Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016 Memoriam: Terry Wogan

Terry Wogan

 (By Julie anne Johnson from Cheltenham, UK (Terry Wogan°○●○•°) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ah right, well then, settle down by a nice fire, attracted by the prospect of a second custard cream, as we attempt to pay tribute to young Sir Terry of Wogan, the man off the TV. And radio, you say, with some justification.

Sir Terry Wogan was a TV institution in the UK for fifty years. As he himself said in his farewell address to the radio, people had grown up listening to him, and their children now had children of their own. So mum first heard him pre-BBC, and now I'm a dad. Weird thing, time.

(I could carry on in Terry style, but it would be pastiche, and the man deserves far better...)

I first came to know of Terry Wogan in 1988. Being two, I didn't realise it was him, of course, but he was the narrator of Stoppit and Tidyup, a children's animated TV series by Terry Brain of The Trap Door fame. With characters like Clean Your Teeth, Go To Bed and I Said No, I think this might have had some subtle messages for our toddler audience... Wogan's narrator foretold the narrative with his usual wink at the fourth wall. In fact, the style of the tale, as the characters mumble and make strange noises while the narrator tells us the story, is much the template for modern massive kids TV hits like In The Night Garden and the Twirlywoos.

This might mean Sarah will have as lifelong an admiration for Derek Jacobi as I do of Wogan. Time will tell.

After breaking into TV at RTE in his native Ireland, he applied for BBC Two in 1967, only to be turned down by David Attenborough. However, he got his foot in the door at BBC Radio and a stint subbing for Jimmy Young in 1969 led to a slot of his own, and later a Radio 2 spot from 1972 to 1984, and again from 1993 to 2009. It was here he built a following of millions of loyal fans, who would listen to every show. They ranged from the average man and woman in the street to the Queen! He'd refer to his fanbase, which he'd openly admit was of a similar age to himself (or older!) as the TOGs - Terry's Old Geezers/Gals.

"Any other broadcaster might have regarded the most obsessively devoted fans in the history of radio as stalkers, but Wogan shared their terrible jokes, celebrated their birthdays, ate the cake they sent in by the barrowload, laughed at their misfortunes, sang to their babies, talked to their cats, and beamed from ear to ear as they turned up whenever he opened so much as an envelope.The Queen on a visit to Radio 2, and her daughter-in-law Camilla at a literary reception at St James’s Palace, both outed themselves as Togs."
Maev Kennedy, Wogan's Radio 2 Togs have lost their hero, 31 January 2016

"Terry's humour and wit were unparalleled and he graced the top of his broadcasting profession for decades as a reassuring voice on the BBC. As an Irishman, Terry Wogan occupied a special place in British listeners' hearts and he acted in no small way as a bridge between Ireland and Britain.His always entertaining, and often unforgiving, commentary of the Eurovision Song Contest provided viewers here and in Britain with endless entertainment."
Enda Kenny, to the Irish Independent, 31 January 2016

When I lived in Maryhill, one of my chief forms of entertainment was the radio. One day, Tom Baker was guest DJ on one of the commercial radio channels, an event which lasts long in the memory due to them letting Baker be his eccentric best, and also, that the former Time Lord went on at length about his love of the band Pulp! There was Mike Dickin on Talksport, right wing reactionary who seemed to enjoy riling up right wing reactionaries, and whose somewhat piss take look at the world was ruined by him dying in a car crash later that year. And there was Wogan, which I'd have on early in the mornings to try and convince me to wake up for the 9am university tutorials. His stream of conscious rambles were quite infectious - in fact, one day he was talking about universities, when I suddenly realised I had five minutes to get to a tutorial!

 (Photograph by Mike Peel ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Strangely, "Terry Wogan made me late" wasn't the most welcoming of excuses! 

I suppose this made me a TYG - Terry's Young Geezers/Gals - although Wogan used to joke we were the ones who were forced to listen by dotting grans and parents. It was the earlier kids work what done it, and besides, I was too much of a casual listener.

