BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts, Lauren Lavonia, we're taking our Easter break. So until we're back on air, we're showcasing a few programs from our archive. As usual, the music has been shortened for rights reasons. This week's guest is the broadcaster Murray Walker. He was cast away by Kirsty Young in 2014.
My castaway this week is the broadcaster Murray Walker, he's commentating career began in 1948, and he finally hung up the mic at the end of 2001. His trousers on fire style of delivery brought excitement, emotion and fanatical obsession to Formula One for motor racing fans. He was motor sport, a petrol head before the term had even been coined. It was his father, one of the top motor bike racing champs of his day, who ignited his son's lifelong love of big, noisy engines.
He's talked British fans through so many of the sport's greatest victories. Damon Hill, crossing the finish line to win the world title, brought an audible lump to his throat, but also inevitably great tragedies to his live commentary on Ayrton Senna. Fatal crash in 94 must surely have been his most professionally demanding, he says. I have always believed that Formula One, with its highs and lows, is the ultimate distillation of life. So Murray Walker, if you would begin then by just expanding on that, in what way do you think does this Formula One represent everything we have to deal with in the real world?
Everybody in Formula One coast, it doesn't matter whether they're the truckie who is bringing the tyres to the circuit or Bernie Ecclestone himself or one of the top drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. They're all the best at what they do. And it's an enormously satisfying and stimulating environment to be in because you are strong rivals, in some cases bitter rivals on Saturday and Sunday. But all the rest of the time, your mates, your travelling together, you eat at the same restaurants together.
And of course, let's make no bones about it. It is something where, sadly, you can lose your life, although thank heavens, that's not something that is usual. Now, it used to be usual in Jackie Stewart today. I'm not very good at putting things in a nutshell, but that's my idea of why Formula One is the ultimate distillation of life.
I don't mean any disrespect to the people who do a good job commentating today, but, you know, for a lot of people, you still are the voice that defines the roaring engines, the drama, the tension, the spray of the champagne. What does it take to be a successful commentator?
First of all, to know what you're talking about with a lot of people who didn't think I knew what I was talking about. But actually, like any professional broadcaster, you do an enormous amount of research. When I wasn't at meetings, I was reading magazines, meeting people, going around, doing interviews. And you also need to be able to talk about it.
I described your commentary style there in the introduction as Pants on Fire. I was a little bit worried that you would take offence at that. I hope you didn't, because it was meant as a compliment. How would you describe your style?
As I had my pants on fire, it was it was the immortal Clive James, a coin that that very distinctive tone of an F1 engine when it's at full throttle was somehow matched by the tone of your voice when you were commentating.
Was that deliberate?
No, it's a change thing. Must be because I haven't done anything to develop my voice and I have a very harsh, aggressive voice. And I was dealing with a very harsh, aggressive sport. I'm actually talking to you in my conversational voice now. But when I got excited and I was standing up, I used to stand up for my commentaries and I was bouncing about on the balls of my feet. My voice would get a lot louder and much more aggressive, and I would talk a lot faster because I was trying to communicate as much as I possibly could in the minimum amount of time excitedly because I always thought that my job was not just to communicate, but hopefully to entertain as well.
Oh, I enjoyed that. Murray Walker, thank you for that little blast from the past there.
It's time for your first disc of the morning. Tell me what we're going to get and why you've chosen this. It's pretty obvious, I guess.
Surprise, surprise. I spent most of my broadcasting years working with the BBC, but the thing that really got me in front of the public in terms of television was Formula One. And it was somebodies inspired idea to use a particular piece of music to introduce the show. It was Fleetwood Mac, the chain.
That was what makes the change. Do you still get a little flutter when you hear that, Kirsti? Just then I got goose bumps. I always do, because I knew that when that stopped, I started.
Let's take a little wander down memory lane. It's 1923 when in Birmingham and you are born to Dream. And Elsie Walker, the family, moved to Anfield in Middlesex when you were just five. What's your earliest memory of life at home?
