Long-time rugby union commentator Bill McLaren has died at the age 86, it was announced on Tuesday.
McLaren, from Hawick, was known as the “voice of rugby” after almost 50 years as a national broadcaster.
He retired in 2002, having made his first appearance on national BBC radio in 1953.
He received an OBE, CBE and MBE for services to the sport and combined his work as a broadcaster with that of a PE teacher until 1987.
Born in 1923, McLaren began as a player and made the Hawick first XV prior to the Second World War.
A flanker, he had a trial for Scotland in 1947 and was on the verge of a full international cap when he contracted tuberculosis, which nearly killed him.
“I was desperately ill and fading fast when the specialist asked five of us to be guinea pigs for a new drug called Streptomycin,” McLaren said in 2001.
“Three of the others died but I made what amounted to a miracle recovery.”
His first commentary was made while recovering from TB, describing table tennis matches for the hospital radio.
“There must have been something inside me that wanted to describe rugby football to people,” he once said.
“I’ve still got the fictional reports I used to write when I was a wee boy of seven or eight. Scotland always won. They beat the world once by 70-3.”
McLaren studied physical education in Aberdeen and coached three players who went on to play for Scotland: Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger.
It was through his junior reporting with the Hawick Express that he launched himself into a career of commentary, making his national debut for BBC radio in 1953, when Scotland were beaten 12-0 by Wales.
The switch to television came six years later.
His final commentary was also a game between Wales and Scotland in 2002. In November 2001, McLaren became the first non-international to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
He was awarded his MBE in 1992, an OBE in 1995 and a CBE in the 2003 honours list.
McLaren is widely regarded as being to rugby what Murray Walker was to motor racing and Peter O’Sullevan was to horse racing, having come through BBC radio to television in its infancy.
Two of his grandchildren are current professional rugby players: Scotland and Gloucester scrum-half Rory Lawson and Edinburgh utility back Jim Thompson.
Hawick club secretary John Thorburn led the tributes to McLaren, telling Press Association Sport: “We’re devastated, obviously. We’ve got a room named after him at the rugby club.
“It was very close to his heart, Hawick rugby club.
“He’s a huge loss to rugby worldwide.”
Following his retirement, McLaren would still attend Hawick matches, though ill health prevented him continuing to do so more recently.
“It was a big part of his life,” Thorburn added.
Scotland legend Gavin Hastings, who worked with McLaren, said today: “First and foremost, Bill was a very proud and passionate Scot but such was his professionalism that you never really have known that.
“He always remained very unbiased in his commentary and I think that that was unquestionably one of his endearing qualities. He was just such a gentleman as well.”
Speaking about his fondest memories of McLaren, Hastings said: “I will always remember I had the good fortune to be along side him in the commentary box on a number of occasions.
“One of the times that I will always remember being there, he said, ‘Now son, if you want to speak, just tug away at my coat’.
“I was keen to say something so I kept tugging away at his coat for what seemed like about five minutes before he allowed me to speak.
“It was just the sort of passion of the man that he got so much into the game and that was just the way he was.
“He will be sadly missed. He was a wonderful commentator and he just brought the world of rugby into so many people’s homes.”
Hastings relished every time he worked with McLaren.
He said: “He was a wonderful man. He was a real family man.
“He was known as the ‘voice of rugby’ and that probably will be his legacy.”
BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie said: “Bill McLaren was one of the true broadcasting greats whose voice was synonymous with rugby both here in Scotland and throughout the world.
“His knowledge and passion for the game was second to none and his commentaries helped make international rugby matches a major part of the sporting calendar every year for our audiences.
“A tremendously modest man, Bill was the ultimate professional who always went out of his way to help the many colleagues who worked alongside him over the years.
“He also worked tirelessly to support youngsters keen to learn more about the game he loved, especially in his home town.
“To those who knew him closest though, Bill was known as a wonderfully loyal friend and a devoted family man and our thoughts are with them at this time.”
First Minister Alex Salmond
said: “The world of sport and broadcasting has lost a true legend with the passing of Bill McLaren.
“He thoroughly deserved the title ‘voice of rugby’ and was a fantastic ambassador for Scotland and his native Hawick right around the world. His contribution to the sport of rugby cannot be overstated.
“His famously descriptive commentaries brought a joy and understanding of the game to rugby fans and less-knowledgeable viewers that few others have ever managed. My thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”
Scottish Rugby were “immensely saddened” at McLaren’s passing. Scotland captain Chris Cusiter said: “When I was growing up, he was the voice of rugby. He was the guy you heard and you recognised instantly. He was unparalleled.”
Scotland attack coach and former international Gregor Townsend said: “As a youngster, I used to cut out the articles Bill wrote in The Herald.
“I remember he wrote about me when I played for Gala against Melrose and he had such a technical grasp of the game and was able to offer advice for things for a young player to work on. He knew his rugby all right.
“I first met him when it was my first season for Scotland. As part of Bill’s preparation, he would come along and watch the team train on the Friday.
“If you were lucky Bill would give you a Hawick Ball (the famous minty sweets that he carried with him in a tin). I’m a Gala man but Bill would always say to me I was his wife’s favourite when he handed over the sweeties.
“Bill was fantastic. A Scot and a Borderer – a global rugby figure that everybody held in the highest regard.”
Chris Paterson, Scotland’s most capped player, said: “I was shattered when I heard the news and I feel so sorry for his friends and family.
“On a personal level, I grew up listening to him and he made rugby sound both entertaining and interesting.
“Later on, I had to pinch myself when I played in games that he commentated on. I don’t think there’ll be anybody like him again and he will be missed.”
Former Scotland and British and Irish Lions player and coach Sir Ian McGeechan said: “For me growing up, Bill was the voice of rugby alongside Cliff Morgan. You will never know how many people Bill brought to the game by the way he commentated.
“He was an absolute gentleman, totally unbiased. He had the knack of always looking for the best in players and had a massive positive impact on us.
“I don’t think anyone could ever estimate just what his value has been to the game and what he has done.
“But above all Bill didn’t just have a massive impact because of rugby. It was also because of his knowledge and understanding of people.”
Scottish Rugby Union president Jim Stevenson said: “On behalf of the entire rugby community in Scotland, I want to express our heartfelt sympathies to Bette and the family but, most of all, I want to express our thanks and appreciation for the joy and fun that Bill brought to our game.”Tweet