How one of rugby’s commentating legends scotched a career at the BBC
BILL MCLAREN, the legendary Scottish rugby commentator who died this week, cost me a job in 1980.
During an interview for a position at BBC Radio Sport I was asked my opinion on The Voice of Rugby.
When I ventured the view that after 20 years on air, McLaren had become a parody of himself with his folksy “they’ ll be dancing in the streets of Auchter muchty tonight” stuff, the panel looked like I had confessed to the equivalent of bestiality with one of the queen’s corgis.
Rightly, they viewed the mellifluous McLaren, who was a good enough player to have a trial for Scotland, as a commentary nonpareil – and certainly beyond criticism from an upstart like me.
I had no chance after that gaff.
So I blame Bill for my rejection – him and a bloke called Mike Tredgett, an English badminton player who I failed to identify in the sports quiz, which was interview.
One hundred percent was essential because the rest of the candidates not only knew who Tredgett was but could name the brand of shuttlecock he used and who he beat in the European championship mixed-doubles final.
My mistake was the kind McLaren himself would never have made.
His research before matches was impeccable – not so he could over-use statistics, as so
the many commentators do, but to ensure he could identify players accurately, pronounce their names correctly and have some intriguing snippets to blend in with his word whimsies, many of which were affectionately recalled this week on rugby websites.
Some personal favourites: a bulky prop would be “one of the burlier citizens of this parish”; a winger would deceive a defender with “a wee shillyshally” and from a great pack “the ball comes back like choco- late bars from a machine”.
I was less enamoured with his famous euphemisms for the ugly brawls which disfigure the game.
He would soften their stupid brutality by calling them “a bit of argy-bargy” or “some jiggery-pokery” or say “the forwards are just introducing themselves”.
McLaren indisputably was a master of his craft.
He had a glorious Borders brogue which he used with intuitive pacing and restraint and combined it with a great knowledge of, and deep love for, rugby.
He also played it down the middle. He was not a fan with a microphone.
He called the match and left his expert side-kicks to show their colours or do the ref bashing.
Hopefully Matthew Pearce can learn from that.
He has all the tools to become an outstanding rugby commentator for SuperSport as long he tones down the Bok bias – we get more than enough of that from Bob, Naas, Darren or the most frightening thing to ever fill a TV screen, Kobus Wiese.
Pearce is sharper, more accurate and more contemporary than the likable but utterly predictable Hugh “the atmosphere is electric here at Loftus” Bladen, who has been on our screens since before the rinderpest … in fact, some say he was the rinderpest.