The British public has been particularly blessed with the quality of its sports commentators and as John Arlott was synonymous with long hot summer's afternoons at Trent Bridge, Henry Longhurst with Autumn leaves falling on Wentworth's greens, Dan Maskell - "Oh, I say" - with unforgettable Centre Court battles, Peter O'Sullivan with photo-finishes and stewards enquiries, Harry Carpenter with left jabs and right hooks and Eddie Waring with up-and-unders and early baths, so Bill McLaren was without question the Voice of Rugby Union Football.
William Pollock McLaren was born in Hawick in the Scottish Border country in 1923. A big, raw-boned flank forward, he played for Hawick and was chosen for an international trial in 1947. He was on the verge of a full cap when he was struck down by tuberculosis which would have killed him but for the new drug streptomycin. Forced to give up playing the game he loved, he joined the Hawick Express as a reporter and it was his Editor John Murray Hood who suggested he audition as a commentator. His first radio commentary was on the South of Scotland versus the touring Springboks at Mansfield Park in 1952 and his first international the Scotland versus Wales match in 1953. He taught P.E. in Hawick from 1959 to 1987 instilling the basics of the game into many future internationalists like Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger.
The key to Bill’s success as a commentator was his meticulous preparation and his commentary sheets in multi-coloured biro have become collector’s items and go for vast sums at rugby dinner charity auctions. Players would often get a call or a tap on the shoulder at training from Bill whom he would ask for nicknames, favourite food, brothers or sisters etc.
Only the lucky few were offered a ‘sweet’ from Bill, the famous Hawick Ball, gifted to those whom Bill made contact with either at training, during the warm up or even after the match if you had caught his eye.
Bill had his own unique commentating style and the ability to interpret what was happening on the field in a way that helped listeners and later viewers, who had no great knowledge of the game, to understand. Above all he championed the values of fair play and sportsmanship and was never unjustly critical, derisive or unkind in fact where possible finding something positive to say.
His proudest rugby moments came when Scotland won their Grand Slams in 1984 and 1990 and when Hawick defeated Watsonians to win the first ever Scottish Cup Final in 1996. His final commentary was on April 6th, 2002 when Scotland defeated Wales 27-22 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. The first non-international player to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame, he was given the M.B.E in 1979 and the C.B.E. in 2002. But perhaps over and above these richly merited awards Bill is undoubtedly worthy of the huge esteem in which he is held by generations of rugby supporters far and wide.