Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
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Marty Berry came on v Australia at Eden Park in a losing Bledisloe Cup game for just 18 seconds. But his other midweek games for the ABs spread over 7 seasons.
The famous Scottish rugby commentator, a man who set standards in the art of television commentary which, in the end, gained him worldwide acclaim.
Raised in the Scottish border town of Hawick, where he was a teacher all his working life, young McLaren was a good enough player to earn himself a Scottish trial in the years immediately after his service in World War II. However illness struck him down and during a lengthy stay in hospital he began broadcasting over the hospital radio system.
On his discharge and unable to play anymore he took to rugby commentary. From his beloved Mansfield Park in Hawick he started on a career at the microphone that was to last more than 50 years. His first international call was on radio for a Scottish Districts game v South Africa while during the 1951-52 tour.
His reputation grew quickly and by 1953-54 he was commentating Scottish test matches from Murrayfield. He recalls how that same winter the BBC sent him to Cardiff to observe the great New Zealand radio man Winston McCarthy in action. Bill tells the story of being amazed at how excited McCarthy got during a game. ‘At one stage he nearly fell forward out of the commentary box. I had to hold his coat to keep him in the box!’
The big change for McLaren came in 1959 when, though continuing to be a shcoolmaster, he changed to working part-time for BBC television. For the first time TV commentary of rugby was turned into the unique form it is today. No more endless verbiage as required in radio description, instead an attention came to identification of players by face and number; there was explanations given of refereeing decisions; plus identification of the placement of the game on the field. And most uniquely to McLaren, entertaining background and statistical information about the personalities in the game. The man himself filled large sheets of background notes on every player taking part in every fixture he worked on. The ‘sheets’ became sought after souvenirs and sometimes were auctioned for charity at rugby dinners.
McLaren lived by his attention to preparation; he often told budding broadcasters ‘the secret of good broadcasting is never to neglect your homework.’
He did all his work to perfection and became a huge personality in the game. It was all done with a gentle Scottish accent and cheerful attitude to life which was admired with affection all over the world. His influence over all things was perhaps summed up by one Scottish player, lamenting a narrow loss one time in the Five Nations Championship. Said the player, ‘aye, we’d have played much better if Bill McLaren had been commentatin’.’
Bill continued at the microphone until he was close to 80 years of age. He retired from BBC TV in 2002 after exactly 50 years of international broadcasting. The reaction to his departure was amazing, with much media coverage in press, radio and TV and, of course from his many fans around the world who had learned much more about rugby because of his lifetime’s commitment to it.
Who was the last New Zealand Referee to control the All Blacks in an Official test match?