John Ayling: Murray Walker, Trill budgie food and me

It was sad on Saturday, to hear about the passing of legendary motor racing commentator Murray Walker at the age of 97. A number of racing drivers referred to his early career in advertising and I thought I should share my experience of working with him in the creative world during the mid-60’s. Joining Masius, Wynne-Williams as a graduate in the media department in 1965 Murray was one of my first board account directors. An enthusiastic, witty, albeit humble leader, he was famous for developing “made to make your mouth water” for Opal fruits.

On a Friday, in 1966, Murray recalled a meeting with one of the account group teams to spend the weekend considering a major issue on one of our brand leader products. I was a bit out of my depth in this early discussion in my career but excited to be part of the team. The product was Trill bird food, a massively profitable brand at a time when virtually every home had a budgerigar and Trill dominated the market. The client had asked us to review improving profitability on such an outstanding successful product. Television was crucial to its success. Murray smiled as he left the room for the weekend to pursue his burgeoning career in motor racing.

Meeting on Monday, with the creative guys pretty subdued, Murray as always bounced into the room.

“I think I’ve cracked it”, he said, smiling at the highly paid creatives: “an only budgerigar is a lonely budgerigar” Genius! Lateral, strategic thinking at its best. Many homes in the UK purchased a second pet for their birdcage and even my mum in deepest East Grinstead supported her impoverished son’s agency. It was an example of his team ethic subsequently highlighted by his brilliant on-air partnership with James Hunt. Two complete opposites and I’ve never heard a bad word said about Murray’s contribution.

The passing of the voices of motor racing and golf recently are a sad loss to sport. I was proud, as chairman of the Lord’s Taverners charity supporting disadvantaged children, to be able to invite both Murray and Peter Alliss, a family friend, to address major charity dinners over the last few years. Neither of them ever let us down.

John Ayling is founder and executive chairman at John Ayling & Associates.

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