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Murray Walker to retire; unless I'm very much mistaken

THE legendary, frenetic tones of Murray Walker, competing in the decibel race with his beloved formula one cars in the manner once described of one with his trousers on fire, will be lost to the world of grand prix racing at the end of the 2001 world championship season.

The 77-year old veteran British television commentator - as much a legend of the sport as the drivers whose activities he describes, and who still tackles his arduous calling with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a first year novice - has decided to retire at the end of next year, 51 years since making his first BBC radio broadcast from the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in 1949.

When Walker finally hangs up his microphone for the last time, it will mark the end of an era for this effervescent personality who was one of the original pioneers of formula one as a televised sport. He will also go down as one of that rare breed of commentators whose individualistic style stamped his identity on the sport he was covering.

"My love for the sport and my privileged place in it is undiminished," he said yesterday. "I don't actually want to stop but I've always said I will do so when I'm still ahead with the viewers, rather than wait until there's a general belief that I'm past it."

Walker's breathless style was the butt of many jokes in the formula one paddock; "unless I'm very much mistaken - I am very much mistaken" was just one of his classics, repeated wherever racing fans meet across the world. British world champions Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill - both great favorites with Walker - were amongst the racing celebrities who lined up to pay tribute to him yesterday.

"A wonderful man and friend," said Mansell. "His retirement will be a great loss to the sport, but I sincerely hope that he has a fabulous last year."

Hill added; "Murray has to be a big reason why so many people watch motor racing. He will definitely be missed and I send all my best wishes for his future."

Murray Walker was born into a world of motorsport. "Cut me," he once said, "and I will bleed Castrol-R." Born the son of Graham Walker, a despatch rider in the first world war, his father later earned a good living as a motorcycle tuner.

Later Graham Walker was competitions manager for both the Norton and Sunbeam motorcycle racing teams and, a winner of the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man and captain of the British team in one of the prestigious international six day trial endurance events immediately prior to the second world war.

Even as a toddler in his pram, Murray was taken around the race circuits of Europe and his first great racing hero was the Auto Union star Bernd Rosemeyer who won the 1937 Donington Grand Prix.

After active service in the second world war, Walker returned to civvy street to forge a highly successful career as an advertising executive. The slogans "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" (chocolate bars) and "an only budgie is a lonely budgie" (a bird seed ad!) testified to the fact he certainly had a way with words.

Walker's early commentaries had been in conjunction with his father, but he continued on his own after his father's death in 1962 and finally became a full-timer on his retirement from the advertising business in 1982. Since then he has been partnered with three key co-commentators, all retired grand prix drivers, who included the late James Hunt, Jonathan Palmer and his current partner Martin Brundle. Next year he will commentate on just 12 of the season's 17 races, allowing his yet-to-be nominated successor an easy transition into the challenging front line role.

Former motorsports journalist James Allen, currently ITV's pit lane reporter, is amongst the handful of hopefuls who are tipped for consideration as a potential successor.

However, as a spokesman for ITV added yesterday; "When you bear in mind that the last time this vacancy came up Clement Attlee was Britain's Prime Minister, we want to make our decisions at our leisure."

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