Skip to main content

Obituary - Bill McLaren

Bill McLaren, CBE, rugby union broadcaster and former Hawick Learning Community PE teacher, died on January 19, aged 86.

The death of the man known as "the voice of rugby" drew tributes from Rugby Union supporters around the world. His meticulous preparation, fairness and impartiality were legendary and he surely ranks among the finest commentators in any sport.

A lesser-known fact is that commentary for much of Bill's broadcasting career wasn't his full-time occupation; he was a teacher of physical education in the schools of his native Hawick. Tae Hawick folk, Bill was maistly kent as "Mr McLaren".

Having trained at Woolmanhill College in Aberdeen, he taught full-time in the Hawick primary schools of Trinity, Drumlanrig, Wilton and Burnfoot, as well as the high school on three afternoons, from 1959 until he was 65. He retired in 1989. A firm but fair disciplinarian, Bill was passionate about PE and encouraging pupil achievement.

A poetic tribute by former pupil and teaching colleague Ian Landles touched on Bill's teaching career:

Then movin on ti Trinity

Ma first glimpse A did see

O the big man in the track-suit

Whae'd gone on ti teach P.E.

Hei taught oo rugby, cricket, roonders,

Country dancin, softba', gym

And A dinni mind tellin ee

A was gliffed stiff o him.

Naw, hei wasni ti be messed wi

The man that oo ca Bill.

"Mr McLaren" was legendary for inspiring his pupils to participate in extra-curricular weekend primary rugby competitions with his colleague, May Sinclair, in the Wilton Lodge Park. He taught rugby basics to two generations of schoolboys, many of whom - like Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger - would go on to play for Scotland and the British Lions in games on which Bill would be commentating.

It was not just the talented who were the object of Bill's attention; he engaged with and brought out the best in all pupils who came under his charge.

When celebrity can bring the worst out of sporting and media personalities, Bill was a different breed, renowned for insisting in any BBC contract that he be back in his beloved Hawick the same day - leading to the saying "A day oot a' Hawick's a day wasted!".

That he was hugely respected and loved was evidenced by the hundreds of former pupils who lined the streets to applaud Bill's funeral procession. The P7 and S1 rugby players, resplendent in their colours, were also there to honour him.

"Mr McLaren" might well have said with a smile: "Yon bairns should be oot on the playin fields ."

Alan Williamson, rector, Hawick High, on behalf of Hawick Learning Community.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you