I remember it was my birthday yesterday and I wanted a toy submarine that you operated in the bath with a bladder thing and you squeeze it in the submarine.
But this wasn't good enough as far as my father was concerned, to give his beloved son and my father said Happy birthday, son, and yanked out an enormous plywood box with a bow, make a steam launch in it.
I burst into tears. It wasn't what you wanted. Wasn't what I wanted.
No, I mean, bless him. He'd give me what he thought was going to send me over the moon. You were an only child, were you? A very cherished and slightly sort of indulged, probably like most only children. I had two wonderful parents. My father was tremendously hard working, enormously cheerful, gigantically capable, physically brave man who earned his living racing motorcycles. My papa would disappear before the weekend and come back with a big trophy.
I've often wondered, Kirsty, how my life would have gone if my father had been a plumber from a very young age.
Then was your father your hero? I mean, a father who goes off to do something rather dangerous and exotic over the weekend and then comes back with a big trophy? And there's something quite glamorous about that. And I would love to say so, but I think it was all pretty ho hum as far as I was concerned. I know.
But my father bought me a pre world war to 256. I won't bore you with all the technicalities. Aerial occult motorcycle. We lived on a private road and he wanted me to be able to control something mechanically, responsibly. And I cut my teeth on that and took it to pieces and put it together again badly. And I always had a lot left over and wonder where it came from.
And did it did it thrill you being on a bike? Yes, I did, because a motorcycle, after all, is a modern horse. You are in charge of it, balancing it properly, taking the right line on corners, riding quickly within the limits of the laws you should give to a charge like very few other things can. And it sold me the moment I got one, and it still does. And if I was still capable physically of riding one, I would have won.
Have you ever had a go in Formula One car?
I have indeed. In 1988, I drove a Formula One McLaren for 10 laps at Silverstone and I was only meant to do three laps, but I knew that if I stayed out, they wouldn't be able to get me in until I came in.
We're going to have some more music than Murray Walker. Your second choice is what?
It's the skaters walls. I'm not good as a dancer. Well, I've got two left feet, but I love horses and I love to hear the skaters both. That was part of the skaters waltz by Millville Tofel, played by the London Pops Orchestra. So Marie Walker, it's not just beautiful fast things that you've driven you to drive a Sherman tank when when you were an officer in the Royal Scots Grace, you left school at 18. You volunteered and joined up in 1941.
What do you remember?
I was very lucky to be with the Royal Scots Grace as they were then. And it's the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards now. And when I joined the regiment, my squadron leader greeted me and he said, Nice to have you with us, George. And I said a bit haltingly, I said, the G stands for Graham, actually, sir, but my friends call me Murray. I said, I thought it was Murray hyphen Walker. And you felt that he was quite disappointed that it wasn't Murray Life and Walker.
But he said, you will be responsible to Sergeant MacTavish. I was fresh out of Santo's Kirsti. I've got this single pipe on my shoulder and I thought, what do you think this is confetti?
And he said, I know what you're thinking. You're God's gift to the British army cos you're fresh out of Santoshi said, you know, nothing said MacTavish has been with us since Palestine as it then was right through North Africa. Italy, Dedé.
Well, I benefited from that man's experience, and it's probably because of that that I'm alive talking to you now. I've read and I don't quite understand this, that your father at one point joins you on the battlefield. Is that true?
Yes, it is true and is quite incredible experience. This was just before the Rhine crossing. Right. And I was in a tank regiment and we were having some pretty bloody time literally clearing the approach it. And every so often you used to have to come back to replenish petrol, fuel and ammunition. And as we drove along towards a replacement depot, I saw four people standing there and I really thought to myself, gosh, I like that. Looks just like my father.
And as we got closer, I saw that this man in military uniform and my father was not in the army was my father, but stopped.
