Monday 18 February 2019

Last nights TV - Murray's number one

Murray Walker: life in the fast lane (bbc2) four rooms (ch4)

THE Formula One cars are still tearing around the track but Murray Walker, legendary commentator, has gently pulled into the pit stop. He's 87 now, unbelievably, but still amazingly sprightly.

We haven't heard the Walker voice, roaring along at 150mph and occasionally crashing into a metaphorical wall ("I imagine the heat inside that cockpit must be unimaginable"), on television for a long time.

The chequered flag fell on Murray's TV broadcasting career, first with the BBC and latterly with ITV, a decade ago. But as we found out in Murray Walker: Life in the Fast Lane, a lovely documentary, he hasn't completely taken his foot off the pedal.

He now covers F1 for the BBC's internet arm. Here he is in Australia for the first Grand Prix of the year, exiting the airport in Adelaide and insisting on carrying his own bags to the taxi. People trying to carry his bags is something Murray hates. Along with queuing and sitting down.

From his very first BBC commentary job, covering the 1959 Isle of Man TT alongside his father, Graeme, Murray has always worked standing up. He had an even longer (14 years) and more famous commentating partnership with former F1 champion James Hunt, who died at 45.

Murray says he didn't always approve of Hunt's playboy lifestyle (the birds, the booze, the smoking) and Hunt regarded Murray as a bit fuddy-duddy. But in the commentary box, they were magic. A BBC producer recalled how he made the two of them share a microphone, otherwise neither would have let the other one get a word in.

It came as a surprise to learn Murray only started commentating on F1 full-time when he was 57. Up to then, his day job was in advertising, where he dreamed up the PAL dog food commercial: "PAL -- for Prolonged Active Life". He'd leave the office on Fridays, meet his wife and the two of them would drive to God knows where to cover Murray's first love, motorbike scrambling -- now called, less descriptively, Motocross. "I led a double life," said Murray. "A bit like a Middle England 007."

"It was Murray's voice that was getting your attention," said Damon Hill. "Otherwise, it was just a load of black and white images of blokes on muddy bikes." Hill and Murray have been close friends since the death of Hill's father, two-time F1 world champion Graham. When Damon himself became World Champion, Murray choked up on air.

Everybody in the business, it seems, loves Murray. Like the late, great boxing commentators Reg Gutteridge and Harry Carpenter, he's forged a unique bond with the sportsmen he reveres. "I can't think of anything better than standing next to men I consider heroes and proclaiming my admiration."

Admiration is a two-way track. "Murray Walker's Murray Walker," says Bernie Ecclestone. "You don't compare him to anyone."

Four Rooms is everything Dragons' Den would love to be but isn't. Four dealers sit in four separate rooms. Someone comes in with an object to sell and the first dealer (although the dealers don't know in which order they're being seen) makes them an offer. If the seller doesn't accept it, hoping to get more, the offer is off the table.

They can end up walking away with more than they expected, less than they wanted, or nothing at all. It's a brilliantly cruel and compelling concept: a game of bluff, double-bluff, guff and greed.

Last night, artist Tracy Emin's twin brother, Paul, arrived with one of his sister's mono-prints. He was hoping for £3,000 but settled for £2,300 from the second dealer he'd seen, Gordon Watson.

What Paul didn't learn until the end was that dealer Jeff Salmon would have been prepared to offer him £13,000. Bad call, Paul.

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