Skip to main content

'TV and PE teaching - I had the best of both worlds'

Bill McLaren, the voice of rugby, explains how his working life was ideal to

Rugby commentator Bill McLaren counts himself lucky to have had not just one career that he loved, but two. After a weekend away covering a rugby union international, on a Monday morning he would return to his day job - as a PE teacher back home in the Scottish borders.

He recalls once turning down a tempting offer from the BBC. "They wanted me to do athletics in the summer and rugby in the winter and I would be on the staff - it was very, very attractive indeed," he says.

"But, to be honest, I took one look at the traffic in London and set that beside the fact that I just so enjoyed teaching, that it never occurred to me to go. I had the best of both worlds. And I could finish my teaching at four o'clock and be on the golf course at five past."

Bill McLaren retired from schools in 1987. Now 78, he has recently announced his retirement from commentary with the BBC after 50 years service. His final international will be Wales v Scotland on April 6.

His distinctive style has made him for many the "voice of rugby". But he is also a very private man - he has always preferred the quiet life in his native Hawick in Scotland.

McLaren qualified as a PE teacher at Aberdeen University just after the Second World War. "I'd always wanted to be a teacher of physical education, partly because of Jimmy Rae, my own physical education teacher at Hawick High School. I thought the world of him. And, curiously enough, I played alongside him in Hawick First XV, pupil and teacher, so there was a kind of relationship there."

Running two careers in tandem began with reporting matches for his local newspaper. He started commentary first on BBC radio, then on television. His first international was Scotland v Wales in 1953. But he was always intent on continuing with teaching.

As a peripatetic PE teacher, he coached youngsters from primary age until they finished at Hawick High School. He's seen some of his former pupils go on to play for Scotland.

Teaching and rugby commentary often went hand-in-hand. "I could come back from say doing England v Wales on the Monday and, with a group of 80 schoolboys in front of me, I could say 'Well boys, I saw the England lock doing it this way'.

"And if you mentioned players like Gerald Davies or Gareth Edwards, immediately you had their attention because being in a rugby town they knew about those people. It helped my coaching and teaching tremendously."

He regarded himself as a strict teacher and laments that today's schools have less discipline. But he still regards teaching as a great profession. "I don't think there's much else in life that can be as rewarding as that.

"If you're lucky and your own teaching system is a good one, if you've got a disciplined environment and you get youngsters to respond, it's a wonderful feeling."

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