Legendary commentator Bill McLaren dies

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The Independent Online

Rugby union commentator Bill McLaren has died aged 86.

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."



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