Muddy Talker! Mistakes? Dozens! Regrets? None.
A special appreciation of the late, great, New Forest resident Murray Walker who was for multiple decades THE voice of motor racing
Introductory note: This week Hugh and Mark pay tribute to the late, great commentating genius Murray Walker.- who spent his latter years as a resident of the New Forest near Fordingbridge. Your editor met him on three occasions in her former life, he was one of the most charming as well as upbeat and positive people. Hampshire will miss you Murray and you are heaven’s gain.
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I have it on good authority that those who suffer from insomnia have been directed towards my ramblings. Apparently, the effect is almost instantaneous. Thank you, thank you for your snoring. On the same note I used to consider F1 the perfect Sunday after pub entertainment. After a pint or two (cough) and some sensible masculine conversation about the state of the nation, your scribbler would wobble his way home and collapse in the armchair. With the remote in one hand and a glass of the good stuff in the other on would go the telly. I always felt a tingle of excitement as the minutes ticked down to the start. Presenters with their camera crews busied themselves on the starting grid trying to extract short interviews from busy teams. Drivers sat in their cars staring straight ahead as they readied themselves for what could sometimes be a deadly duel. Then, as the start neared, it was over to Murray and as the time came ever closer his voice rose an octave or two. His excitement was infectious and he always commentated standing up, probably because he simply couldn’t sit. When the red lights extinguished it was ‘Go Go Go’ from Murray and his ‘pants on fire’ style of commentary really took off. The first few laps were truly gripping.
Sadly, despite his valiant efforts, the remaining part of the race tended to be less interesting. It was never long before my eyes began to droop and my darling wife would carefully remove the glass from my now barely functioning fingers. By lap ten I was in the land of Nod.
But here’s the exciting thing, ten laps before the end of the race I invariably resurfaced and guess what! The positions hadn’t changed, I hadn’t missed a thing! This is the precise reason that I considered F1 the perfect after pub sport. If you watch cricket or rugby you know full well that the tiniest distraction is all that is needed to miss a wicket or try. F1 was the perfect armchair sport for this particular slacker.
There may be changes ahead
If anyone was ever in doubt that F1 is essentially boring then they need to look at various rule changes that have been made over the years. These have been aimed at improving overtaking opportunities and making the event less dull, less of a procession. These include rewarding teams with the best fuel economy by dint of mid-race fuel stops. Also, the Drag Reduction System. This isn’t a weekend ban on pink polyester frocks, it means that when a car is close enough to the one in front it receives an aerodynamic advantage. Tyres of various stickiness are rationed and I’m sorry to say that the whole thing is now terribly contrived. Murray simply did what he did best which was to inject excitement into a rather dull procession. I remember when he announced his retirement. I was actually saddened. Who on earth could replace him? So far, I don’t think anyone has come close. Various replacements were aired but none were anywhere near as interesting. Was this the end of F1 as we knew it? In a way it’s never been quite the same. In fact, the viewing of the sport has fragmented; the viewer now has a choice of channels and it’s all rather confusing. For me the golden years were when the BBC had the rights and we enjoyed uninterrupted coverage accompanied by the one and only voice of Grand Prix. We salute you Murray as the master of your craft.
Manners maketh man
Murray was joined in the commentary box by a certain James Hunt. Talk about chalk and cheese! James was technically expert and from time to time would gently correct his boss. Murray was the perfect employee, polite, punctual, well briefed and ready for the job in hand. A sort of Patrick Moore of the track. You could imagine that in order for him to miss a race he would need to be in a coffin.
James was rather different.
I watched an interview with James where he was goaded into criticising Murray. He wouldn’t. By the same token Murray could easily have been uncomplimentary towards James. He wasn’t. Despite their differences they worked beautifully together. James was totally unafraid to dole out brutally harsh criticism of drivers he didn’t consider worthy. Murray would never criticise; in fact, on occasion, particularly when Damon Hill won his world championship, became rather emotional and if there’s one thing that endears the armchair spectator to the commentator, it’s genuine emotion. This was a man who was immersed in motorsport and his years of work for the Motor Museum at Beaulieu attest to this. His ashes are to be scattered at the Jimmy Guthrie memorial on the Isle of Man. Let’s hope that a few flakes are flicked into the air at the next Tourist Trophy.
Mistakes? Dozens! Regrets? None.
There are pages of ‘Murrayisms’, none of which I shall repeat here. How cheap can it be to criticise a man who made a dull sport exciting by dint of his frantic machine gun like delivery. With his exciting style there were bound to be mistakes. Newsreaders make mistakes and they’re reading a ten-minute script on an autocue! Murray created and delivered his own script in milliseconds and his particular broadcast was quite a bit longer. The great thing about the man was that he never took offence. For him slip ups were part and parcel of the job, he knew he was bound to make mistakes and, in fact, he enjoyed the ridicule; he mocked himself. This is a man who commentated on a charity pig race in the village of Damerham, how lovely is that? He always said that he felt privileged to have his job and that it wasn’t really work. I find this hard to believe as the man was always on time and ready. He was dedicated, well informed and expert; thus far nobody has managed to capture that enthusiasm, that zest for motor racing.
A local boy
We can only imagine how much Murray earned. As the most recognisable person in motorsport, he must have done rather well. So where did he and his wife of sixty years settle? Monaco perhaps, plenty of tax advantages there, ditto the Channel Islands, Switzerland and many other tax havens. No, for this man there was more to life than money. Instead of living in solitary wealthy misery, counting his riches each evening as life trickled through his fingers, he decided that the minutes in the day were more important than the pennies in the bank. He settled in Fordingbridge, just up the road from us. He loved the forest, was involved in local charities and could often be found in either his local pub or the gym at the Chewton Glen Hotel. This international star loved Hampshire and who could blame him.
End of an era
This is an often over used phrase but this time I think it fits. I yearn to hear his voice again. That’s the terrible thing about death, the finality. Thank you, Murray, from all of us snoozing in our armchairs. F1 will never be the same without you.
More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh
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