A native of Helensburgh, born Robert Bilsand McGregor on 3rd April 1944, to parents David and Nancy. Bobby had ‘water’ in his genes. Father David was a leading member of the GB water polo team which travelled to Berlin in 1936 – the only Scotsman in the squad and was also the baths master of Falkirk.
Bobby McGregor moved to Falkirk at the age of 3, the town which was eventually to be forever associated with him via his nickname ‘Falkirk Flyer’. As Falkirk’s baths master, Bobby’s father David was obviously anxious to teach McGregor junior to swim. But he had to bribe his offspring into taking the plunge – by insisting he learn the basics before being allowed to pursue his favourite past time of fishing from the canal bank. Angling’s loss was to be Scottish swimming’s gain.
Bobby reluctantly agreed to follow his father’s advice and learn the breast stroke. But within months, it was the more demanding technique of the front crawl that he was training hard to master, a stroke that was to take him to the heights of the sport. Bobby McGregor had his first swimming lesson at the age of nine – and won his first championship, the Falkirk Primary Schools title, a year later.
It was the start of a glittering career that would see him compete at all the major championships in the world and earn international recognition as one of the best swimmers of his generation.
He first represented Scotland at swimming, aged 16 and the Scottish junior champion, for the first time as part of the squad that faced Wales and Ireland for the Tenovus Cup at the Empire Pool in Cardiff in 1960. His international call-up was no surprise as he had staked his claim with a stunning swim at the inter-district championships a few weeks earlier. That day he won the 100 yards freestyle final in 53.5 seconds just 0.2 seconds outside the British junior record held by Olympic star and fellow Scot Ian Black.
McGregor’s proud father said at the time: “Bobby is beginning to fill out now and get more power in his arms. He’s chopped nearly four seconds off his time for the 100 this year and that’s quite a chunk. I’ve not been driving him yet, because he’s maturing at his own pace and I don’t believe in rushing young swimmers. I know he’s an outstanding junior, but I want him to become an outstanding senior.”
By 1962, 18 year-old Bobby was an automatic choice for Scotland, and held the British and Scottish 100 yards freestyle titles. He had also been selected for the team to go to Perth, Australia, to compete at the British Empire Games.
He set a new world record for the 110 yards of 53.6 seconds in 1964. In the same year, he captained the British swimming team at the Olympics in Tokyo and won a silver medal in the 100m freestyle. After his efforts in Tokyo, Bobby returned to his home in Bantaskine Street, Falkirk to a hero’s welcome.
Falkirk Provost John Maxwell and the Town Council had given him a VIP greeting when he landed at Turnhouse Airport, but over 2000 banner-waving supporters were waiting outside his house as he was reunited with his proud family, parents David and Nancy, and sister Elizabeth. The day before, McGregor and the rest of the British Olympic team had been guests at a lunch in Buckingham Palace.
The Queen told him: “I watched your race on television. It was very exciting and if you’d had a longer finger you would have won.”·
In 1966, in the space of five weeks he won a Commonwealth Games silver medal and a European Championships gold medal, then broke his own world record for the 110 yards at the British Championships in 53.3 seconds. McGregor retired from competitive swimming after the 1968 Olympics at the age of 24 with a fourth place finish in the 100 metre, freestyle final.
It was at the end of this momentous year that Bobby was awarded the MBE by the Queeen for services to sport.
The Flyer’s record:
Olympic silver medal, 1964
110 yards world record holder, 1964, 1966
Commonwealth silver medal, 1966
European Championships gold medal, 1966
A happily married family man, Bobby McGregor returned to Helensburgh. where he lives with his second wife, Bernadette and their two sons, David and Gordon. He is now a partner in the successful Hamilton and McGregor architects firm in Glasgow, having graduated, following his Falkirk High School days from Strathclyde University, with an Honours degree in Architecture.