Broadcaster and journalist Howard Hughes wrote this in 2008 about Sir Terry Wogan, and today we re-publish as a tribute to the Radio 2 presenter.
THE WOGAN YEARS (Howard Hughes – from The Radio magazine, 2008)
I first heard Terry Wogan at my Aunt Amy’s house in Liverpool when I was a little boy and that was as far as I was allowed to cycle by myself. As she made me yet another cup of milky coffee in her narrow, forever steamy kitchen she started waving her arms like a windmill in overdrive. I must have looked shocked. But Amy quickly explained she was doing her daily exercise with Terry Wogan. This was during Terry’s early days of daytime network radio and, not for the first time, he tapped into the mood of the nation as he made a one man effort to get everyone to shed a few pounds to music – or, as he put it, “foyt the flaaab.”
Even then Wogan was much more than another disc jockey. He was a wordsmith whose nimble tongue and colourful use of language set him apart from mere spinners of “45s”. But Terry was also very good at the gambits of music broadcasting. The BBC Archives sample complete days of network programming. And on one of these ”discs” from a snowy day in the early 70s you will hear Terry starting his show with the tightest and cleverest talk up to the vocals on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” I have ever heard, where he tempts his audience with the promise of the “massuv sounds” he’d be playing.
This story may be apocryphal – and for all I know it has been told about other broadcasters. But I heard Terry nearly didn’t get his deserved break on the BBC. Apparently, so the tale goes, his Demo tape recorded at Ireland’s RTE was “backwound.” In other words it was sent on the takeup tape spool and not the playout one.
This meant, when threaded up to play on the Ferrographs of Broadcasting House, everything came out in reverse. But these were more forgiving times and the Exec who got the tape put it on the right way, sat back and enjoyed. If this isn’t true it still makes a lovely story about a nicer era. But, forwards or backwards, Terry landed himself spots on The Light Programme. And that led to filling in for Jimmy Young on Radios 1 and 2 (the networks were joined for parts of the day to save money)
In the late 70s the BBC’s “popular” music stations had formidable breakfast shows which garnered, as Terry would himself say, “ginormous” audiences. Noel Edmonds made Radio 1’s his own with a brand of bearded brilliance. And Terry bestrode Radio 2 like a colossus. He created an alternative on-air reality which listeners eagerly and effectively fed, even in a pre email and text world. Wogan also seamlessly connected with whatever media phenomenon was hogging the headlines at the time. In the early 80s it was tv show Dallas.
Terry hooked into absurdities the soap’s US audience simply missed. Like Sue Ellen’s permanently quivering lip. And the vertically-challenged strangeness of the one he christened “the Poison Dwarf.” This was a golden era.
Then there was Eurovision. In the 60s and early 70s it was seen as a serious festival of multi-ethnic music. It took Terry to lift the veil and, as commentator, voice what many of us suspected deep down. The hitherto untold secret was that Eurovision is a faintly foolish spectacle you’d be unwise to take too seriously. So it became OK to giggle when the musical director of the Sveriges Radio Big Band, or other such figure, stepped up to the podium in bizarre costume to conduct the Swedish entry. I could take or leave the contest. But I could not miss Terry’s comments.
Wogan’s thrice weekly live tv talk show, apparently created to fill the hole left by Michael Parkinson, meant he left Radio 2 breakfast in the mid 80s. Ken Bruce took over. He is an excellent and seasoned broadcaster – I can’t think of anyone from that time who could have made a better job of filling Terry’s shoes. Ken was genuinely brave to take on a task of this size. But breakfast wasn’t quite the same. Terry was warmly welcomed back to the show in 1993 and has seen Radio 2 transform from the “light music” outlet it was in the 90s to the trendier station we hear today. It says a lot for Terry – Sir Terry as he became in 2005 – that we listen as much for him as whatever music format the station currently has.
I asked my old friend and Terry’s Radio 2 colleague Colin Berry for his recollections of the Wogan years. He remembers how Terry always played with words. So Colin Berry became the long-departed actor “Wallace Beery.” And when Radio 2’s Ray Moore and his wife Alma went on honeymoon with Colin and his new bride, Wogan gleefully reminded the nation on every opportunity that “Ray Moore broke his foot on Colin Berry’s honeymoon.”
Apparently Ray had an accident on a boat, but that didn’t stop Terry mining the comedy of the whole scenario. Colin almost got to fill in for Terry on Eurovision when his audio-line went down (for years Colin brought us the London Jury’s scores of course). But ,as Colin told me, with seconds to go, Terry’s sound connection was re-made and his big Eurovision moment never happened. Such is the way of things in broadcasting!
I always wanted to meet Terry. I have been in the same room as him at the Sony’s but we’ve never spoken. But none of the people I know who know him have a bad word to say about him. He is universally liked and universally appreciated. And in an industry that can occasionally be jealous and unkind that is a fantastic achievement.
We wish Chris Evans good times and good Rajars when he takes over the big chair. And we’ll all take away good memories – lots of them – of the Wogan Years.
But maybe the last words should go to that other breakfast radio legend, Chris Tarrant , a friend of Terry’s for many years. “He is simply the best early morning DJ of my lifetime. His achievement year after year has been massive. My mere seventeen years at Capital Radio pales into insignificance. Sickeningly, he’s also a really nice bloke.”