Characters from centre stage gather again to say last farewell to Bill McLaren

THE sound of laughter ringing across the pews in Teviot Church was inevitable as the Hawick and Scottish rugby communities came together to celebrate the life of Bill McLaren yesterday.

The characters who took centre stage in his finest hours, Bill's times behind the microphone at international rugby matches, were there to pay tribute.

The "lamppost of the lineout" Doddie Weir sat still, but towering over his friend and team-mate Gary Armstrong, the one that used to "burrow like a mole". Roy Laidlaw, the scrum-half McLaren likened to a "baggy up a Border burn", in testament to his slippery style, was sat near other favourites, Gavin Hastings and John Jeffrey, while the Gregor from the line "Townsend jouks into the clear" sat with Scotland coach Andy Robinson, Chris Paterson and Mike Blair and more current players and SRU officials. Gregor Lawson, the eldest of Bill's five grandchildren, brought the funeral service to silence and then ignited uproarious laughter in a fine tribute that intermingled memories of the man we all knew with his own private recollections.

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The word-play which he perfected as a commentator was not confined to the broadcast air we discovered. The voice of one of the grandchildren's girlfriends Bill likened to an air raid siren, "and that was early in the relationship too," Lawson added. They were rolling in the aisles in Hawick with that one I can tell you.

Daughter Linda's soup was "like molten lava", grandchildren Alex, James, Rory, Gregor, and even Lindsay, were viewed by McLaren at tea-time as "a plague of locusts" or even a "tourist attraction", and at other times "the Hitler youth".

"His vocabulary was amazing," said Gregor, "but on his commentaries you only heard the half of it – the BBC half. The Hawick half was even more spontaneous and colourful. Words such as plachin (wet), drookit (slightly more wet than platchin), wabbit (exhausted), baggit (stuffed), guddlin (fishin with your hands), howk (a bad golf shot) and a yuck, which was a rock."

Lawson spoke about the devoted family man he knew, the man away from the microphones and television cameras, and it provided a touching glimpse into a McLaren world of fun, encouragement, often wicked humour, but unstinting commitment to a wife, Bette, "his princess", and family.

Another unique Hawick character, Ian Landles, a teacher, historian and fervent Hawick rugby supporter, then raised the roof with his own tribute in colloquial Hawick verse, penned when McLaren retired in 2002: "The Man That Oo Ca' Bill".

The poem charts Bill's career in humorous tones and was a fitting part of this celebration of his life.

'The Lord's My Shepherd' and 'How Great Thou Art' were the chosen hymns and they neatly book-ended a service that managed to pull the entire congregation in tight; everyone sharing in the memories, easily recognising the man described without the kind of sentimentality that Bill would deplore.

The characters that made his world and mingled later in his favourite club, Hawick's Mansfield Park clubrooms – international stars amidst myriad blazers and ties from different clubs and marking different honours – chatted about his life, the state of Scottish rugby and sharing time with his family; it was the kind of warm friendship that McLaren had put at the heart of his life. Earlier in the day, Gregor Lawson had finished his tribute in the church by noting the fact that his grandfather was being laid to rest on the Bard's birthday.

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He told the congregation: "It is fitting to say goodbye to this great Scot, on a day renowned for another great Scot … whose poetry is almost as good as Ian Landles.

"One of Papa's charms was that he had no perspective about the love people had for him or the reason they had it, so I couldn't help noticing the link to Rabbie Burns' line: 'What was I, o' my generation, that I should get sic exaltation?'

"I could imagine him saying to Janie in Heaven: 'I'm not sure what all the fuss is about'. Well after a week of national and international tributes, thousands of messages and a facebook movement to rename a stand at Murrayfield … now you know!"