Friday, 5 February 2016

Radio Lives - Terry Wogan

Last Sunday was a dark day for broadcasting and for those who ever had the joy of listening to Terry Wogan on the breakfast show. In the radio hall of fame Terry will be sitting at the top table.

This week we've heard and read plenty about the man himself but in this post I'll be dipping in and out of Terry's radio career, as well as adding the occasional nod as to what he was up to on the telly. No analysis, just lots of programme clips and the words of Sir Terry himself.



Kicking off on RTE

Terry's broadcasting career started at Radio Eireann in Dublin in 1961, at first part-time whilst he held his job with the Royal Bank of Ireland, and then in the permanent position as continuity announcer. Terry didn't exactly have a high opinion of Irish radio: "it was hopeless, with its mixture of classical, quasi-religious and 'diddly-eye' music," but he'd got his foot in the door.

Terry learnt his craft at RTE, "microphone technique, intonation, emphasis, phrasing and delivery". He credits Head of Presentation Denis Meehan, his deputy Brigid Kilfeather and announcer Liam Devally, all of them becoming "Irish broadcasting legends".

24 April 1965. Terry marries model Helen Joyce - 'the
present Mrs Wogan' 
Typically of announcers at that time, on both RTE and the BBC, you were expected to be a jack of all trades, reading the news and the market reports, presenting record shows, introducing concerts and the like. One of the most popular radio shows was Hospital Requests and Terry took to it like a duck to water. "I realised that ad-libbing off cards and letters in between records was something I could do with ease." His other radio show was the punningly-titled Terry Awhile - a midday show that was a mixture of music and phone calls made by Terry on written request from listeners - which he continued to present whilst working part-time for the BBC.  He also worked for Telefis Eireann, taking over from Gay Byrne as the host of Jackpot, a variation on Criss-Cross Quiz.

In this short sequence Terry commentates on President Kennedy's visit to Dublin in June 1963, there's the soundtrack from an edition of the TV documentary series Discovery and a clip from Hospital Requests in 1966 - his broadcasting style already in evidence, warm in tone and very laid back.


Bright, Exciting Radio 1

The sudden dropping of Jackpot by RTE prompted Terry to seek auditions with BBC TV and ITV, but he drew a blank. Instead he set his sights on the BBC Light Programme. Growing up this was, along with the American Forces Network, his station of choice. "It became my window on the world, my magic carpet to another place. It influenced my thoughts, my speech, my attitudes, my sense of humour. Everyone else of my contemporaries seemed to be listening to Irish Radio, but I struggled towards puberty with the help of Workers' Playtime, Mrs Dale's Diary, Dick Barton: Special Agent, Much Binding in the Marsh and then Take It From Here, Educating Archie, The Goons and Hancock's Half-Hour."

The new team of Late Night Extra presenters when Radio 1
launches in September 1967

So, in 1966, Terry posted off a tape of his radio work to Mark White at the BBC - a tape he'd failed to rewind. On the strength of what he heard Mark offered Terry a weekly slot for 11 weeks on Midday Spin, a 45-minute show with the records played in London and Terry talking down the line from RTE. The BBC then offered him a one-off Christmas show and a turn on Housewives' Choice. Sending off another tape, of Terry Awhile, to Mark White secured him a place in the new Radio 1 line-up, as one of the presenters of Late Night Extra. This meant flying across from Dublin to London every week. Later, once he'd secured more regular work with the Corporation, he was still commuting the other way to record sponsored radio shows for RTE.  

Terry sits in for Jimmy Young in 1969. The programme is billed
as 'coming from our own studios' presumably to let listeners
know he won't be sitting in Dublin.
In July 1969 Terry was given the chance of a try-out on a daily show, sitting in for Jimmy Young. The bosses were suitably impressed and from September he finally got his own afternoon show, taking over the slot from Dave Cash.  Those shows, for the most part simulcast on Radio 2, ran until March 1972. Their greatest contribution to the public consciousness was Fight the Flab, with Terry acting as a kind of Eileen Fowler. "It was the making of me and my afternoon radio show." By 1971 BBC Enterprises were selling Fight the Flab exercise booklets for 20p.


