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Bill McLaren RIP
Goodbye To A Rugby Legend
Posted Jan 26, 2011 by Shaun Edwards
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It’s always sad to hear that a former great from the rugby world is no longer with us, and there was no sadder news than to hear last Wednesday that ‘The Voice of Rugby’ Bill McLaren had passed away at the age of 86, in Hawick community hospital.
In the world of sports commentary, perhaps only Murray Walker and Brian Johnston carry the same magnitude and respect as McLaren, a man who was renowned for his painstaking research and professionalism, with former England captain Bill Beaumont conclusively stating that ‘Bill McLaren is synonymous with what is good about the game. To sit alongside him you just admired the professionalism and homework that he put into his commentaries and also his passion for the game.’
What many people don’t realise is how close that McLaren came to never reaching the broadcast booth. A more than useful flank forward in his youth, he had been on the verge of a full international cap when he contracted tuberculosis. McLaren was forced to spend 19 months in an East Lothian sanatorium and was on the verge of death when he was given the opportunity, along with four other patients, to be given an experimental drug called Streptomycin. Only two of the patients treated with the drug survived, McLaren being one.
It’s intriguing to note that McLaren’s broadcast career actually began whilst he was in the hospital, as he began commentating on table tennis matches over the hospital radio.
Once recovered from the disease and unable to continue to play the sport, McLaren began a journalistic career as a junior reporter for the Hawick Express, his local newspaper. Making his debut for BBC Radio in 1953 covering a 12-0 loss by his native Scotland to Wales, it took just six years for him to make the transfer to BBC television, becoming one of the primary voices during television sport’s infancy.
Over the years, he never wavered in his preparation and his quality, working for the Beeb consistently up until his retirement in 2002, upon which he was appointed as an OBE, CBE and MBE for his services to the sport. Towards the last years of his life, there was a campaign to get him knighted on the renowned social networking site Facebook.
Perhaps the most telling tribute, though, comes from BBC Scotland’s Director Ken MacQuarrie:
‘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. To those who knew him closest though, Bill was known as a wonderfully loyal friend and a devoted family man.’