There was no mistaking the high-pitched enthusiasm of Voice of Formula 1 Murray Walker during his time behind the microphone in Fife.
Walker would drive from London to commentate on motor cycling in Fife at the start of a career which would lead to him becoming a household name.
Kirkcaldy and District Motor Club archivist Jake Drummond said Walker, who recently died aged 97, would be sadly missed although his mark will live on in motorsport.
Murray’s family is of Scottish descent
His father, Graham, was the son of William Walker of Aberdeen, a company secretary of the Union Castle shipping line.
Graham developed a passion for motor cycles at an early age.
He was a successful trials and road-racer, crowning his career with victory in the 1931 Isle of Man TT on a 250cc Rudge.
Following the end of his racing career Graham took on the role of editor of Motor Cycling magazine and started a second career as a radio commentator.
He was joined around the race circuits by son Murray who also began his motorsport career by racing motorbikes following the Second World War.
“You either loved what your father did or you loathed it,” he explained.
“But my father was a great man, I was very fond of him, and I wanted to be like him.”
He had success in motorcycle trials, particularly in the International Six Days Trial where he won a gold medal, and the Scottish Six Days Trial in which he received a first-class award.
Walker forged a highly successful career as an advertising executive which dovetailed with the commentary role that would ultimately come to define him.
Walker’s broadcasting career began in 1948 at the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb and he covered numerous motorsports in his early years.
Would drive from London to Kirkcaldy
He shared commentary duties with his father Graham at Beveridge Park races in Kirkcaldy in 1950 where thrills and spills were the order of the day.
Walker would drive to Kirkcaldy from London and said he wished he had known about Beveridge Park when he briefly competed in motorcycle races himself.
Road racing began in Scotland with the 1948 Kirkcaldy Grand Prix which was held at Beveridge Park, which drew the top high speed racers from across the country and abroad, but probably the best known were Glasgow’s Bob McIntyre and Alistair King, the duo who dominated British racing in the 1950s and 1960s.
There was also car racing in the town park in the early 1950s, with names like Ken Tyrell and Ivor Bueb racing ‘the wrong way round’ in 500cc powered cars.
Walker went on to become the voice of the Saturday afternoon scrambles live on BBC Grandstand where he returned to Kirkcaldy to call the action.
Mr Drummond said: “The connection between Murray Walker and the KDMC was made many years before the 1948 Kirkcaldy Grand Prix.
“Walker’s father Graham was a friend of a few of our club committee members in the days before the Second World War.
“From 1935 Graham was covering motor sport events all over Europe for the BBC and had a close connection to many clubs as editor of Motor Cycling magazine.
“Graham did much to promote our Kirkcaldy speed events on the sands and in 1948 our venture into proper road racing events with the Kirkcaldy Grand Prix.
“Graham also appears in the footage from the 1949 Beveridge Park motorcycle races after travelling up to Scotland to commentate for BBC Radio.
“When he was here he met many friends from his racing days and was joined in the commentary box by renowned sporting voices Leo Hunter and Sandy Munro.
“In July 1950 he was joined as commentator for the BBC at Beveridge Park by his son Murray who was then employed as an advertising agent.
“Murray shared his dad’s love of the sport and was also a handy rider on a motorcycle, winning a gold medal as part of the International Six Days Trial team and gaining a First Class Award in the Scottish Six Days Trial.
“The commentary from Beveridge Park went out live on BBC Radio and one motorcycle racing supporter I spoke to recalls being given permission from his factory foreman to listen in to the reports as he was unable to get the Saturday off to attend the meeting.
“Murray knew many of the club members and had served in the latter years of the Second World War with some of them, and, in particular, became a close friend of the Wales family, proprietors of the town’s County Motors motorcycle shop.”
Commentary was wiped by the BBC
Mr Drummond said Murray Walker and his father Graham’s commentary for radio and television in the early days at Kirkcaldy was taped over by the BBC.
“When I contacted Murray a few years back to ask about the radio recordings – and the television footage broadcast by the BBC in 1967 – he was disappointed to have to relate that the film stock had been reused as high speed film was very expensive and the BBC made use of it for other events,” he said.
“Footage from our scrambles events when the ‘Grandstand Trophy’ races were held in the 1960’s at Kilrie just outside Kirkcaldy, were also gone, much to Murray’s chagrin.
“He did mention that every Party Political Broadcast had been retained!
“Murray recalled how he would leave his London home on a Friday afternoon to drive to Kirkcaldy, commentate on our Saturday races, and then make the 100 mile trip in pouring rain to cover the Rest and Be Thankful Speed Hill Climb Sunday event in more pouring rain before making the soggy trip back to be at work on the Monday morning.”
Snaking between two Scottish mountains, this narrow pass in Glen Croe, Argyll, was feared by early motorists.
Then it became the most challenging hill climb in Britain.
Happy to chat about his time in Kirkcaldy
Mr Drummond said: “As for Beveridge Park, Murray said that he wished he had been able to do a few laps on a motorcycle, but he and his father made sure they were able to get round in the course car between races as often as they could when they attended the event.
“He knew many of the Scottish riders and was particularly friendly with Bob McIntyre, and was impressed by Bob’s easy manner and his ability to lap the Kirkcaldy circuit with apparent ease.
“Bob’s death at Oulton Park in 1962 was a terrible day, for his family and for the sport.
“Murray was always happy to have a chat about his time at Kirkcaldy events, whether at Knockhill in the 1980s during a combined car and motorcycle race event where KDMC President Hugh Ward recalls him speaking fondly about his trip to the club events, or at later events at Mallory or Oulton Park where he spotted the club badge on my jacket.
“Murray Walker will be sadly missed by motorsport fans world wide, and especially in this wee corner of Fife.”
The Kirkcaldy Grand Prix at Beveridge Park became an annual event as ‘The Scottish Road Races for Motorcycles’ until 1988 when the club decided to call a halt to racing as the machines were becoming too powerful for the conditions on the circuit.
The purpose-built circuit of Knockhill, and briefly Ingliston, and the adapted airfields of Crail and East Fortune gave Scotland somewhat safer – though less charismatic – venues.
KDMC also ran the Scottish Championship events at Knockhill from 1974 to 2010, including the forerunner of the British Superbike Series.
Murray Walker called it all in a remarkable commentary career spanning 52 years
Murray Walker will be remembered as the undisputed voice of Formula One.
Walker’s unique, high-octane style – once described by Australian comic Clive James as “sounding like a man whose trousers are on fire” – is forever ingrained in British sporting culture.
From James Hunt’s 1976 championship triumph over Niki Lauda at a rain-lashed Fuji, to Ayrton Senna’s intense rivalry with Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell’s 1992 title triumph, Walker called it all in a remarkable broadcasting career which spanned 52 years.
When Damon Hill took the chequered flag at Suzuka to win the Japanese Grand Prix and become world champion in the early hours of an October morning in 1996, an emotional Walker cried: “I have got to stop because I have got a lump in my throat.”
Walker retired from commentating in 2001 and his mistakes – later nicknamed ‘Murrayisms’ – helped to earn him his status as a national treasure.
“Unless I’m very much mistaken…I AM very much mistaken!” was the leader of a pack of quotable lines from Walker’s commentating.
While commentating on Nigel Mansell, Walker noted: “Mansell is slowing down, taking it easy. Oh no he isn’t – it’s a lap record!”
Commentating on an Ayrton Senna victory, Walker said: “This would have been Senna’s third win a row, if he’d won the two before.”
Another memorable quip from Walker was: “There is nothing wrong with his car, except that it is on fire!”