Two's Company

This is the era of Wogan's Winner, Hello Chunky, TWITS, the poisoned dwarf, the dance of the BBC virgins and directoire knickers.

With Breakfast Special coming to an end in March 1972 the morning replacements were The Early Show, with various continuity announcers presenting and Terry Wogan's new breakfast show. "The aim is to offer a reasonable musical alternative to Tony Blackburn - who's the best Top 30 DJ in the country. I'll play the kind of thing I'd like to listen to in the morning - Frank Sinatra, Brook Benton and Andy Williams." Later he would go on to define his relationship with listeners as "one of mutual recrimination. I do the talking, but I try to establish a dialogue by getting them to write in."

Radio Times April 1972 as Terry moves
to Breakfast, and stays for 13 years
One feature he inherited from Breakfast Special was the Racing Bulletin, masterminded by Tony Fairburn of the Racing Information Bureau. The daily tip eventually became Wogan's Winner which enjoyed mixed success. "You couldn't tip rubbish", listeners would exclaim.

In this sequence you'll hear Terry talking about his experience of having Eamonn Andrews loom up on him with his Big Red Book. There are also those chats with Jimmy Young, ostensibly JY coming in to plug his programme but which became a must-listen feature in themselves. Some of the recordings come from Two's Best, hence the voice of Colin Berry pops up.



Pop Score. terry with his chum Pete Murray
Other radio work at this time included a weekly chat show Wogan's World. Running for three series (1974-75) it was recorded at Pebble Mill under the guidance of producer Jock Gallagher.  There was also the long-running Radio 2 quiz about popular music Pop Score (1972-92) which Terry appeared on for the first five years. Over on Radio 4 was the slightly more erudite The Year in Question (1973-81) with Terry being a resident panellist alongside Lady Isobel Barnett for the first four series and then with Ann Meo when it returned in 1980 and 81.

It's Ann and Terry plus Susannah Simons and Fred Housego who face some gentle probing from Richard Stilgoe in this edition from September 1981.



During the 1970s and 1980s Radio 2 was the sports network and Terry was drafted in to host coverage of the major games: the Olympics in 1976 and 1984, plus the 1992 games for Radio 5, and the 1978 and 1982 Commonwealth Games.

Hear the close of the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games with Gerald Williams and the 'demented pianist'. Then the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics from an OB truck in a parking lot. This provided a mix of sport and Hollywood glamour as Terry chats to commentators Raymond Brookes-Ward and Ian Darke and interviews Shelley Long about "this Cheers". 


In December 1984 Terry bade goodbye, "the last fandango", to his breakfast show listeners - "the abdication of Terry Wogan, giving up the throne and the crown of England for the woman he loves ... Victoria Principal" according to Ray Moore.   He was clearing space in his life for the thrice-weekly primetime chat show that was due to launch on BBC1 in February. This is how that show played out (with music edits). You'll perceive that his listeners were a poetic lot.




Meanwhile on the Telly

Most of Terry's TV appearances were on the Beeb but his first chat show was actually for 'the other side'. Lunchtime with Wogan, broadcast from ATV's Elstree studios, ran for 44 weekly editions in 1972 and 1973. The TV Times editorial read: "Irish disc jockey Terry Wogan chats up studio guests and audience. Between talk, resident  personalities Penny Lane and Carl Wayne sing. 'The show will be casual and relaxed,' says producer/director Mike Lloyd. 'This is a young team, but the programme is intended to suit all ages. Wogan will involve the studio audience as much as possible so that it will be they who make the show. It will all be ad-lib fun.'”

No episodes were kept but a tape of ITV's Christmas 1972 All Star Comedy Carnival has survived featuring the man himself.

On BBC TV Terry's first regular gigs were as compere on Come Dancing. "At the end of it all, the public was still firmly convinced that it was introduced by Peter West, the show's original presenter. I made all the impact of a blancmange, but it was fun." There were also the various Miss UK/Miss World contests and the like usually co-presented with either Michael Aspel or David Vine.

