Legendary commentator McLaren dies
January 19, 2010
Bill McLaren has died aged 86 © Getty Images
Former commentator Bill McLaren, known affectionately as 'the voice of rugby', has died aged 86.
McLaren's celebrated broadcasting career with the BBC led him to become a focal part of the rugby landscape and he remains the only non-player to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He was awarded an OBE, CBE and MBE for his services to the sport and retired in 2002.
Born in Hawick, Scotland, in 1923, he was a talented flanker in his youth and progressed to the verge of a full cap for his country in 1947 before a bout of tuberculosis ended his playing days and very nearly his life.
His journalistic career began with the Hawick Express before he jumped into commentary, making his radio debut for the BBC in 1953 as Scotland lost 12-0 to Wales. His television debut came in 1959 and his final game in 2002, as Scotland beat Wales 27-22 in Cardiff.
Alongside his commentary career, McLaren taught physical education after studying in Aberdeen, overseeing the early development of several future Scotland caps. His son in law, Alan Lawson, was a Scotland international scrum-half, as is his grandson, Rory Lawson, who currently plays for Gloucester.
"There must have been something inside me that wanted to describe rugby football to people," he recalled before his retirement. "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."
Scotland and British & Irish Lions legend Ian McGeechan praised the impact McLaren had on introducing people to rugby and also his understanding of the game on a personal level.
"For me growing up Bill was the voice of rugby alongside Cliff Morgan," he said. "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. I remember seeing him after the 1990 Grand Slam game and he exuded pride. 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."
Former Scotland skipper Gavin Hastings also paid tribute to McLaren, recalling his time in the commentary box. "First and foremost, Bill was a very proud and passionate Scot but such was his professionalism that you never really have known that," he said. "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.
"I will always remember I had the good fortune to be alongside 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."
Current 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."
In 2002 McLaren was presented with the IRB Chairman's Award in recognition of his outstanding services to Rugby and current IRB chief Bernard Lapasset commented, "For millions of people around the world Bill McLaren was the voice of Rugby - a man whose knowledge for the sport was unrivalled and style distinctive. Above all he was a true Rugby man, respected and loved by the entire Rugby community. He will be sorely missed."
IRB Vice Chairman Bill Beaumont added, "Bill McLaren will be remembered not just as an iconic broadcaster, but as a man whose genuine warmth, enthusiasm and passion for the Game was both endearing and infectious. The thoughts of everyone at the International Rugby Board are with Bill's family at this difficult time."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown led the tributes from those outside of the game. "Millions of rugby fans will be mourning the sad passing of Bill McLaren, who was the voice of rugby for nearly fifty years," he said. "His expertise, enthusiasm and passion for rugby union inspired young and old alike."
Scotland's 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."
Rugby Football Union president John Owen and England manager Martin Johnson also paid tribute to the Scot. "Bill McLaren was both the voice and the heart of rugby union. His prodigious knowledge of the sport was accompanied by a style that epitomised all that is best in the game," said Owen.
Johnson added, "He was the iconic voice of rugby who many of us grew up with and he will be sadly missed."
Sky Sports rugby commentator Miles Harrison was left in no doubt as to McLaren's greatness. "Great is an overused word in sport, and by sports commentators - though Bill would never have overused it. But it is a word that is very appropriate for him."
Scottish Rugby Union president Jim Stevenson conveyed the condolences of the country's rugby community. "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."
Hawick club secretary John Thorburn said, "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."
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