, he moved to Channel 4 with other BBC F1 staff to host interviews with leading motorsport figures. Sadly, he had to pull out of C4’s live team for the British Grand Prix in 2018 due to ill health, although he recorded some features.

Murray officially retired from Channel 4’s F1 team in 2020, after an incredible 72-year career as a motorsport commentator.

Some of the veteran broadcaster’s Murrayisms will live on forever in the hearts of fans. His most famous was, “There’s nothing wrong with the car, except it’s on fire!” His quip during a race that “you can cut the tension with a cricket stump,” is also fondly remembered.

Murray’s classic cars

In his leisure time, Murray enjoyed driving and collecting many classic cars over the years. He once told an interviewer he “couldn’t remember not loving cars, bikes and motorsport”, describing them as a “big part of my life”. He admitted to being “a bit obsessed”, adding, “Just ask my wife! Murray married Elizabeth Walker in 1959. She had often said, “If it hasn’t got an engine, he’s just not interested!”

His first passion was motorbikes and the first one he owned was a 1928 Ariel Colt 250cc. It wasn’t long until he began collecting classic cars instead. Even after retirement, interviewers described him as having an “encyclopaedic knowledge” of all the vehicles he had ever owned and driven.

The presenter said he had been in everything from a 20-tonne Crusader tank, which he drove at Bovington Army Camp in Dorset as an 18-year-old; to a Formula One car. Following World War II, his first car was the Morris Minor. Sadly, he had his first crash in this trusty little vehicle. Murray recalled he survived, but sadly, the Morris Minor didn’t.

After getting a taste for classic cars, he bought a succession of vehicles including a Standard Ten car built by the British Standard Motor Company, an Austin A40 Farina and a Wolseley 1000.

He had never taken a formal driving test, as back in the 1940s, after learning to drive a tank, his Army Proficiency Certificate was enough to guarantee him a civilian driving licence.

Murray said his dream as a young man was to be a racing driver, but on realising he was “never going to be John Surtees” (a famous motorbike racer of the era), he turned to commentary instead.

While working in advertising, he had a contract with Vauxhall for some years, so he drove a wide variety of their motors. However, he said he was “a bit of a Rover man” at heart, describing them as “classic British cars”.

After leaving advertising, he started driving Rovers, his preferred marque in the 1970s and 1980s. He then moved onto BMWs and was once described as “having a garage full” of the luxury cars. He told interviewers, “There have been so many. I very much enjoyed the BMWs,” while recalling the X3, the 5 Series and the 300d Touring were his favourite models.

In later life, he scaled down somewhat and the Honda Civic became his regular day-to-day car. He said it was difficult to choose one favourite model from all the cars he had owned, as they all had appeal. He also loved BMW motorbikes, describing the 100RS he rode as his “pride and joy”. However, his favourite ever was the Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle, which he called a “classic piece of machinery”.

Murray Walker’s legacy

Murray was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s 1996 Birthday Honours for services to broadcasting and motor sports. He received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in November 1997 from Bournemouth University and an honorary doctorate from Middlesex University, London, in 2005.

He won the Gregor Grant Award from Autosport motor racing magazine in 1993, while in 2000, he received the Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award. He also received a BAFTA Special Award for Contribution to Television in 2002.

Murray always admitted to a fondness for British motor racing drivers, supporting everyone from Sir Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Damon Hill in the late 20th century to modern-day drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. However, he said his number one Brit was Nigel Mansell, describing him as the “ultimate showman who wore his heart on his sleeve”. Murray and Nigel became good friends over the years.

Murray died at the age of 97 in March 2021, leaving his widow, Elizabeth. The Williams F1 team paid tribute to the legendary commentator at the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix. They carried a sticker on their cars’ halo, featuring the famous quote from Murray’s commentary at the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, when Damon Hill won the Drivers’ Championship: “And I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat.”

Murray has left a wonderful legacy for future generations and his hundreds of amazing quotes have been forever immortalised all over the world. In 2023, Motorsport UK established the Murray Walker Award to recognise “outstanding excellence in broadcast journalism.”