Murray Walker is the voice of Formula One. Whether you are seven-years old or 107-years old, you cannot think of Formula One and not help but hear his over-excited squeals of delight. Now retired from the commentary box, Murray sat down with our own Sam Hall to talk about all things Formula One. For this segment, 1976 world champion and Murray’s former partner in the commentary box, James Hunt.
“James was an incredibly complex character. He could be thoroughly unpresent and rude and he could also be absolutely charming, cheerful – the life and soul of the party. Most of the time he was the latter but, when he was off form, he was not a pleasant bloke to be with.
“But James and I actually got on very well together although, in the early days, I did not welcome his appearance (in the commentary box).
“I’d started commentating on Formula One, on all of the races, in 1978 and I had been commentating from 1949 up to 1978 on all these other things before Formula One. I did Formula One on my own for two years and then the BBC producer, Jonathan Martin, came to me and said, ‘In future Murray, there’s going to be two commentators. You’re going to be one of them, of course, and James Hunt is going to be the other,’ and I thought, ‘James Hunt? James Hunt is a racing driver. He doesn’t know anything about commentating.’
“I thought, ‘I know what they’re going to do, they’re going to have James with me for a year or two and then they’re going to say thanks Murray for all that you’ve done but James is going to be the commentator now because he’s done it. He’s been there and done that and knows what he’s talking about.’
“So there was a pretty iffy atmosphere between, probably me and James rather than James and me when we started. I was old enough to be his farther, we were as different as chalk and cheese and James was a hard drinking, chain smoking, womanising young man and I, as I say, was old enough to be his farther and had an entirely different view on life than James.
“I would industriously beaver about the paddock, talking to all the drivers, the tyre fitters and the technicians – anybody that could tell me anything that would help me with my commentary subsequently, while James would be languishing in the Marlboro motorhome, drinking, but everybody was going to him.
“James would turn up to the commentary box five minutes before the race began and he’d say, “Who is in pole position Murray?” winding me up and, as soon as the race finished, it was as though he’d got a spring up his arse because, when the flag went down, James went up and he was out of the box.
“But, the chemistry seemed to work in the commentary box. I was talking as though my trousers were on fire and in the words of Clive James (an Australian broadcaster), full of enthusiasm and James was calm and laidback and authoritative.
“It worked but, in the commentary box there was a bit of fizz sometimes because, to prevent us from talking over each other, we had one microphone so, whoever had the microphone had to give it to the other bloke when the other bloke wanted to say something. If it was me, I wasn’t too anxious to give it to James and, if it was James, he wasn’t too anxious to give it to me probably.
“We got all that ironed out and, although we continued to have a few ups and downs, we got the job done and the public liked us and that’s all that matters.”
Murray on Freddie Hunt
“Freddie is – it is uncanny the physical and personality likeness between James and Freddie. It is almost spooky and Freddie didn’t enjoy most of his father’s life because James was only 45 when he died. I’ve forgotten how old Freddie was when he died but he wasn’t very old and so he must have just been cut from the same mould.”