It’s all in the commentary

Friday, June 21st, 2013 by Simon Morton

This week I have been carefully considering the art of commentary.

When the news about Murray Walkers illness hit the airwaves I found myself reminiscing for the glory days of F1.

Don’t get me wrong there is still something very magical about it – the speed and the cutting edge engineering are thrilling and the cars make a noise that you can hear in your sternum. I spent my childhood following my Dad round as he marshalled at UK race tracks in the 70’s and 80’s (until Ayrton Senna ran him over, but that’s another story). I still have my Junior Marshall pit pass and overalls. I was an F1 fanatic, but F1 seemed to have more personality back then, and no one captured that better than Murray.

Murray Walker is a great commentator because he is a great fan, enthusiasm on that level is impossible to fake. His commentary style was not always entirely accurate or factual but we forgave him, because he drew us in and made us invest in the story unfolding before us, his enthusiasm became ours.

Right now I’m looking forward to the Le Mans 24 hour race. On quite a few occasions in the past it has been broadcast live, in its entirety, possibly the toughest commentary challenge that there is. This requires a team of commentators, who largely do a fantastic job, but there are challenges. Firstly, not even those spectators who actually made the journey to the circuit watch the whole race – there’s a fairground, a bar and a campsite for them to frequent. Secondly it’s quite hard to even see what’s going on at night, never mind talk about it.

Those that get to fill the early hours of the morning give some of the most interesting commentary you’ll never hear. I know this because in 2002 I took it upon myself to watch the whole thing. At approx 3am the commentator was chatting about the British driver Perry McCarthy, in the brief bio that he was using to fill time, he included the fact that Perry was also The Stig on Top Gear. Now as we know later revelations of this nature created a multi-media circus and legal action. So what happened in 2002? Apart from it waking me up a bit, nothing. It wasn’t until January 2003 that his secret Stigness was revealed in the papers.

Television commentating is much like presenting slides – it involves talking about things that the audience can already see for themselves and it requires some similar skills. Murray is a fantastic commentator because he cares about the subject and because he is himself. As for the early morning Le Mans commentator, he just proves that you can say anything you want if no-one’s listening….

Get Well Soon Murray

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