The first ever edition of Blankety Blank 18 January 1979
Blankety Blank came about when BBC bosses were looking for a new TV vehicle for Terry. Producer Alan Boyd - not to be confused with Terry's radio producer Alan 'Barrowlands' Boyd - adapted a US daytime show called The Match Game, a format that came complete with the long wand microphone that Terry would waft around, and Kenny Everett would bend out of shape. "For me, it was the tackiness of the prizes that gave the show is distinctive flavour, that turned it into a tongue-in-cheek send-up of a game-show." Plus it gave us one of Ronnie Hazelhurst's finest compositions.   

Having presented chat shows for ATV and Radio 4, Terry got his first chance to do the same on BBC1 with a short series of Tuesday night shows in 1982. Three further longer series followed in 1983 and 1984, this time in Parky's old timeslot on Saturday night. Bill Cotton then approached Terry to sound him out for a primetime show three-nights-a-week as part of a BBC1 revamp. He took the risk and told his Radio 2 bosses that he was packing in the breakfast show.

This is a radio-themed edition of Wogan from 1987 marking Radio 1's 20th anniversary. It's packed with loads of familiar faces/voices.



Other TV work has included Auntie's Bloomers, Points of View, Do the Right Thing, Wogan's Web, The Terry and Gaby Show for Five, and Wogan's Perfect Recall for Channel 4. But, of course, the two big television juggernauts that Terry was most associated with are Eurovision and Children in Need.

Terry had done straight forward commentaries for the Eurovision Song Contest, first on the Radio in 1971 and between 1974 and 1977 and then on BBC TV in 1973 and 1978. But between 1980 and 2008 he was Eurovision, as far as UK viewers were concerned. Increasingly scoffing at the bizarre acts and partisan voting.

Last year Terry chewed the Eurovision fat with Ken Bruce in a special Tracks of My Years programme on the Radio 2 Eurovision pop-up station. (This programme has been edited).


Children in Need had been running annual appeals since the 1920s. Terry made the TV and radio appeals in 1978 and 1979 and the following year helped launch the first of the annual telethons. The first show raised £1m, the last one that Terry worked on in 2014 topped £32m on the night. "If you're going to talk about high points, then that's got to be my highest. Over the years we've raised £480 million for children's charities, and that makes me very proud indeed. So you see - I did turn out good for something in the end!" 

Wogan's Back at Breakfast

This is the era of the TOGS, Janet and John, Dr Wally, Barrowlands, Boggy's shed, snorkers and  Chuffer Dandridge and the white fiver.

Wogan was cancelled by BBC1 in July 1992. "My regret is I didn’t stop the talk show a year earlier. But ‘No, no’, they said, ‘we need to carry on because it’s 150 hours of broadcasting on the television and we need you to go on. In the meantime they were building a village in Spain for the show ­Eldorado.”

It was David Hatch, Managing Director of Radio and a family friend, that was instrumental in bringing Terry back to radio. And so it was on 4 January 1993 that Radio 2 had a morning schedule shake-up: out goes Brain Hayes after just one year and in comes Sarah Kennedy with her Dawn Patrol (though it's still billed as The Early Show) and Our Tel is back with his tail between his legs! He's got a programme title, Wake Up to Wogan and he's giving away alarm clocks (WUTWACs). Apart from being a little rusty with the studio equipment Terry pretty much picks up where he left off, he's even got his old producer Geoff Mullen looking after him.   

This is how the first hour or so sounded, again with music edits.




Cover star in August 2008
The show gradually evolves and becomes bigger than ever; it's radio's most listened to breakfast show, even the Queen tunes in. The listeners, and Terry's Old Geezers and Girls in particular, take a more active role, essentially writing Terry's material for him, and in the case of the Janet and John stories, that arrive in the mid 2000s, exactly that. The growth of emails and social media means that listeners can get their insults to Terry even quicker. Producer Paul Walters, Dr Wally, takes over and pays a little more attention to the playlist, bringing new artists to the fore, and is heard on-air muttering away in the background. The newsreaders, rather than just doing straight run through of the travel news, stop for a chat and a whole other life is created around them, they become walk-on characters. The 'underlings' are Alan Dedicoat (Deadley Alancoat of Harrow, the Voice of the Balls) Fran Godfey (renown for locking up any tradesmen that call), John Marsh (organ-playing, shed-owning Boggy Marsh), Charles Nove (the bus driving super-Nove) and later Lynn Bowles (the Travel Totty from Splotty).

