New play marks the life of a Scottish rugby icon

A new play celebrating the life of the rugby commentating legend Bill McLaren is to be launched soon.

Bill McLaren: The Voice of Rugby tells the love story between Bill, his wife Bette, the Scottish Borders and the game of rugby.

Presented by award-winning Hawick-based theatre company Firebrand, Bill McLaren: The Voice of Rugby will open on Tuesday 10 September at Heart of Hawick in the Scottish Borders for six performances.

Firebrand’s entertaining new play explores the man behind the voice and his personal dedication to rugby, as both the sport he loved, and as a way to enable young people to achieve their potential in life.

The play uses a range of storytelling techniques to create a gripping, humorous and moving piece of theatre that celebrates the romantic love story at the heart of the extraordinary achievements of a great Scottish icon.

His lifelong passion for the sport and its values transcended McLaren’s simple Borders origins and brought him international fame and worldwide popular affection.

His passionate belief that the game of rugby has the ability to engage with all young people and teaches many life-skills, makes Bill McLaren one of the most interesting and important sporting and cultural ambassadors Scotland has ever produced.

Writer Rob Robertson said: ‘His life story excited and inspired me and is one of personal highs and lows. In my opinion he belongs in the pantheon of truly great world-class broadcasters. Go anywhere in the world where 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 just a rugby commentator.

‘Bette, his wife, is featured heavily in the play as she was a massive part of his life — his rock. And whilst his rugby commentary was what made him an international household name, privately his passion for teaching sport, and particularly rugby, was a huge source of personal pride and fulfilment.

‘His proudest day, he recalled once, was the day he became a qualified PE teacher. And it can be no coincidence that a surprising number of those youngsters he taught went on to play for Scotland.

‘Hawick is where Bill started watching rugby as a boy and I am sure he would have been proud to have a play staged there in his honour.

‘Firebrand has done a great job. Bill’s family, especially his daughter Linda, plus his friends and his charity have been incredibly generous with background information that helped me create a picture of the man for the play.’

Director Richard Baron said: ‘Bill McLaren is an important representative of all that is good about sporting endeavour and is rightly revered nationwide not only for his unrivalled ability as a dedicated teacher but also as a proud Scottish Borderer and family man. We hope that our discovery of the man behind the voice enlightens, inspires and entertains like one of his commentaries and (to borrow a phrase) encourages the appropriate amount of dancing in the streets.’

Firebrand’s play explores Bill McLaren’s idyllic pre-war upbringing in Hawick and early memories of the great New Zealand All Blacks playing at the town’s Mansfield Park; his horrific and character-shaping wartime experiences with the Royal Artillery at the battle of Monte Cassino; his personal battle with tuberculosis in his mid-20s and the tragic early death of his daughter Janie while he was commentating on a match.