x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ex-Formula One commentator Murray isn't a Walker - he's a driver

Stars and Cars First inspired by motorcycles, the "voice of motor racing" Murray Walker has since driven everything up to a military tank, but prefers his garageful of BMWs.

Although known as the voice of F1, Walker's first love was motorcycles.
Although known as the voice of F1, Walker's first love was motorcycles.

Murray Walker first started commentating on motorsport in 1948 and, 63 years on, is still behind the mic - albeit occasionally - for the BBC.

But a man billed in the UK as "the voice of motor racing" describes himself as "obsessed with motorsport" long before his broadcasting career began as a 25-year-old.

His father, Graham, was a world-class motorcycle rider and, when not competing, commentated for the BBC, with Walker junior in tow whenever and wherever possible.

"I can't remember not loving cars, bikes and motorsport as a whole in my life," says Walker. "It has been such a big part of my life, it's always been there and always will be. Perhaps I'm a bit obsessed. Just ask my wife - she says if it hasn't got an engine in it, I'm just not interested. She might have a point."

But, like his father, it was motorbikes that initially inspired Walker and his first motoring passion was a 1928 Ariel Colt 250cc.

And despite being the ripe old age of 87, he has a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of all the vehicles he has ever owned and/or driven - and it's quite a range.

"I've been in everything from a 20-tonne Crusader tank, which I drove as an 18-year-old at Bovington Army Camp in Dorset, to a Formula One car," Murray says.

The first car he owned came after the Second World War, and it was in this Morris Minor that Murray endured his first crash. "I was fine, the car less so," he recalls. The Minor was the first in a succession of cars, among them a Standard Ten, a Wolsley 1000 and an Austin A40 Farina.

Despite taking to the wheel of various vehicles over the decades, amazingly, Walker never took his driving test. Back then, his army proficiency certificate from driving tanks was deemed enough to guarantee a driving licence.

"I love driving, always have; whether it's motorbikes or motor cars," he says. "The dream was to be a racer and I did it for a time but I knew I was never going to be the John Surtees of my time [whom Walker raced against on two-wheeled machinery] so I looked elsewhere."

For a man so synonymous with motorsport, it was in the advertising industry where he first made his name and he is erroneously credited with the famous advertising slogan of "work, rest and play" for Mars chocolate bars, although he did work on the contract.

While working in advertising, the company that employed him had a contract with Vauxhall so, for years, he drove a wide variety of their cars.

"At the time, I was a bit of a Rover man - classic British cars to my mind," he says, "but we won the advertising contract for Vauxhall so that was what we all ended up driving."

He returned to Rover in the 1970s and 1980s before making the move to BMWs and, finally, a Honda Civic, which he drives today.

"It's difficult to pick a favourite from all the cars I've owned; they all have some appeal," Murray says. "There have been so many. I very much enjoyed the BMWs. I had a 5 series, an X3 and a 300d Touring."

What about motorbikes? "Again, I loved the BMW I rode - a 100RS, which was my pride and joy but my favourite ever bike has to be the Triumph Tiger 100 - an absolute classic piece of machinery."

As for favourite drivers, his fondness for British pilots shines out. "I've a great fondness for a lot of drivers," he says. "Everyone from Sir Jackie Stewart to Jim Clark, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

"But my number one was Nigel Mansell. He was the ultimate showman, wore his heart on his sleeve and was a joy to commentate on. He's also become a dear friend over the years so, if I had to pick just one favourite driver, it would be Nigel."

Walker has a variety of pictures of favourite drivers at his home, helping to collate his career, while his bookshelves are awash with motorsport books. "I love collecting motorsport books," Murray says. "I suppose it's a bit of a vice."

Just three years shy of his 90th birthday, he has few plans to give up his career and even recently appeared as a voice for the television programme Roary The Racing Car.

"It was easy, they just told me to be myself, well, actually a slightly over-the-top, exaggerated version of myself, which was great fun," he says. "It was different commentating in a recording studio like that but it was great fun. As long as it's something to do with motorsport, it's great fun."