What great commentators do
Unless I’m very much mistaken…
With the recent passing of the legendary F1 commentator, Murray Walker, it has got me thinking a lot about what makes a great commentator and what is it they add to the experience of watching sport.
But before we Go! Go! Go! Let us pay homage to the great man himself, the late Murray Walker…
Some of my favourite quotes or “Murrayisms” as they became affectionately known as were “I don't make mistakes. I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong.”, “There's nothing wrong with the car except it's on fire” and “Unless I'm very much mistaken...I am very much mistaken!”
In early days of console video gaming, there was an official F1 racing game on PlayStation which Murray Walker lent his voice to and I can still hear him now with such vivid memories – from the exclamatory “It’s Schumacher!” to the blindingly obvious “It’s raining and the track is wet.”
And now, excuse me while I interrupt myself…
A great commentator brings life into the sport, brings a passion and level of insight which richly enhance the experience of watching it. I find a great commentator to be imperative, they are absolutely crucial to how long I stay glued to the TV and they are fundamental to the level of interest that the sport receives. I mean, try muting the volume and see how long you last…although with some commentators that is an improvement. While it’s rare to find a universally loved commentator like Murray Walker, we all know a bad commentator when we hear one!
A great commentator becomes synonymous with the sport, a “voice of the game”, which no doubt Murray Walker was. Richie Benaud immediately springs to mind as being the doyen of cricket commentating and is tragically missed. His trademarks, “Welcome back to the M.C.G., marvellous to be with you…” and “oh, what a catch!” are etched into the memories of cricket fans right around the world. A personal favourite of mine was "...and Glenn McGrath dismissed for two, just 98 short of his century.", which I think encapsulates the subtle humour and dry wit of the man quite well.
Tony Greig and Bill Lawry certainly had some colourful times in the commentary box together with their own equally signature styles and catchphrases. Cricket is certainly a poorer experience without these three – it is less fun and enjoyable. Like any great commentator, they made memorable moments more memorable…and sometimes it was their commentary which made an otherwise dull moment, interesting.
From the voices of F1 and cricket to the voice of English football, the sound of Martin Tyler has filled many a room over the years and goes together with the Premier League like mushy peas and a pie. I usually find it unfair to criticise someone’s speaking voice, we can’t choose our natural tone, but with commentating it’s one of the few areas where I make exceptions, as your voice will be judged. Martin Tyler has an “astonishing…absolutely world class” voice for narrating football and feels more like an old friend than a commentator. Peter Drury is also good to listen to.
With my affinity for the NBA, I’m never too far away from a Mike Breen “Bang!” or a Marv Albert “for the win…yeeeessss!”, with both being among the best play-by-play commentators in American sports. Those days in the 90’s when the NBA was on NBC, the intro to the games are well and truly carved in stone for me, “here we are at Madison Square Garden for game 5 of the eastern conference finals, it’s Michael Jordan and the defending champion Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks…”, I’m practically transported in time. Mike Breen has somewhat taken over Marv Albert as the voice of the NBA, and you know it has been something special when you get a double “bang!” from him.
Like I said, these people add something to the sport, they enrich your viewing experience. It is not just describing what is happening in front of you, it is eliciting an emotion, a feeling, like you are actually there which speaks to a passion not everyone shares and creates long lasting memories that are still talk about years later. You come to love them, you welcome them into your home, effectively, and you continue to hear them long after they’re gone. In the same way there are pictures you can hear, there are commentaries you can see…and, in the famous words of Murray Walker when Damon Hill won the ’96 championship, I’ve got to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat.