Less than two weeks after we lost an original and much loved member of BBC radio, Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, we lose another original veteran, Terry Wogan.
Just a quick glance of the classic picture of the original line-up of Radio 1 on the steps of All Souls church – opposite Broadcasting House – look at the front row, second from the left you’ll see Ed and right behind him – Terry.
I first met Terry when I joined Radio 1 in 1979, Terry was doing the breakfast show on Radio 2 and even though the station’s offices were in entirely different buildings – Radio 1 was in Egton House and Radio 2 was in Charlotte Street – the continuity studios (for Radio’s 1, 2, 3 & 4) was all in the same area on the first floor of Broadcasting House and I would see Terry every morning as I swanned to and from the studios and very often Terry would invite me in for a coffee. Terry was the most gentle and generous man I had the pleasure to work with and know.
Years before I joined the BBC, I would listen to Terry and even Ray Moore, who preceded him, when I used to be in the car with my mother on the way to our family baker’s shop, and, like everyone has said, you felt part of his family.
Terry was born in Limerick City on 3rd August 1938 and educated at a Jesuit school called Crescent College from the age of eight and experienced a strong religious upbringing. At the age of 15 he moved to Dublin where he attended Belvedere College which is where he discovered his love for music. His original career path took him into the banking world where he worked as a bank clerk at the Royal Bank of Ireland in 1956.
It wasn’t long before he realised that his heart wasn’t really in it and so gave it all up to join the Irish radio network, RTE, as an announcer and newsreader.
He was never a part of the pirate radio fraternity where so many the original DJ’s came from, and in 1965, the same year he married Helen, and he was invited to move into daytime radio where he hosted RTE’s top rated quiz show Jackpot. In 1967 he was invited to join Radio 1 which he did but didn’t move to London, instead he commuted from Dublin ever weekend.
In 1972, he and fellow broadcaster Jimmy Young, who incidentally will be 95 later this year, moved over to Radio 2 with Terry hosting breakfast followed by Jimmy in the mid-morning slot. The pair, with their individual broadcasting qualities, soon amassed audiences of over seven million and their handovers at 9.30 became legendary with neither knowing what the other was going to say or do. Even listeners who couldn’t listen to the whole programme used to tune in just for the handover.
With Terry you got what in real life what you saw or heard on television or radio which was a genuinely friendly man who had or made time for everyone. Very often builders of roofs would shout out to him and he always looked up and acknowledged and replied. I personally remember walking along Langham Street by Broadcasting House with a friend of mine and Terry and Humphrey Lyttelton were walking towards me and Terry still took the time to say “Morning Jon,” and my friend was so taken aback and said, “What a lovely bloke,” and that for sure he was.
Terry also had a brief pop career when in 1978 he recorded a vocal version of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band’s Floral Dance, which reached number 21 and made an appearance on Top of the Pops. His follow up, a respectable cover of Gene Cotton’s Me and the Elephant, failed to chart and so he decided to stick to broadcasting.
In 1980 Terry got involved with television, initially as the host of the Eurovision Song Contest which he did every single year from 1980 until 2008. The same year the BBC’s own charity, Children in Need, was launched and annually broadcast a telethon headed by Terry which he continued with until 2014. Had sadly had to pull out of the 2015 broadcast at the last minute due to ill health.
In 1982 he left his Radio 1 breakfast show to pursue his own BBC 1 chat show which he hosted for 10 years before returning to his beloved breakfast show on Radio 2 where his heart really was.
He built a certain rapport and banter with both his listeners – he used to call T.O.G’s (Terry’s Old geezers and girls) as well as all his colleagues. I think among the hundreds of thousands of tributes that flooded in when the news broke, Richard Osman, from Pointless and Two Tribes, expressed it best, he said, “What a wonderful, clever and funny man. Did nothing but make the world a happier place.”
In 2005 Terry was knighted by the Queen and when he met her, the Queen asked him how long he’d worked for the BBC, Terry replied; “Your Majesty, I’ve never worked here.” In another interview when he was asked how many listeners he had, he replied, “Just the one.”
In December 2009 Terry announced his retirement from the breakfast show and thus made an emotional two minutes and nine second farewell speech which was recorded and remembered with great fondness. He started it with, “This is it then, this is the day I’ve been dreading, it’s never a good morning when you and I come to the parting of the waves” and concluded with, “So, I’m gonna miss you, till we’re together again in February, have a happy Christmas and thank you, thank you for being my friend.”
Terry did return to host Weekend Wogan for five years when Richard Madely began standing in. No reason was given except there were regular mentions that Terry would be back soon, but sadly he never did.
Very much like David Bowie earlier in the month, Terry suffered from cancer and it was kept as a complete secret. Even when one of his best friend’s, Ken Bruce, was interviewed on Radio 2, he said, “I knew he was unwell and the last I heard he was making good progress and due to come off the painkillers.”
Terry discovered my many singers and bands and was happy to introduce them to the world via his radio show. Naturally he was a fan of the Irish acts including Foster And Allen, James Galway and right through to the likes of Westlife and Boyzone, but one singer who no one had heard of on these shores until Terry made her a star was Eva Cassidy, who sadly never lived to realise her success because she died in 1996 at the young age of 33.
Terry died on the 31st January with his ever-loving family by his side.