Jumped. I said, I can't remember what I said, but it's probably something like, what the hell are you doing? Because we were half an hour away from extreme shot. And Shell had to cut a long story short as a magazine editor, as he was then. He had used his contacts, first of all, to get accredited as a special correspondent. And secondly, and I don't know to this day how he did this to find out where my regiment was and therefore where I was.
And he'd got up there and I was pretty worried because the last thing I wanted to say was my father, where he was. And we took on what we wanted to take on in the way of fuel and ammunition. And I trundled off again and he went home.
You say you're not sure as to exactly how he managed to do.
You know why he did it? If we wanted a little boy expect, yes, yes, I was very fond of my father and he was very fond of me and hopefully wanted to see me again. Let's take a little time to hear some music that Mary Walker, we're going to hear your your third disc, which is very much connected to what we've just been talking about. Tell me about this.
I said I was very lucky to be in this cult craze with its own pipes and drums band, which has had a number one disc with Amazing Grace, which most of the people are listening will probably hear, but they won't hear it with nearly as much emotion as I did. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, your regiment, Mary Walker playing Amazing Grace there. I want to talk in a little while about these two careers that you had.
But before we do that, I want to ask you about this, I think quite a short period of your life when you took up racing motorcycles as well. How long did it last? And were you any good?
Not very long, because and I suspect I did it because I felt I ought to do it and come out of the war. I wanted to continue doing something exciting, surrounded by all the bric a brac of my father's life and memorabilia and stuff. And he helped me get into motorcycle racing. But I was a reasonably good club standard, but not good enough. And then I went on to day in Duros and one day trials, and I was much better at that.
And I probably won a gold medal in the International six days trial in 1949. But Kirsty and I were starting to make progress in my chosen profession, which was advertising. And I was either going to have to spend money on developing my not very successful motorcycle racing life or make money hopefully at developing my more successful advertising life. And I pragmatically chose the latter.
And when was the very first time that you sat in front of a live mike and spoke and heard your voice reaching people? Schell's Willie Walsh Hill climb in 1948 when my father had been going to do the BBC commentary and for some reason I can't remember couldn't. And they put the public address commentator in his job and they said to my father, You got us into this hole, get us out of it. Who can we put on the public address?
And he said, Why don't you give the boy a go? And the boy liked immediately. I liked it immediately. Yeah. If you if you're talking public address Kirsti, you're talking to the people who are actually there. They can see what you're talking about. But I was talking to one person as far as I was concerned, and that was a chap called Jim Pasturage, who was the BBC producer, and he couldn't help but hear me because all the public address loudspeakers were blasting me out.
And I gave them chapter and verse non-stop for the whole race about Joe blogs and where he came from and how many children he got and what he'd done.
You say you were talking to him, so you were aware that this was a sort of live audition, if you like. Hoped it was, I think. Yeah. Yeah. So it went very well. You that's what it turned out to be. I got an audition at Goodwood Omoto Motor Racing Car Racing, not because your very first Grand Prix, then I think that was that it's over since 1949.
But what's your memory of that? Well, the circuit first of all, Silverstone is a highly developed World War Two bomber base, and the original circuit used the runways in the middle as well as the perimeter road. So you had cars charging towards each other at an accumulated speed of about 300 miles an hour. And then they peeled off and went in opposite directions. I remember that pretty vividly, but most of all, I remember I was at Stoke Corner and there was an outstanding chap called John Bolster.
He wore a tartan shirt. They didn't wear protective clothing in those days. And he came down low, hanging straight, lost control and went barreling end over end and was thrown out of the car. No safety belts at my feet in the commentary box. And I looked down. I saw this bleeding mass of humanity. And then I thought, what do I say? They didn't tell me what to say about this. And I said, with devastating accuracy, bastard's gone off.
Well, he certainly added it and he was perfect. He wasn't perfectly alright. He recovered from it. But I think that's my most vivid memory from that.
That might have put some people off the porridge. I mean, they might have thought, you know, this isn't for me. I don't want to be as close to potential death as we can get.
