Murray Walker, the voice of Formula One, dies at 97

FILE PHOTO: Motor Racing - Formula One F1 - Orange Arrows Press Conference to Promote Orange New Formula 1 Service - 15/2/02 Ex Commentator Murray Walker poses for the camera's on and F1 racing car Mandatory Credit: Action Images/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Murray Walker, the infectiously excitable television commentator who became the voice of Formula One for generations around the English-speaking world, died on Saturday at the age of 97.

The news was announced by the Silverstone-based British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), of which he was an associate member.

"A friend, a true motorsport legend, the nation's favourite commentator and a contagious smile. We thank Murray for all he has done for our community," it said.

Walker's 'Murrayisms' -- wide of the mark predictions which stood out like crashed gears and the squeal of rubber -- entertained BBC and ITV viewers in the days before pay TV and a fragmented audience.

Australian writer Clive James, a fan of the sport, once famously described him as a man broadcasting as if his trousers were on fire.

Autosport magazine, in a tribute when he announced his retirement in 2000, said Walker had "done possibly more to popularise motor racing in Britain than anyone else. (James) Hunt, (Nigel) Mansell and (Damon) Hill included".

Those champions also forged close bonds with the commentator.

"Unless I'm very much mistaken... and yes I am very much mistaken," was classic Walker. The first part became the title of his 2002 autobiography.

"And now excuse me while I interrupt myself", "The first four cars are both on the same tyres", "Tambay's hopes, which were absolutely nil before, are absolutely zero now" are utterances still savoured.

"I imagine that the conditions in those cars today are totally unimaginable" and "There's nothing wrong with the car except it's on fire" also stood out.

Walker, who started out in advertising, was also an enthusiast of the sport who could draw on personal memories going back to the birth of the F1 world championship in 1950.

"Everyone inside F1 loves him. And that is because he loves the sport. His enthusiasm is so real," the late team owner Ken Tyrrell once said of his compatriot.

Walker was immersed in motor racing from his earliest years as the son of motorcycle champion Graham Walker and gave his first commentary at the Shelsley Walsh hill climb in 1948.

"Rest in Peace Murray Walker. Wonderful man in every respect. National treasure, communication genius, Formula One legend," said Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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