When CDs of his radio stories went on sale for Children in Need, Terry complained to the higher authorities about VAT being added onto a charity thing, and managed to get a tax rebate on the matter!

"This ease became his trademark. When RTÉ opened its television service on New Year’s Eve 1961, he was an obvious recruit, and soon found his face so irritatingly famous that he could no longer go into pubs. He began to form the view that, unlike radio, where listeners got to know and cherish their favourite personalities, television was instant fame that was instantly forgotten the moment a face disappeared. However, the television quiz show Jackpot, which he chaired, topped the ratings. When he sent a tape of his radio work to the BBC Light Programme, the assistant head of the gramophone records department, Mark White – who was to become a mentor – offered him the chair of Midday Spin, a half-hour selection of records, which was made and broadcast from London, with his own commentary being inserted from RTÉ in Dublin.Alternating between Dublin and London was congenial to him, but not to RTÉ. When he began Late Night Extra on Wednesdays for BBC Radio 1 and 2, flying back to Dublin afterwards, RTÉ told him to concentrate on his work for them – or else. Wogan opted for the “or else”; his first appearance on British television consisting of presenting a beauty contest with David Vine in 1973. He then took over from Peter West for seven seasons of Come Dancing."
Dennis Barker, Guardian obit, published 31 January 2016 (Barker himself died in March 2015)

On TV, he had Wogan, one of the first live chat shows in the UK. It lasted ten years and over 1100 episodes, and, due to its live and unedited nature, produced many a moment of iconic TV moments. The interviews with George Best (highly drunk) and David Icke (highly David Icke) are notably famous, but in the former Wogan seems notably worried for Best's health (and his tact, wrapping up the interview well ahead of time), and in the latter, like someone desperately trying to stage an intervention on a friend. There was other memorable moments, like when Ronnie Barker announced his retirement, and when Jackie Collins defended her books against accusations of being aides to perverts by Barbara Cartland! I've not read Jackie - not really my area of interest - so I can't say if she aides perverts, but I have tried to read Cartland and she does aide narcolepsy.

Everyone who was everyone was interviewed by Wogan, from a Peter Cushing in his twilight, to a Jon Pertwee promoting the Dr Who theatre tour. Anne Bancroft famously got stage fright being interviewed on live TV, despite her vast stage experience, and the show gave new life to Cilla Black's career, though we shouldn't blame that on Wogan. There were final TV interviews of Rock Hudson, Fanny Craddock and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, and a mutual piss taking/slight flirting sessions with Victoria Principal and Joan Rivers. The show was cancelled in 1992, and replaced by Eldorado, a decision to which the only long term beneficent was arguably Terry Wogan!

The BBC did a retrospective on the series with Wogan looking back at his favourite moments in December 2015, in a moment which looks retrospectively ominous.

There was also Blankety Blank, which I never watched, but which was very popular.

In 1978, his parody version of The Foral Dance reached 21st spot in the UK charts, and he performed it on Top of the Pops. He later recalled that he was surrounded backstage by punk acts of the day and kept a low profile!

There was also Perfect Recall, a naff quiz show made unmissable by Wogan openly admitting how weak the format was. "This is the moment I am meant to whip you all into a frenzy, so...consider that done." An old internet acquiantance of mine and Jon Arnold's, Wilf, actually won an episode. It didn't last long, despite, or possibly because, the host took the genial piss out of the whole thing. But then I thought the whole point of the show reveled in the fact that Terry Wogan was not the natural host for such a thing.

And in the midst of all this, who could forget Terry and Mason's Great Food Trip, where he and Mason McQueen traveled the country in Mason's taxi, enjoying the local cuisine. This is a show that was far more fun, and enjoyable, than it ever ought to have been, with the two hosts bouncing off each other well. It did however have a usual effect: watching Wogan and McQueen scoff the best of British food around the UK, and clearly enjoying every single second of this paid work, didn't half make this viewer incredible peckish after each viewing!