Kirsty, that I had by then forgotten 1948, I would have been 25 years old. I don't wish to labor on this, but I've had the misfortune to see a lot of people killed in the sport, which I love. Yeah. So seeing John Boaster. I thought killed was nothing particularly new to me, and I don't want to appear hard hearted or callous, but you carry on, let's carry on with the music.
Tell me what we're going to hear now. This is your fourth choice of the morning, Marie Walker.
I am besotted with Australia, and while I'm on my desert island, I would like to remind myself about this much larger island and what better to do it than to be able to hear Waltzing Matilda.
Waltzing Matilda, sung by Mary Sue Laryssa, accompanied by the Ontario Orchestra, you enjoyed that rousing bit?
Oh, I loved it. I like the gutsy bet at the end. That's Mary Walker.
You have wrongly been credited with the advertising strapline, A Mars a Day Helps You work, rest and play. You didn't come up with that, but you did come up with, I think, opal fruits made to make your mouth water.
I was going to say I approached Tril makes bodgies bounce with healthier newscasting. I didn't know that when I didn't. But she is a lonely boucherie.
You left your life in advertising then did you? Ran it in parallel with your career as a commentator for many, many years. Yes. Did you enjoy advertising or was it just there to pay the bills?
I loved it because adored it because I was doing creative things and it's a bit like Formula One. I said the Formula One is the best at what they do. And if you're in the advertising agency business, you're working with a lot of very young, very bright, very aggressive people full of ideas. And I was very lucky that I had some wonderful clients. I've seen a photograph.
I don't know what to make of it. You and another bunch of gents in smart suits, you look like you.
Yeah, you let your dog food was one of my valued clients, was a company called Pet Foods, and it was my job, our job, to convert the British housewife from feeding her dog household scraps on which it was seemingly perfectly happy and fit, and to persuade her to go to a shop, buy a can, carry it home, open it up, give it to the dog, not knowing what was in it and the trade who got to stop the stuff to sell to the housewife suspected that the camp was full of factory floor sweepings.
Well, it wasn't actually. It's actually very high quality stuff. And in order to convince the trade of how good it was in in extremis, we would open I can eat some in front of them. I was it nothing wrong with me?
Well done that before I walked right into that one. And you described yourself at the time as a sort of middle England W seven.
You know, you were leading this life where you you enjoyed the advertising work. It was creative. And then you also had this this life running in parallel where you were commentating on Formula One and motor sport generally. Did the people in the advertising agency know what you did on the weekend?
Yes, I mean, they couldn't help. But now that right is on television and I'm going to pay tribute to my wife now, because if I hadn't got a tolerant, understanding wife, I certainly wouldn't have been able to lead the life I have led for so long because I was working non-stop from 1948 until 2001, where we didn't have a conventional holiday for twenty years, really because I was on holiday all the time as far as I was concerned.
Let's have some more music. Mary, this is your fifth.
We've talked a lot about my father and my association with him as a commentating partnership. We were the only father and son commentary team that the BBC has ever had, as far as I know. And we worked together from 1949 until 1962 when he died.
And I attempted to step into very large shoes. One of the things that we did together was to produce what were called sound stories of the races. I would write the story of the race. My father would then record it, put it on disk, and it would be illustrated with the actual sound about which my father was to me to half distance talking. And I would told through the twists and turns of the three miles to Ramsay with only seconds between them there at Parliament Square waiting to tell millions of BBC listeners about the fourth lap.
Was Murray Walker here going round schools corner?
Right down towards me is Garry Hawking this? And behind it, but not very far. My name is Michael Walker. Let's make no mistake about it this time that was you money Walker.
And before that, your father Draim. You were both commentating on the 1961 Isle of Man Terezín Insane Stories. Those albums that you used to make, it was 52 years then all in that you commentated on on Formula Ones on Grumpy's. And we all loved so much listening to you. And among the years I think that are most memorable for so many people are the races that you covered with James Hunt. It was a very much a celebrated partnership. You shared one microphone.