Here's an aircheck from 13 June 2005. Terry's knighthood has just been announced. Will that engender congratulations from the TOGs? Not one bit of it. Also in the studio are Fran Godfrey and Paul Walters.



The following year selected chunks of Wake Up to Wogan are available as podcasts. "Look ma, I'm podcasting!" Speaking about the show in 2010 Terry said: "If you were listening ten years ago, and compare it to my last year, the tone and attitude would be the same, but now we take more chances. You have to move with the times. I get away with an awful lot. Nobody's ever pulled me up."

Starting this weekend I'll be posting some Wake Up to Weekend podcasts on the Random Radio Jottings YouTube channel

Listeners that caught the end of the programme could enjoy the badinage during the handover to Ken Bruce. Here are a selection (audio courtesy of Noel Tyrrel)


Our Tel with Alan Boyd, Alan, John, Charles & Lynn.
No expense is spared on champagne glasses!
In September 2009 Terry tells his loyal audience that he's standing down at the end of the year, handing over the baton to Chris Evans. His sign-off on 18 December is reported across all the media. The music choices alone would have you blubbing but his final goodbye - probably the only time he'd scripted the show - is one of radio's most emotionally charged moments. "Now I'm not going to pretend that this is not a sad day; you can probably hear it in my voice. I'm going to miss the laughter and the fun of our mornings together. I know you're going to welcome Chris Evans with the same generosity of spirit that you've always shown me. So, I'm gonna miss you. Till we're together again, in February. Have a happy Christmas. Thank you. Thank you for being my friend".

This is that final breakfast show:  



Sundays Only

No, Maigret isn't making a return to the BBC
Two months later Terry was back! Kicking off on 14 February 2010 was Weekend Wogan, a live two-hour show from the BBC Radio Theatre going out in three-month blocks, giving Terry plenty of time off to do the grouting. "It'll be flexible, the producer coming in with emails as he always did, John Marsh reading the news and doing his wheezy chuckles, Janet and John stories... well I can only say it worked really well in the pilot. But you never know. You take the risk." The studio element didn't really seem to work, the intimacy was lost, and anyway it was all costing too much, so by the following year he was back in the studio at Western House, the show now independently produced by Wise Buddah. The weekend shows always featured live guests: for the first there was Sir Ian McKellen, Jamie Cullen and Norah Jones, for his last Il Divo and Anastacia.

This clip comes from the first show in 2010:


This second clip is from 17 July 2011:


Terry's final show was on 8 November last year. The following week the BBC issues a press release advising that Terry is having to pull out of presenting Children in Need. He is quoted as saying: "So, here we are on the 36th edition of Children in Need, every one of which I've been proud to present since it started in 1980, and for the first time, I won't be there, to cheer you on with word and gesture to another record-breaking year. The show will go on, bigger and better than ever, in the hands of my friends, Grimmy, Fearne, Rochelle and Tess."

Last Sunday morning the world woke to the news that Sir Terry had passed away.

Terry was always modest about his broadcasting success. He'd have been embarrassed by all the plaudits heaped on him this week, but more than a little chuffed. He put it all down to his innate laziness and a whole heap of luck.

"Life turns on an instant, and everything changes on a single throw; if I hadn't answered the ad in the Irish paper for announcers; if I'd been sensible and accepted that I didn't have the qualifications required; if I hadn't lied about a dentist's appointment, or the bank manager had refused to give me time off and I hadn't attended the audition; if RTE hadn't given me the job; if Mark White had thrown my back-to-front tape into the wastepaper basket when I applied to the BBC ... So may lucky breaks - and if only one had failed, a different life. And people think I'm being falsely modest when I put it down to luck!"

Sir Terry Wogan 1938-2016


Quotes come from Is It Me? (BBC 2000), Mustn't Grumble (Orion 2006), Radio Times issues dated 16 August 2008 and 13 February 2010.

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