Long before Renton Laidlaw was covering Opens and Masters, he was pounding the beat as a roving reporter with Grampian TV in the late 1960s.
One of the most recognisable figures in the world of golf, Renton, who has died at the age of 82, was well-known for commentating on the exploits of Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer and other legends of the game.
But it was at Grampian TV in the early days where he honed his craft.
Whether working in the studio, reporting on animals with alleged arithmetical gifts, travelling to the scene of lifeboat disasters, or pulling on an Aberdeen shirt in a charity football match, nothing was beyond his scope.
Renton was only in his 20s when he arrived in Aberdeen, but he was soon part of a team which comprised the experienced Dundee-based journalist, Ron Thompson, former school teacher Donald MacCormick – who subsequently anchored BBC’s Newsnight programme – and Marion White, who went on to present a consumer advice show called What’s Your Problem?
They were a perfect mix and even though the head of news, Charlie Smith, once told Renton: “Let me warn you son, that for every one person who thinks you are great on TV, there are three others who don’t like you”, he was soon in his element and broadcasting on every subject under the sun from Orkney to Oldmeldrum and Aviemore to Aberdeen.
Nerves got the better of the collie
He covered important stories, but never forgot the importance of local news.
From such vexed issues as how OAPs would get their pension money when Alford post office closed down to why trains were no longer running from certain stations across the north-east.
Occasionally, there would be quirky items which didn’t go according to plan.
And Renton discussed some of these in the book The Way it Was which charted the significance of Grampian TV since its foundation in 1961.
He wrote: “Sometimes, we would be sent off for a week to store up items.
“At Aviemore, I remember we had been told (by its owner) that his dog could add, subtract, multiply and divide on his command. Was this too good to be true?
“Well, in rehearsal, the dog did bark twice when asked to take two away from four and barked six times when asked to multiply three by two.
“But when the cameras rolled, the collie was a complete failure. Nerves got the better of him and his arithmetic skills completely deserted him.”
Not everything was as whimsical. Renton was involved in covering the tragedy of the sinking of the Longhope lifeboat in a Force 10 gale in Orkney.
Eight men died when the vessel capsized on March 17 1969, after setting out late in the evening, from Hoy, to help the cargo ship Irene, which was adrift in a fierce storm.
It cast a pall over the close-knit community.
And, less than a year later, he reported on another maritime disaster in Fraserburgh, on January 21, 1970, when five men perished after The Duchess of Kent lifeboat was overturned by a freak wave in ferocious conditions while escorting a Danish fishing vessel to safety.
Renton said: “The most poignant moment for me occurred as we were wrapping up after doing a piece for ITN.
“[Cameraman] George Leslie had put his lights out, Gordon Watson was wrapping up his sound equipment in the rain and, on a heavily overcast day, it was getting dark much earlier than usual.
“It was then that I felt somebody touching my hand. I looked down and there was a little girl with tears in her eyes who asked me very politely and very quietly: ‘Is there any news of my daddy yet?’
“I told her ‘sorry, there’s not’, and she was gone into the dismally bleak night. I still hope that her dad was the one survivor.”
Star turn on football pitch
When he wasn’t on assignments or broadcasting in the studio, Renton participated in a number of charity events and one of these involved assembling a team to tackle Aberdeen FC Old Stars for a good cause.
He was in the mix when the squad travelled to Elgin to play under lights, but on the bus travelling to Moray, the team manager told the throng that one of them would have to sit on the bench.
Renton quickly agreed to stand down and kept a low profile when the various celebrities and Pittodrie stars flocked into Borough Briggs and started signing autographs prior to the kick-off. But suddenly, fate intervened.
He recalled: “Within a few minutes of the match starting, the Aberdeen left-winger turned on his ankle and was unable to continue.
“They had nobody on their bench to take over and, suddenly, I became the unwanted centre of attention. ‘Renton, can you play for us?’ shouted Aberdeen star Archie Glen, whom I knew.
“It was the worst scenario I could imagine – playing for the professionals, because I wasn’t too bad with my right foot, but useless with my left.
“Yet, minutes later, I was running on, proudly wearing my Aberdeen strip.
‘I set up a goal for Archie’
“I drifted back to left half, but not before I had closed my eyes and crossed with my right foot to Archie Glen, who gave the goalkeeper no chance.
“It was the only highlight of my miserable 84 minutes in the rain and the final whistle could not come quickly enough. We lost, but charity was the big winner and the crowd braving the weather had thoroughly enjoyed their evening and the hot pies during the interval.”
Shortly afterwards, Renton left to join the BBC and gradually became one of the most distinguished broadcasters on the world’s links and fairways.
Yet, he always felt indebted to all the friends and colleagues he made in the north-east and concluded: “I know how lucky I was to have enjoyed my years at Grampian when it was a truly exciting place to be.
“My sadness is that the old Grampian survives today only in the skeletal form of that wonderful original.”
The Way it Was is available from SNB Publishing.
A Hidden Links Golf video featuring Tain Golf Club, narrated by Renton Laidlaw
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