He hosted Points of View with his usual dry wit and knowing phrases, and presented documentaries on Ireland and PG Wodehouse. He'd appear in the dictionary corner at Countdown, and on modern comedy shows like Chattyman, like the veteran passing on his approval to the younger generation. He also presented Auntie's Bloomers, the BBC variation of It'll Be Alright on the Night, although those shows need somewhat edit nowadays, thanks to the rather public actions of some in the clips.

(Which I suppose is the moment to bring up an elephant in the room: Wogan was part of the decision to deliberate block a "name childrens entertainer" now known for less savoury reasons from appearing on Children in Need from the 1990s on. Wogan, who expressed a strong "hatred" and "suspicion" of the chap, nevertheless admitted he had no personal proof, just a gut feeling. Even in his final interviews, however, Wogan downplayed his own role in this.]

You can't talk about Sir Terry without his two big TV roles, however.

He was the narrator of the Eurovision Song Contest, for the better part of twenty eight years. He reveled in the comedy acts, pretended to be bamboozled by the cultural differences, and casually eviscerated some of the dreadful performances.

Now I know that some people took his leaving Eurovision as a sign he took it all too seriously. Those ethnocentric other Europeans were voting for each other, and not for ethnocentric us! However, I feel that, while not helped by Terry's language on the matter, wasn't quite it. This is a man who reveled in all the kitsch, the obscure and the certainly naff of the show, and considered himself in on the joke like most of his fellow European broadcaster teams. Or like the conductor who dressed up as Napoleon for ABBA's Waterloo. When people started to take Eurovision overly serious, it lost it's charm for Wogan. It wasn't the block voting, so much as the loss of We Are the Winners of Eurovision, and the gain of a thousand ballads about peace.

He was right too. The Eurovisions become a staid, safe, middle of the road thing with no earworms or ear-nightmares to speak about. The only worthwhile bit is the voting. That the organiser of the Eurovision bemoaned Terry Wogan ruining the show suggests that Wogan was right: the show had lost its fun and charm, and become win at all cost. As Wogan said to Clive James: "There's a group of devotees who have kiosks at every Eurovision, and they all hate me with a deep and abiding passion. It's meant to be bad, I love it."

And then, there was Children in Need.

It started in 1980, and Wogan hosted all of them until 2014. He missed the 2015 telecast due to "a bad back" (yet more ominous foreshadowing) and he missed 2016 due to a terminal case of being dead.  The show, which gets as many big name celebrities doing daft stuff in the name of charity as possible, while we see videos of needy children around the UK, was designed to get people to donate money. Designed around the US telethon style, Children in Need rapidly began to raise millions of pounds every year, and Terry Wogan was a passionate campaigner for the charity. Aided by his comedy partner, dancing partner, and "show us the money" partner, Pudsey the Bear, Wogan would tap dance, interview and even try Gangam Style if he thought it would raise more money for vulnerable children. He did receive a fee for presenting the show, true, but the man himself claimed it went straight to the charity itself.

Terry Wogan didn't give us much warning he was turning the mic off for good, but then, he didn't appear to have much warning himself of the cancer which was to silence him. He was a bit of a marmite figure, with his wit and wisdom either jovial or egotistical, depending on your point of view. My dad was never a fan, for example. But if you were a TOG, or not, his impact on British broacasting, on the radio and TV, was never in question. His tireless charity work and refusal to ever take anything too seriously spoke well for him, as did the fact that Popbitch spent years trying to uncover any dirt they could on the man, and the worst they ever got was that he sometimes jumped the queue at his local butchers to nab a Christmas turkey!

In 2009, his final weekly broadcast stated that he "was going to miss us". Not half as much as we'll miss him.

He was an unavoidable, ever present part of life. It's somewhat of a culture shock for him to suddenly not be there, but his influence will stretch on.

Now, where did I put those custard creams?