Bill McLaren

For other people with the same name, see William McLaren (disambiguation).
Bill McLaren
Born William Pollock McLaren
16 October 1923
Died 19 January 2010(2010-01-19) (aged 86)
Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Employer BBC Sport
Known for Sports commentating, sports journalism, rugby player
Spouse(s) Bette White
Relatives Alan Lawson (son in law)
Rory Lawson (grandson)
Jim Thompson (grandson)

William Pollock "Bill" McLaren CBE (16 October 1923 – 19 January 2010) was a Scottish rugby union commentator, teacher, journalist and one time rugby player. Known as 'the voice of rugby', he retired from commentating in 2002.[1] Renowned throughout the sport, his enthusiasm and memorable turn of phrase endeared him to many.[2]

Early life

McLaren was born in Hawick, in the Scottish Borders, in 1923 to a knitwear salesman from Loch Lomond-side who had moved down to the area.

As a young boy, he was steeped in local rugby stories:

I was brought up on stories of the great Scottish players of the twenties, many of whom I never saw play but knew all about... I used to go with my father to see matches at a very early age, the great Hawick heroes including Willie Welsh, Jock Beattie and Jerry Foster, so I had an all-consuming desire to wear the green jersey of Hawick.[3]

In his teenage years, McLaren grew up to be a useful flank forward.[1] He would later play for Hawick RFC.

He served with the Royal Artillery in Italy during the Second World War,[1] including the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was used as a forward spotter, and on one occasion was confronted by a mound of 1,500 corpses in an Italian churchyard, an unpleasant experience which never left him.[4][5]

He played in a Scotland trial in 1947 and was on the verge of a full international cap before contracting tuberculosis. The disease nearly killed him and forced him to give up playing.[1] He spent 19 months in a sanatorium in East Fortune (East Lothian), where he was given an experimental drug, Streptomycin, which saved his life.[1] However, of the five patients given the drug, only two survived.[4] While in the hospital, he began his broadcasting career, by commenting on table tennis games on the hospital radio.[4]


McLaren studied Physical Education in Aberdeen, and went on to teach PE in different schools throughout Scotland right through to 1987.[1] He coached several Hawick youngsters who went on to play for Scotland, including Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger.[1]

McLaren's journalistic career started as a junior reporter with the Hawick Express.[1] In 1953, he made his national debut for BBC Radio, covering Scotland's 12–0 loss to Wales.[1] He switched to television commentary six years later.[1] McLaren was one of many post-war commentators who progressed from commentating on BBC Radio to BBC Television during the infancy of television broadcasting in the UK. These included Murray Walker (motor racing/Formula One), Peter O'Sullevan (horse racing), Harry Carpenter (boxing and rowing), Dan Maskell (tennis), David Coleman (athletics), Peter Alliss (golf) and John Arlott (cricket).[1]

Recognition of his services came in November 2001, when he became the first non-international to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He was awarded an MBE in 1992, an OBE in 1995 and a CBE in the 2003 honours list. A Facebook group, backed by over 6,000 members, was campaigning to gain a knighthood for McLaren. [6]

McLaren also featured as a commentator on the video games Jonah Lomu Rugby and EA Rugby 2001, and also did voice work for Telewest Communications.

During his final commentary, Wales v Scotland in 2002, the crowd sang "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"[7] and one Welsh supporter displayed a banner claiming "Bill McLaren is Welsh".

After retirement, McLaren wrote the book Rugby's Great Heroes and Entertainers in 2003.[8]

In later life, McLaren contracted Alzheimer's; he had been renowned for his excellent memory.[9]


McLaren was married to Bette, with whom he had two daughters Linda (born 1952) and Janie (born 1954, died 2000). He has 2 famous sons-in-law, Linda married former Scotland rugby scrum half Alan Lawson and Janie married horse racing commentator Derek Thompson. They had five grandchildren, 3 through Linda, Scotland scrum-half and Gloucester player Rory, Morphsuits co-founder and former Scotland 7s player Gregor and a daughter Lindsay. Then 2 through Janie, former Edinburgh and Scotland 7s player Jim Thompson and other son Alex.


McLaren died on 19 January 2010 at the age of 86 in his home town of Hawick.[10] His funeral took place on 25 January at Teviot Church in Hawick, followed by a private burial at the town's Wellogate Cemetery after his hearse was applauded through the town of Hawick by hundreds of well-wishers who lined the streets to pay their respects to the "Voice of Rugby".[11][12]

In 2010 the artist Alexander Stoddart rebuffed a query about his interest in sculpting a memorial to Bill McLaren: "I do not do sportsmen and I certainly do not do sports commentators. I do artists, philosophers and poets", he said, warning that memorials are often hastily erected.[13] Advocates of the memorial described the remarks as insensitive, and said that "To have Bill looking down on the fans at Murrayfield, microphone in hand, would bring a huge smile to so many faces."[13]

Bill McLaren's World XV

Bill McLaren chooses a "World XV" at the end of his autobiography, Talking of Rugby. Although this list has been criticised for having a Northern Hemisphere bias, McLaren says that he chose it mainly on the basis of who he'd enjoy to watch playing, rather than dull but efficient players. This list is from just after the 1991 Grand Slam. It includes several Scottish players, amongst the likes of Southern Hemisphere players Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh, Danie Gerber and David Campese, both in the broader selection and the final XV, amongst these are:

Bill McLaren Foundation

The Bill McLaren Foundation has been set up in Bill's name, with the support of his family, to serve three purposes :

The Foundation was officially launched at Murrayfield Stadium on 4 March 2010.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Bill McLaren: the voice of Rugby Union, BBC Sport, 24 January 2002.
  2. Vale Bill McLaren, we'll never see your like again, The Roar. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  3. McLaren, p6
  4. 1 2 3 Butler, Eddie (20 January 2010). "Bill McLaren obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  5. "Bill McLaren". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 January 2010. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  6. "Thousands back McLaren knighthood". BBC News. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  7. McLaren says farewell, BBC Sport, 6 April 2002.
  8. McLaren, Bill (2003). Rugby's Great Heroes and Entertainers. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-82764-5.
  9. Bill McLaren: Scotland's legendary voice of rugby mourned across world – The Scotsman
  10. "Bill McLaren, the 'voice of rugby', dies aged 86". BBC News. 19 January 2010. Archived from the original on 22 January 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  11. Stuart, Lewis (25 January 2010). "Hundreds gather for funeral of Bill McLaren, the voice of rugby". The Times. London. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  12. "Final farewell for Bill McLaren". BBC News. 25 January 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  13. 1 2 "Sculptor sneers at Bill McLaren tribute by Marc Horne". The Times. Retrieved 11 March 2009.

External links

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