Bill McLaren play will tell tale of rugby icon’s life away from microphone

The late Bill McLaren.
The late Bill McLaren.

A new play chronicling the life of rugby icon Bill McLaren is to be premiered in his home town of Hawick next year.

The play, still in development but provisionally titled Bill McLaren: The Voice of Rugby, is being bankrolled by a £52,000 grant from Creative Scotland.

Bill McLaren's widow Bette with the bust of him in Hawick's Wilton Lodge Park.

Bill McLaren's widow Bette with the bust of him in Hawick's Wilton Lodge Park.

Sports writer Rob Robertson and Ancrum theatre company Firebrand are joining forces to stage the production.

Edinburgh-based writer Rob is also being helped by the late BBC rugby commentator’s family and friends.

He’s pledged that the play’s premiere will be in Hawick, where McLaren, who died in 2010 at the age of 86, was born and bred.

As well as his exploits as a player and commentator, the play will look into the commentator’s personal life, including his battle with tuberculosis, his relationship with wife Bette and the death of the couple’s daughter Janey at the age of 46.

Rob said: “Where better to stage it than in his beloved Hawick, where it will receive its premiere next year?

“Bill’s story excited me and inspired me as it was one full of personal highs and lows that were not known to the vast majority of people as he was a very private person.

“Go anywhere in Britain, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong – anywhere that rugby is played in some form – and they will know the name of Bill McLaren, but there is a lot more to him than being a rugby commentator.

“I would like to think that as well as being a celebration of Bill’s life, the play also shows him as someone who had come to the terms with the horrors of war, the death of his daughter and his own life-threatening battle with TB.

“As well as Bill, there will be famous rugby voices heard at various stages of the play as many of the greats of the game and famous commentators wanted to contribute.

“Bill is fondly remembered throughout the world, and hopefully this play will add to his legacy and stand up to scrutiny in its own right.”

Rob’s first play was 2014’s Journey to Gothenburg, about a boat transporting Aberdeen football fans to the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final.

Richard Baron, director of the play, said: “Bill’s devotion to the values and discipline of team sport, both as a top player, world-renowned commentator and inspirational school teacher, along with his dramatic wartime experiences and his later triumph over life-threatening illness, make his journey and important lasting legacy of interest not only to rugby fans but to anyone fascinated by the story of one of Hawick and Scotland’s humblest and greatest cultural ambassadors.”