Why was that? Well, Jonathan Martin, who was the head of sport at the BBC at the time, knew that it was very difficult to get the microphone away from me.
But he also knew that if he gave us both microphones, we would be talking over each other. So in order to ensure that only one person at a time was talking, we had one microphone which involved the extreme physical sacrifice as far as I was concerned, of giving out the microphone to James occasionally. And we were all on water. We were as different temperamentally as you can imagine any two people to be. I was this big chap who was walking around the paddock earnestly talking to everybody and writing it down.
And James would be sitting in the McLaren Motor home entertaining his friends. And there was one occasion in that Silverstone when I was standing up, James was sitting down and I was giving it plenty and James saw the elbow. I had been talking long enough and he gave the microphone were a terrific tug. And that microphone flew out of my hands into his. And I actually had my fist back to give him a 421 because I was absolutely incandescent with rage.
And I looked across and Mark Wilkins, the producer, was wagging his finger at me saying, no, Murray don't know. So I didn't. And what turned out to be a good friendship was retained.
His life, of course, famously, very recently, it's been made into a rather thrilling city.
Anything that you have seen or heard about James pales into insignificance compared with the real thing. Go on then. Leave me writes. Give me a little wind. This is a family show. Carson Really? Oh, yes.
But having said that, a more endearing, charming, delightful bloke you would never have hoped to meet and also a more rude, truculent, overbearing chap you would never hope to meet. Right.
It's time for some more music. Then tell me what we're going to hear next. We're on your sixth of the morning. What's this?
I'm a jazz fan. Chris Barber, Blues Jazz Band needs no introduction from me, used to race himself with some distinction and also gave me one of the outstanding memories of my life. And that was the memorial service to the late, great Ken Terrell, who owned and ran the terrible racing team. And it was a Guildford Cathedral and it finished with the Chris Barber Band marching down the nave playing When the Saints Come Marching In. I don't want to hear that, but I do want to hear them playing the South Rampart Street parade.
That was the Chris Barber Band and the South Rampart Street parade. I should tell you, Marie Walker, that David Coulthart once paid a very nice compliment. He said that your unique gift was your ability to bring sincere emotion to the viewer. I mentioned in the introduction Damon Hill becoming world champion. I would say that was a moment when you're sincere, emotion got the better of you. Tell us what happened.
Firstly, I had known Damon for most of his life. His father, Graham, was a double world champion, but Damon had a very tough upbringing. His father was killed when he was the most impressionable time of his life. And in 1996, he had a very tough season racing against his teammate Jack Real Love. And when Damon crossed the line to become world champion by winning the race, all these pent up emotions came to the top. And I said, I've got to stop now because I got a lump in my throat.
And people have accused me of writing things on the commentary box wall and trying to find the appropriate point in the commentary to slot them in. But it isn't like that. If you're doing the job properly, you're talking from the heart. And my goodness, I was certainly talking from the heart.
Then a couple of years before that, you had one of the toughest moments of your life in terms of what was happening on air. It was 1994 and the legendary Ayrton Senna was to meet his end. And of course, you started that race with as much optimism and verve. Suddenly you found yourself in a place where you were watching something live on air that was clearly very, very serious indeed.
He was killed at a corner called the term Bülow, the Imola circuit for the San Marino Grand Prix. And I had seen three other drivers in different years crash in identical circumstances. Micheli operator and he was perfectly all right. Nelson Pekoe slightly hurt his foot. Gearheart Berger, who was not only unconscious in the car, but it was on fire and they got him out and he was okay. So when Senna crashed Kirsti, my immediate reaction was, well, that's a big one.
But then I immediately realised that it was far worse than that from the body language, and I stopped the race and all the rest of it. Now, the dilemma that you face as you as a commentator, then I didn't know any more about what was happening to Centre than anybody else that was there. I did, but I was having to walk a tightrope between don't worry, folks. I've seen three other drivers and they were perfectly all right.
