BBC Radio Ulster host Gerry Anderson (69) dies

Former show band guitarist and UK Radio Hall of Fame inductee battled long illness

Popular BBC Radio Ulster presenter Gerry Anderson has died after a long illness. He was 69. Photograph: BBC Radio Ulster.

Popular BBC Radio Ulster presenter Gerry Anderson has died after a long illness. He was 69. Photograph: BBC Radio Ulster.

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 17:12

Northern Ireland is lamenting the loss of the great subversive, and often surrealistic, broadcaster Gerry Anderson who has died aged 69.

Anderson was the BBC presenter who became jaded by treading the tribal line of constantly describing his beloved native city as “Derry-stroke-Londonderry” and rechristened it as Stroke City, a title that has endured.

There was a huge outpouring of sympathy for Anderson’s family and his friends from those who loved his morning show on BBC Radio Ulster. There was a real sense that, with his death, people in the North had lost a real friend and that Northern Ireland has lost a little of its heart and soul.

People connected with him, taking to his warmth and anarchic style of presentation.

There was also ready consensus that with his unscripted humour, his rapid wit, and his stream of consciousness delivery during the 90 minutes he was on air Monday to Friday from 10.30am to noon, he was an absolute “one-off” presenter, unique and irreplaceable.

People were trading stories about Anderson yesterday including singer Daniel O’Donnell. One of the more lunatic interviews to be heard you could hear on the programme was the show’s producer and Anderson sidekick Sean Coyle expertly mimicking O’Donnell while Anderson would interview him, the false O’Donnell, and also the real O’Donnell.

Anderson would ask Coyle for an example of a Daniel O’Donnell scream, getting in return a passionless drone, with the real O’Donnell complaining, “Ach now Gerry, ach now…”

Way back in the mid-1990s Vanity Fair in a big profile wrote about the sexual magnetism of Gerry Adams with the Sinn Fein president pooh-poohing this notion and speaking up for marital fidelity and about how he was dependent on the love and loyalty of his wife Colette. We now know Gerry Adams’s attitude to “semtex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”, was Anderson’s snap take on the piece.

Many more such reminiscences were offered all through yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster where people through phone calls, emails and texts spoke of their sadness.

There was a symmetry too in that the death of Anderson should be announced on the same day as that of Albert Reynolds. The former taoiseach was a showband promoter in his early days while Anderson at the same time was a showband guitarist, although he didn’t particularly like to be reminded of those experiences.

Yet, he played for a decent band called the Chessmen, which also featured artist Robert Ballagh. Anderson also moved to Canada for a period playing there with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, a pedigree outfit some of whose other members left to form The Band.

Anderson eventually became disillusioned with the high-life music scene and returned to Derry to take a degree in sociology and anthropology. He worked both as a teacher and social worker. In 1984 he got his broadcasting break with BBC Radio Foyle, his morning show later transferring to BBC Radio Ulster.

He spent an unhappy year in 1994 with BBC Radio 4 but returned again to his morning slot where he continued until cancer forced him off the air about 18 months ago.

During his career he also made several documentaries and presented a BBC TV programme, Anderson on the Box. He won several broadcasting awards and was also inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife Christine, two children David and Kirsty and grandchildren Sarah and Thomas.