A Tribute to Murray Walker, by Philip Porter
‘I believe that Murray Walker was as important to the success of motorsport in the last three decades of the previous millennium as the drivers. It was he who took the sport, the show, to the masses and made it so exciting and entertaining. He was Bernie Ecclestone's front man. To have worked with him writing our book, then being together at many, many signing sessions, and becoming close friends, was a massive honour and enormously rewarding. I can tell you, he was as genuine and as nice a man behind the scenes as he appeared in front of the cameras. A truly great man.’
Above is the tribute, I composed the morning after Elizabeth, Murray’s dear wife, phoned to tell us the sad news.
I cannot help reflecting on how much I owe to the late Bette Hill – Graham’s widow, Damon’s mother. After I had written the first Stirling Moss Scrapbook, she contacted me, saying she had Graham’s scrapbooks and asking if I would like to create a Graham Hill Scrapbook. For that, I interviewed Mr. Walker.
When it was published, I sent him a copy with a note asking if there was any way he could be persuaded to do something similar. He e-mailed straight back, ‘You have completely ruined my day – I couldn’t put it down! I would love to do something similar.’
Murray was amazing in so many ways. It was great fun working with him, compiling all the material and chatting with him about his incredible life. People generally do not realise that he had a parallel, and very successful, career in advertising. Prior to that he had been a tank commander during the war, a role that demonstrated his courage.
He did not commentate merely on Formula 1, far from it. I recall his distinctive voice when I watched, as a child with my parents, what was then known as ‘scrambling’ and later became ‘motocross’. He also became the voice of rallycross when it was invented in the late ‘60s and made great viewing, with some hilarious ‘Murray moments’. At different times, he covered powerboat racing, F3, Formula Atlantic, lawnmower racing, stock-car racing, truck racing and touring cars…
Murray was the natural choice when the BBC began covering, in a manner, every Grand Prix in 1978, and a famous partnership was created when James Hunt joined as the ‘expert’ pundit in 1980. Initially, they couldn’t stand each other, but that morphed into great mutual respect and affection. When the motor-racing world was rocked by the sudden death of Hunt, at just 45 years of age, Murray paid a very moving tribute to him on television.
Jonathan Palmer took over the Hunt role and then ‘Bernie’ decided to hand the coverage to ITV from 1997. Murray was retained and Martin Brundle joined him, forming another brilliant combination. From working together, a great friendship blossomed. At the end of the 2001 season, Murray decided it was time to hang up his microphone, although he would be regularly encouraged out of retirement from time to time. The honours and tributes flowed in.
When we did our book together, I interviewed more than 70 people, from cameramen to famous drivers and team owners. The respect and affection was universal. I recall the Duke of Richmond telling me that many of the biggest names attending his Goodwood events would stay on the Sunday night and sign autographs next morning for the staff. The biggest queue was always for Murray.
I could go on and on. We had massive fun together for many years with copious signing sessions at Goodwood and elsewhere.
I remember being with him in London on one occasion for a book signing in Piccadilly. As we walked from a restaurant to Bernie Ecclestone’s office, passing taxi drivers would call out in their Cockney accents, ‘Alright, Murray’.
In 2009, he was voted the ‘greatest sports commentator of all time’.
It was such an honour to become one of his few close friends. Everyone loved Murray Walker.