And this is terrible. I fear it's terminal, but you don't say and it was not easy.
We've heard you talk this morning about the fact that you took parts you saw fighting on the frontline in the Second World War and all that you have seen professionally. Have you had cause to pause and wonder sometimes about drivers that put themselves through their own choice, put themselves in such danger and so close to death?
I think they are entirely right. We should all be masters of our own destiny to the extent that we can be. I am very much against the health and safety brigade who try to stop people doing dangerous things provided you don't take other innocent people with you.
Which would be inexcusable. I see no reason why people shouldn't do it. People fall off mountains every year and kill themselves, but they don't do it live on television. That's the difference.
Let's have a discussion. Marie Walker, tell me what we're going to you know, this is your seventh. I love military marches. And one of the best of them all is the Stars and Stripes forever.
That was part of the Stars and Stripes forever, played by the United States Marine Band, directed by Colonel Michael Jacobson. Now, Murray Walker, of course, we know you brought your great skill as a broadcaster. You brought your in-depth knowledge to Formula One and motor sport in general, but you also brought in, again, a few co-workers that people would really enjoy and celebrate. I'm going to ask you if the following two or three are true, because some of them, I think, might have been made up.
Nigel Mansell, slowing down, taking it easy. Oh, and it's a new lap record. That's true.
The Williams car is absolutely unique, except for the one behind, which is absolutely right.
And there's nothing wrong with the car except it's on fire.
You haven't got time to think about, shall I say it this way or shall I say it that way? You say what comes into your head at the time and sometimes the wrong words come out. Sometimes the words come out of the wrong order.
Do you watch Formula One on the telly now or do you every second of it? And if there were ten times as many seconds, I would be watching them. Yes.
How much do you worry about the current cases against Formula One? I'm thinking of cases that have just happened in the UK. There's going to be a future case in Germany involving attorneys. Yeah, I don't want to talk about him specifically, but I'm wondering what you think about all this stuff can't be helping the image of Formula One.
No, I suppose I very reluctantly have to admit that it can't. But I hope this is a passing phase and it's a global sport now, which gets television viewers, which are exceeded only by, I think, the World Cup and the Olympic Games. So it speaks for itself. I like to think it's just going to blow over eventually.
In all your years, of course, you will not just have watched the brilliance of Michael Schumacher on the track, but I presume you know him a little very well off the track.
It must cause you, as well as the whole Formula One community, to the greatest depths of misery to see a tragedy.
He's a nice man, Michael Schumacher, and to spend well over twenty years of his life constantly exposing himself to extreme potential death dealing situations, only to end up where he is now as a result of a recreational accident is tragic in the absolute extreme. One can only hope that he's going to get better.
What are your hopes for the coming season? Who should we be looking out for?
And it's going to be one of the most interesting and exciting ever, I will say that about every season. But this one really is we have new rules which have resulted in an extremely complicated motor cars on. There's going to be a lot of cars breaking down before they get them right. I just only wish I could be commentating and what's going to be happening because it's going to be fabulous.
Tell me about your final decision, Murray Walker. What are we going to hear to play players out?
Well, I absolutely adored the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I'm one of the greatest records I've ever produced was American Patrol.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra and American Patrol, Sir Marie Walker, it's time for me to give you the books. You get the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare and you get to take another book along to the island. What's yours going to be?
How to survive anything anywhere, because I am not a practical chap. I will be wanted to get away as quickly as I possibly can, and anything I can do to speed that up will be essential. All right.
We'll give you a survival handbook then. And a luxury, too. I'm an old chap, Coastie. I need my sleep. I would like a hammock. And if I can have a pillow to go with it, that would be a generous gift. Certainly I will give cat and of the eight tracks, if you had to save just one, which one would you save? Oh, I think Chris Bahbah s Rampart Street Parade kept me going. Right.
That's yours. Mary Walker, thank you very much for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs. Thank you.