“In my early days in Radio Éireann and RTÉ, I learned that reading off a prepared script made for a stilted performance. I decided to rely on my wits and I’ve been making it up as I go along ever since. It’s risky, but it’s why I prefer live radio and television.” (Terry Wogan)
Memories of Wogan
Back in the 1970s, you could leave by 7.30 am in the morning, and avoid the rush hour traffic. My father would drop myself and my sister off to school on his way to work. For myself, that was usually around 8.10 to 8.20, and I would huddle in an archway at the school, out of the worst of the rain and wind and cold, until 8.45 am when the school doors opened.
There was no BBC Radio Jersey, or 103 FM, and on the way in, we had Radio 2, and Radio 2 meant Wogan. He was always there, part of the morning, and people could ask for songs to be dedicated – not requested, he was very clear on that – to friends and family.
Along the way was a warm Irish voice, with his own peculiar brand of humour. For example, I still remember Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” being introduced as “Stranglers in the Night”!
With Abba's Super Trooper", Wogan suggested the line "I saw you last night in Glasgow" was really "I saw you last night in Tesco's". And it is true: if you have that in your head, you hear it that way.
I also remember when Rubik cubes became a craze. “I will do it in 15 seconds”, said Wogan. And we heard – after all this was radio – click, click, click – and then the voice telling us “There, that was easy”. Of course we all knew it was radio, we couldn’t see him, so he could say anything, and there was no way he had done the cube, but that was part of the fun: the shared secret.
For those on the portly side, there was “Fight the Flab”, in which you were instructed to strip off, so when you jumped up and down, “all your wobbly bits wobbled”. Wogan gave the impression that he was naked in the studio: another joke!
And there was “Wogan’s Winner”, when he picked the winner or a pundit suggested a winner in the next race at Doncaster, or wherever. I didn’t bet, but the amusing way he introduced the section was great fun, as he often poked fun at the horses’ rather absurd names.
Meanwhile, on the fifth floor, all manner of sacrifices took place, because that was the realm of the DG, the Director-General, initially a strange and awesome person, and then (when John Birt had the role) mocked as well – “"I see the DG isn't up yet. I can see his teeth in a glass on the window sill."
He was just on radio at that time, except for the late appearance on “Come Dancing”, a low-key ballroom dancing show around 11 pm, and I once stayed up not to watch the acts, but just out of curiosity to see what he looked like.
It was his radio show that led to a hit single and appearance on “Top of the Pops”. Moaning that the instrumental version had no words, he decided to add them, singing along the lyrics of “The Floral Dance”. It became apparent that if released as a single it would be popular, and it was, but it was never quite as good as the raw unvarnished performance I remember on radio.
It amuses me hearing that he never made a mistake, because when he came to TV, on the first episode of Wogan, he memorably tripped coming down the stairs. “Wogan” was an early evening chat show, an experiment not tried before, and in its early days was always watchable. Later, unfortunately, it became little more than a platform for celebrities to plug their often ghost written autobiographies.
It is debatable whether Dallas and Dynasty would have taken off it it had not been for Wogan relentlessly pushing the storylines – and making fun of them, on his radio show. The American stars, when they appeared on Wogan could never quite understand why he called one of the shows “”Dysentery”, and had nicknames for characters such as “the poison dwarf”, a name I still remember.
“Blankety-blank” was perhaps the first quiz show without prizes of note. The winner got – a “blanket-blank cheque book and pen” – and that was all! It actually was a critique of quiz shows with massive prizes, and so perfectly suited to Wogan's self-depreciating wit when he rewarded the winners - "This is all Aunty can afford"! It demonstrated Wogan’s versatility, although it was clear he was irritated when Kenny Everett wonderfully grabbed and twisted and bent that sleek microphone he used.
On of his last shows was Terry And Mason’s Food Trip, a warm and cosy ramble though cuisine and culture in Ireland, and as it turned out, a final swan song. I saw a few episodes and rather enjoyed the gentle pace.
I never watched Eurovision, but I did watch Children in Need, where Wogan was the face of the show, “Uncle Tel”, who no one wanted to disappoint, encouraging, cajoling, and entertaining the viewer to persuade them to donate. The show will go on, but it won’t be quite the same.
Farewell, Sir Terry. We will miss you.