Bill McLaren

49 – Bill McLaren does his first commentary

February 7, 1953

IT’LL take the Highland Light Infantry to shift him! Bill McLaren’s turn of phrase, such as this description of a hulking French prop, was legendary.

For 50 years he was the “Voice of Rugby”, and players took it as a badge of honour to have been picked out for comment in those distinctive Borders tones.

It didn’t matter if he’d described them as “like a demented ferret up a drainpipe” or said: “He kicked that ball like it was three pounds o’ haggis” as long as they’d been noticed by Bill.
His half-century of covering Scotland had a neat symmetry as his first broadcast on BBC Radio was a 12-0 loss to Wales at Murrayfield.

But the Dark Blues gave him a fitting send-off on his retirement on April 6, 2002, when they beat the same opposition in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Bill began his broadcasting career in the late 1940s after contracting the TB that would deny the useful flank forward an almost certain Scotland cap.

He spent 19 months in the East Fortune sanatorium near Cockenzie where the patients, some of whom were bedridden for years, were desperate for any distraction.

So Bill would commentate on putting and table tennis on the hospital radio to entertain his fellow internees.

When Bill died in 2010 the folk of Hawick lined the streets to applaud his hearse through the town.

It was a measure of the affection the town, and the nation, had for him.