So farewell Murray, the mawkish 'voice' of motor racing

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The Independent Online

What can you say about the Murray Walker phenomenon except that his celebrity, and the vast affection in which he is apparently held by the nation, is out of all proportion to his professional efficiency?

The tendency here might have been to leave it at that but for the extraordinary gush that accompanied his farewell commentary from Indianapolis on Sunday, and his own appalling compliance with the idea that somehow a rich and arrogant sport will be irreparably impoverished by his decision to put down the mike.

His farewell split-screen interview with himself may just have been the most embarrassing segment in the history of television sports.

It concluded with his unabashed statement that Bernie Ecclestone, the Tsar of Formula One, was about to make him an "offer", which was perhaps not the most ringing testament to any independent spirit which may have raged through 52 years of high profile commentary.

Walker also revealed how he cracked up when his favourite driver, Damon Hill, won the world championship in Japan a few years ago, a result that so tested his professionalism he had a lump in his throat that inevitably produced a little dead air time. Such fine feeling was not so evident in Walker on a recent documentary on the life of the late James Hunt, a world champion racer of some eccentricity, certainly, but also great courage and style and, at least from my own experience, unfailing courtesy. But Walker said of Hunt: "I regarded him as an arrogant, overbearing Hooray Henry. An arrogant, overbearing, drunken Hooray Henry. An overbearing, arrogant, drunken, drug-taking Hooray Henry."

But then no one ever said that Murray Walker's career was a triumph of balance and judgement and control. Indeed, his blubbing over the victory of Hill must inevitably draw comparison with the style of the peerless Peter O'Sullevan, of whom it was said – by Hugh McIlvanney – that had he been on the rails at Balaclava he would have given us the precise order of the fall of individual members of the Light Brigade. O'Sullevan's finest moments came when he called the winning runs of his beloved horses, Be Friendly in the Vernons Sprint Cup at Haydock, and Attivo, in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, without giving a hint of his personal involvement.

Beneath the professionalism, however, was much passion. It came through strongly enough away from the microphone at Longchamp when his friend Lester Piggott failed on Nijinsky in the Arc. O'Sullevan was asked by a group of drunken revellers if Piggott had made a "boo-boo". O'Sullevan reported: "I told them to eff off – and I felt a lot better for it."

O'Sullevan, you can be sure, would have said much the same if anyone had ever asked him to interview himself.