How one of rugby’s com­men­tat­ing leg­ends scotched a ca­reer at the BBC

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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