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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Four wheels good, two wheels better

By Julian Shea

As one of the most famous faces - and certainly the most famous voice - in British motorsport, legendary commentator Murray Walker can still often be found wandering round the pit lanes of the world's racing tracks.

Murray Walker
Famed 'Murrayisms' include "It's raining and the track is wet"
The presence of a man so eternally associated with Formula One certainly turned heads at the British MotoGP at Donington, but the bike garages have always been where his real interest lies.

"Motorcycles were and still are my first love, but I didn't have time to follow them," he told BBC Sport.

"Because of work, something had to give and reluctantly, because it wasn't an earner, I concentrated on cars instead of bikes."

Until his retirement from full-time commentary in 2001, that "earner" made Walker one of the best-known broadcasters in the country.

His self-described "pants on fire" commentary style and unique manipulation of the English language made Walker a staple character for impersonators. It also made him arguably more famous than many of the stars whose races he was covering.

I grew up in a motorsport environment, so it would have been very odd if I hadn't got into it
But despite being forever linked in the public imagination with the world of four wheels, as far as Walker is concerned that was two wheels too many.

"My father was a professional motorbike racer, not exactly the Valentino Rossi of his day, but he won the Isle of Man TT Races and all the big continental Grands Prix," he said.

"I grew up in a motorsport environment in general, and a motorbike one in particular, so it would have been very odd if I hadn't got into it."

When he retired from racing, Walker Sr became the BBC's motorcycling commentator and despite Murray holding down a regular job in advertising, broadcasting soon became the family business.

"I got in on that, and gradually I oozed into covering car racing events that the BBC F1 commentator Raymond Baxter didn't want to do," he said.

"Eventually I reached a point where I was getting almost everything except F1, and then Raymond got the job presenting "Tomorrow's World" so he couldn't do that either. In 1978 the BBC decided to return to big-time coverage of Grand Prix racing and asked me.

James Hunt
I thought (James Hunt) was an arrogant, lazy 'Hooray Henry' - but we grew to respect each other
"Before that I used to do an enormous amount of bike commentary - I did well over 100 broadcasts from the TT Races, Ulster Grand Prix and the like. It's only since retiring that I've been able to get back in touch with bikes again."

Walker's full-time attachment to the world of F1 came at a time when Britain could boast the world's best rider, Barry Sheene, and the world's best driver, James Hunt.

And it was with the latter that Walker would go on to form a famous partnership in the commentary box.

"When I was first told another commentator was coming in after I'd been doing it on my own for two years, my first thought was that they were trying to freeze me out," he said.

"I thought he was an arrogant, lazy 'Hooray Henry', which he was in those days, and he thought I talked too much. But the public liked the combination and we rubbed the corners off one another and grew to respect each other."

That double act lasted until 1993, when Hunt died, and after a career of watching and working with the world's greatest drivers, Walker retired from full-time commentary in 2001, although he remains busy and in demand.

It amazes me how well-known I still appear to be in the motorcycling fraternity
As someone regarded as an expert in his field, Walker is often called upon to settle the eternal pub debate - who is the greatest driver of all time? And when you ask him the same question about bike riders, he will give you largely the same answer.

"You can say who is the greatest of their particular time, as Rossi undoubtedly is now, and there are very few others who you can put in a bracket with him, but you can't say he's the greatest ever when he's not raced against Giacomo Agostini or Mike Hailwood.

"You can only be subjective, because there's no common yardstick against which you can measure them - it can't be proved.

"From a personal point of view, I'd say Hailwood because when he was at his height I commentated on him and I knew him, but I'd hate to put a cigarette paper between him and Rossi."

Now in semi-retirement, Walker admits he wishes he was still working so he could commentate on Lewis Hamilton's remarkable feats in F1, which have given the sport a huge lift and attracted much wider public interest.

British bike fans have been waiting 30 years for someone to match Sheene's achievements but Walker says he cannot see a Hamilton-like figure on the horizon to end their long wait.

Mike Hailwood
Mike Hailwood - the best ever? Murray Walker thinks so
"I hate having to say it, but I don't see any obvious route for British riders to make progress, with the notable exception of James Toseland," he said.

"There are 100,000 fans here this weekend, so the potential is huge, but I'm not terribly optimistic. British riders' dominance came when the British bike industry was the world bike industry - there weren't too many other companies that mattered, so that spawned British success.

"But now there's no industry, the concentration is on foreign riders as they get more support."

The glory days of British riding may be a distant memory now, but in the hearts and minds of thousands of fans they live on.

Now he can enjoy retirement, Walker is happy to count himself among those fans, and the way he has been received since returning to the ranks surprises him.

"It amazes me how well-known I still appear to be in the motorcycling fraternity, seeing as I've not been part of it for so long," he said with genuine modesty.

But as anyone who has ever heard him commentate will surely agree, what are the chances of anyone ever forgetting who Murray Walker is?



SEE ALSO
Walker tips Hamilton for F1 title
11 Jun 07 |  Formula One
Toseland wary of switch to MotoGP
19 Jun 07 |  Motorbikes
The future of MotoGP?
23 Jun 07 |  Motorbikes


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