The race passed all too rapidly and once Walker signed off, we erupted in a round of applause. The great man turned with a sweet smile, acknowledged my presence with surprise (he’d been too focused to notice I was there) and immediately started to debrief. Bloody tennis. The man was back in his element and it had been a privilege to witness.
A force beyond F1
Walker’s unlikely, and at first tense, partnership with chalk-and-cheese James Hunt is rightly recalled as the defining professional relationship of his broadcasting life, beside the bonds he formed with both Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. But while grand prix racing was central to his years behind the mic, what further endeared Murray to enthusiasts was his absolute commitment to all forms of motorsport – and he treated all racers with equal reverence and respect, as he would Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and the like.
He professed motorcycling as his first love, in the wake of his beloved father Graham’s successful career on two wheels and his own early exploits that he wisely abandoned to follow the old man into broadcasting. And while plummy Raymond Baxter was the established BBC voice of motorsport from the 1950s through most of the 1970s, Walker was more than happy to plunge into everything from rallycross to rallysprints, Formula 3 to the British Touring Car Championship, before, during and throughout his emergence as Baxter’s natural heir when the Beeb finally started showing F1 full-time from 1978.
BTCC owes him a debt
Steve Rider, long-time friend and BBC Grandstand colleague, credits Walker for his significant role in the BTCC boom of the 1990s that was fuelled by their perfectly crafted TV coverage. It was Walker, along with Rider and Tiff Needell, who convinced the BBC to expand its tin-top broadcasts as the BTCC transitioned from Group A to Super Touring, and his signature high-octane delivery made all the difference – even if the so-called ‘Murrayisms’ were more scripted than his endearingly accidental F1 gems and bloopers.
“We sat in the edit suite for three days after every race,” recalls Rider. “Murray would come in on the Wednesday to dub it, which would take two days. He’d insist on a very nice hotel in London and would dub it to perfection.”