Growing up in my household, we cared little for football or rugby or whatever other sport may have been on TV. No, when I was a child, Formula 1 was a religion, and you were a devout follower of one of two sects: Ferrari or McLaren. Either way, come race weekend the family would gather in the lounge, the curtains would be drawn, and all eyes were on the family television set. It was tradition, and a very specific one that involved fanciful breads and fillings being bought beforehand, delicious sandwiches being made early, and by the time the drivers took the grid, we’d all be silent and the volume would be turned up in time to hear Murray Walker start the race, “One light, two lights, three lights, four lights, five lights… it’s lights out and it’s GO! GO! GO!”
I close my eyes and I teleport back to those moments, and as much as the sandwiches and the curtains drawn are part of that memory, as much as I can vividly recall my mom cheering for David Coulthard and my late father swearing at Mika Hakkinen as he cheered on Michael Schumacher, there is perhaps no memory more vivid than the words of Murray Walker. Sadly, last night, news broke that Graeme Murray Walker – better known as Murray as his father’s name was Graham – had passed away at the age of 97. It’s been a long time since Murray had been heard handling F1 commentary after he retired back in 2001 after witnessing Michael Schumacher win his 4th Formula 1 world championship.
Murray was an icon of F1, but not only of F1 but of motorsports at large. After leaving military service, Murray raced motorcycles against such legends as John Surtees, while working simultaneously in advertising, a field that gave him a knack for catchphrases that stuck. His commentary career started in 1949, lending his voice to motorcycle racing for many years, before also commentating on BTCC, rallycross, rallying, and motocross, but in 1976, British-born Walker covered the British F1 Grand Prix, and from 1978, he went full-time in F1.
Over the years, Murray’s commentary partners came and went, from the cool, blunt analytical nature of former world champion, James Hunt, to the more animated tones of Martin Brundle many years later. But Murray was always known for his so-called “pants-on-fire” commentary, brimming with excitement and flaming passion for motorsports. He was the consummate professional, but between his professionalism and his passion, Murray was renowned for spectacular faux pas, interviewing Bernie Ecclestone – owner of F1 – Murray had asked him about owning McLaren – a team with which Bernie was not involved. He regularly misspoke, phrases that became known as ‘Murrayisms’ to all that followed.
Murray retired from Formula 1 commentary in 2001 after more than 23 years of involvement in the series and more than half a century commentating on motor racing. In his later years, the man defeated cancer and managed to live on to see out a spectacular innings of 97 years. It might now be 20 years since I last heard Murray Walker’s live F1 commentary, but to this day, whenever I provide mock commentary of any F1 race, particularly the start, it’s Murray I impersonate. His voice, his Murrayisms, his passion, and his fire are etched into my memory forever – the voice of my childhood weekends. RIP, Graeme Murray Walker. You are gone, but will most certainly never be forgotten.