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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 13:04 GMT
Bill McLaren: the voice of rugby union
Bill McLaren at Murrayfield last year
McLaren is the doyen of rugby commentators
The retirement of Bill McLaren marks the end of an era for rugby, in the same way that the retirement of Murray Walker left Formula One a different sport.

McLaren belongs to the great pantheon of post-war commentators who came through BBC radio to television in its infancy - Walker, Peter O'Sullevan, Harry Carpenter, Dan Maskell, David Coleman and John Arlott.

Judge his right to be called 'the voice of rugby' by the fact that amateur impressionists across the country could hit you with 50 McLaren-isms at the drop of a goal.

I've still got the fictional reports I used to write when I was a wee boy of seven
Bill McLaren
Can you imagine a garryowen being anything else than hoisted? John Jeffries as anything but 'the Kelso farmer'?

You might never have been to Hawick, but you know they'll be dancing in the streets when you finally get there.

McLaren was born in that Borders town in 1923, and grew up to be a talented flanker.

Having made the Hawick first XV before the war, he played in a Scotland trial in 1947 and was on the verge of a full international cap when he contracted the 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 recalled last year.

"Three of the others died but I made what amounted to a miracle recovery."

His first commentary was made while convalescing 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 has said.

Bill McLaren at Murrayfield in the 1980s
McLaren at Murrayfield in the 1980s
"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 went on to teach PE right through to 1987, coaching several 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.

Recognition of his sterling services came last November, when he became the first non-international to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

Players have often been thrown by his unusual habit of breaking the ice before an interview by offering them a Hawick Ball - the minty sweet produced in his home town.

McLaren is very much a family man. He plays 18 holes of golf every day with his wife Bette, whom he met on a blind date at Hawick town hall in 1947.

Even now, he says that a day out of Hawick "is a day wasted".

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