Obituary: Gerry Anderson, broadcaster

Born: 28 October, 1944, in Londonderry. Died: 21 August, 2014, in Londonderry, aged 69

First Northern Irish broadcaster to be inducted into UK Radio Hall of Fame. Picture: BBC
First Northern Irish broadcaster to be inducted into UK Radio Hall of Fame. Picture: BBC

Gerry Anderson was the flamboyant presenter of several Northern Ireland radio programmes and gained national recognition when he presented, amongst others, the Radio 4 afternoon magazine programme Anderson Country. For more than 30 years Anderson was heard on both radio and television and became an institution in Northern Ireland.

Gerald Michael Anderson was born in Derry and educated by the Christian Brothers, after which he worked as an apprentice tool-maker and a clerk in a shipping firm. In 1963, having taught himself the guitar, Anderson moved to Manchester where he worked in the clubs.

He joined a band playing mostly middle of-the-road pop music that toured widely. Throughout the late 1960s Anderson was heard on drums and bass with The Chessmen and visited many Scottish halls, until 1971 when he left to join Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. In the mid-1970s he returned to Ireland where he read Sociology and Social Anthropology at Ulster University. He continued his studies by gaining a postgraduate diploma in Continuing Education. For six years from 1978 Anderson worked as a teacher and a social worker. He also found work on BBC Radio Foyle where he introduced a programme of music and requests.

In 1985 Anderson was offered his own daily show on Radio Foyle and his career took off. His relaxed, genial style appealed to the listeners who rang in – he was always courteous and patient. He treated even the most demanding caller cordially and let them have their say. Anderson was a wonderful listener and only interrupted to poke fun or ask for clarification.

His colleague and broadcasting partner, Sean Coyle, spoke fondly about the years they shared on air. Yesterday on Radio Foyle he said: “I loved Gerry both in the studio and when we were out socially. We used to fight often about what music we should play – he was devoted to Bob Dylan – but it was all good-natured fun. In 31 years we never fell out. I enjoyed every minute of our association.”

In the ongoing controversy over whether the city of his birth should be called Derry or Londonderry, Anderson coined the alternative name of Stroke City. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Londonderry applying to be the City of Culture in 2013. He was approached to be the anchor man for the festivities but illness prevented him taking any active part.

Anderson was delightfully unpredictable and was much loved and respected by the large and loyal audiences he gained on Radio Foyle and Radio Ulster. Other broadcasters might accept the normal and uncontroversial but, as a colleague on Radio Ulster said yesterday: “Gerry just threw a spanner in the works to expose obvious nonsense.”

Away from the banter and the questioning of authority and institutions, Anderson was a professional broadcaster who arrived at the studio well prepared. Along with the much loved wit and mischief, he had compassion and a fine sense of humanity. He had time for everyone and fame never changed him.

In 2005, Anderson was the first broadcaster from Northern Ireland to be inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame and he was Broadcaster of the Year at the Entertainment and Media Awards in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and was initiated into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. In 2006, Anderson gained further fame when he became a clay model for the animated television series On The Air, which featured real, unedited clips from his BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle programme.

His Radio 4 show certainly received hostile reviews and divided opinion among the listening public. It marked a low point in his career, both personally and professionally.

However, he returned to Ireland and recaptured his homely magic back in his native land. He did, however, return to Radio 4 for the endearing Gerry’s Bar. It was described as Anderson’s “reflections on life seen through the bottom of a glass”.

More popular on Radio 4 was his radio programme in 1992, Stroke City, which was made in Londonderry but aired nationally. One of his books of memoirs was titled Surviving Stroke City.

Anderson was often seen on Irish television hosting magazine programmes – one was a documentary on hair loss. With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Anderson chose to call the programme Gerry Anderson’s Losing It.

Two years ago, Anderson stopped broadcasting as he had been diagnosed with cancer. In November last year, after four serious operations, it was announced that he would be returning to Radio Ulster “after a rough year”. Newspapers in Ireland reported: “The legend returns.” Alas, that was not to be.

Anderson enjoyed the craic and endless chatter, banter and fun.

He was a much loved Irishman and a fine ambassador for his country. He is survived by his wife Christine and their family.