Obituary: Sir Terry Wogan, broadcaster

Sir Terry Wogan. Picture: Getty Images
Sir Terry Wogan. Picture: Getty Images
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Born 3 August, 1938 in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. Died 31 January, 2016 in Maidenhead, Berkshire. Aged 77

Whether it was the Eurovision Song Contest, his own interview programme on television or his annual foray with Children in Need Terry Wogan had a way of striking exactly the right balance between the humorous, the chatty and the genuine. He had a twinkle in the eye and a touch of the blarney in his personality that made him an ideal presenter – never over-bearing or hogging the limelight. He could be cutting and acerbic but never malicious or underhand. For Wogan broadcasting was a passion and he endeared himself to millions with his ease of manner, warmth and unending charm. He could say things that his audience often thought and he did so without ever giving offence.

The Terry style became hugely popular and his wacky humour gained him a large following – the Toggs, short for Terry’s old gals and geezers. He created his own language and in-jokes - christening his own radio show, “the home for the bewildered”. It was all spontaneous: Wogan did not rehearse and was never lost for something to say: “All I do is open a microphone and speak. I try to create a sort of club” he admitted. And many think that was his genius. He was never flustered and was courteous to everyone – star guests were often offered a home-made cookie and all were made to feel that he or she was the greatest guest he had ever interviewed. He had the knack, with that Irish charm, to be genial, serious and affable. One thing is for certain, a grand chapter of BBC history has ended.

Michael Terence Wogan was the son of a grocer and attended Crescent College and then Belvedere College in Dublin. From 1956 he had a brief career with the Royal Bank of Ireland but had shown a keen interest in broadcasting from his youth – becoming a fan of the Goon Show and other BBC comedies. He joined Irish Radio as an announcer and got his own quiz show in the early Sixties. When that was axed Wogan approached the BBC and was first heard on the Light Programme in 1966. Within two years he was given his own afternoon slot on Radio 1. The Corporation then switched him to the breakfast show on Radio 2 - Waking Up With Wogan – which immediately achieved big ratings and a loyal audience.

After 12 years he left the show when the BBC offered him firstly the zany quiz programme Blankety Blank and hosting Come Dancing. But what brought him a wider audience was his own early evening chat show. For three nights a week Wogan proved an agreeable and easy-going host and stars lined up to be interviewed by him. He did have a few disasters – a drunk George Best, David Icke claiming to be the Son of God and the Hollywood legend Anne Bancroft who was terrified and never really answered a question. Wogan eventually said, “You aren’t enjoying this are you?” to which the star said, “No”. “Is it me?” the genial Wogan asked. “Yes” came the reply. To his great credit Wogan smiled. The show gained large audiences but was axed so the BBC could mount the short-lived soap Eldorado.

Wogan’s sympathetic and kindly style was the bedrock of Children in Need for more than three decades, amassing hundreds of millions of pounds for charities. It was a cause which Wogan passionately believed in and he worked on the charity throughout the year and became its life president in 2010. He was scheduled to host Children In Need last November but pulled out citing health reasons. In 1978 he demonstrated his love of the irreverent by sending himself up. He recorded the Cornish folk song The Floral Dance singing it with gusto on Top of the Pops. It reached No 21 in the charts.

His presenting of the Eurovision Song Contest is legendary: his delivery – with the tongue firmly in the cheek throughout – was cutting and deliciously deadpan. Often highly critical of the antics and songs – he summed up one act as, “That is ridiculous. This contest is no longer a music show.” The television audience loved it.

Wogan returned to Radio 2 in 1993 which proved as lively and popular as ever – when he announced he was leaving the show in 2009 there was an outcry of horror from his adoring fans. In an emotional farewell Wogan said, “If anyone embodies the warm spirit of this country it is you, my listeners. Thank you all.” He returned to Radio 2 a year later to host a live weekly two-hour Sunday show.

His friend and colleague Ken Bruce said yesterday, “Terry lifted the whole of entertainment for the BBC just by his presence. He had the ability to speak just to you and make you feel special. Terry was your friend.”

His family was central to his life and Sundays were always celebrated at his home overlooking the Thames. Wogan, who was knighted in 2005, married Helen Joyce in 1965. She and their three children survive him.

Alasdair Steven