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Kevin Myers: The McLaren myth was of rugby on a Saturday with stocky men called Dougie and Murray

THE greatest moment in Bill McLaren's broadcasting career came at half-time at Twickenham in 1982 when a streaker ran across the pitch. "Uuagh!" he chortled in the half-Lallans that was his first tongue, "there's a young fellow there, and he's so excited he's taken his shirt off, heugh heugh heugh."

The "young fellow" was in fact 21-year-old Erica Roe, the owner of two very large breasts; so large, indeed -- chest-measurement 42 inches, bra-size 34 FF -- that they had great trouble keeping up with her. Even when she stopped running, her mammaries only ceased bouncing several seconds later. Schoolboys interested in physics -- and there are many -- would have cited them as a perfect practical example of simple harmonic motion. But Bill McLaren never noticed either of them. Having spotted the "young fellow" without the shirt (for of course, only men are to be found on the rugby pitch), his mind returned to rugby from which it seldom strayed.

It was good that Bill died so soon after Ciaran Mac Mathuna. They belonged to different lands and different cultures, and I'm sure they never met, but they had this in common; they were utter gentlemen, and masters at broadcasting, who brought love and detail and passion and human regard to everything they did.

They were of an age and if there is a hereafter, well, they are seated there chatting away, enjoying the paradise they so richly deserve.

Bill, like Ciaran, embodied a mythic world to which I am a stranger and of which I merely got glimpses.

The McLarenite myth was of the Scottish Borders, of stone walls, and handsome farms, and cattle marts and vets in old Rovers, and men in tweed hats, puffing pipes beside the fireside in a country inn.

It was rugby on a Saturday afternoon with 30 stocky men called Murray and Gordon and Dougie and Scott, with their windswept Harris Tweed-clad wives shuddering on the touchline.

It was a sinless world of decency and deliberation in which word given was a word kept. The ethos of rugby extended to all their lives: the underlying principles called upon a man to be upright, gallant and true to himself, his club, his family, his country. This is a myth. It is also an aspiration.

I know nothing about Bill McLaren's politics, but I would guess that he belonged to the old-fashioned Scottish unionist tradition in which the word "union" was pre-eminent: loyal to Scotland, loyal to Britain, loyal to his king. His caste and class officered countless regiments in uncountable wars, and never said a word about what they had gone through.

He himself had served as a forward observation officer in the Royal Artillery, which called on him to report on the fall of shellfire, with perhaps a little more accuracy than he was to display during Erica Roe's performance 40 years later. He passed through the cauldron of the battle for Monte Cassino, after which he said rugby didn't really matter.

Oh, but it did. It mattered because it was the outward sign and foremost representative of an entire value-system.

He loved the sport, both as a broadcaster and as a schools rugby coach. He must have been an inspiring teacher for boys, who are a ruthless judge of character and detector of weakness but are shrewd respecters of innate decency and loyalty. No boy in his charge would ever have let down his side because, worst of all, it would be letting Sir down: and in the crunch you just knew that Sir would never let you down.

His television audiences knew that about him too: it was the salt-of-the-earth, with-you-to-the-last bullet, silent, sober, undemonstrative decency of the wee-dram lowland Scot whose rare extravagances are confined to Burns' Night and Hogmanay.

These were the virtues embodied by Bill McLaren's exact contemporary, William Reid VC, whose wife only discovered by accident, long after they were married, that her husband had won the Victoria Cross (actually, one of the most astonishing of the Second World War).

Any pub showing an Irish international rugby match in multichannel Ireland in the 1980s always plumped for the BBC version, solely because of Bill McLaren. And that, in turn, was because he was immensely knowledgeable, immensely enthusiastic and most of all, immensely fair. Indeed, were he to be commentating upon a Scottish team versus an Attila the Hun XV, he would still be balanced and objective even though in defeat the Scots were to be eaten by hyenas. No wonder that most partisan of all crowds, at Cardiff Arms Park, hugely applauded him at his last rugby match, and held aloft a banner: "Bill McLaren is Welsh."

No he wasn't. He was rugby -- as it should be, and maybe once was, but never will be again. If I have a criticism of him at all -- and I seriously do -- it was of his infuriating and typically Scottish thatch of enduringly brown-hair. Indeed, I intend to have a stern word with him about it: in due course, that is, but not just yet.

Irish Independent