Eoin Butler's Q&A
Gerry Anderson, the veteran broadcaster, shares a few secrets about his home town
How is Derry faring in the recession?Well, you see, Derry is a very unique place. It was the last walled city built in Europe and I don’t think it’s still really affected by anything that goes on in the outside world. Therefore, I would say that we’re recession-free. No one had anything to begin with, so we haven’t really noticed any change.
What makes Derry unique?It’s an international city. We have a port. We get a lot of foreign visitors. But we’re very parochial at the same time. Almost everyone has a grandmother who moved here from Donegal to work in the shirt factories. So they don’t regard Northern Ireland as having anything to do with them. But they fled the Republic of Ireland, so they don’t regard that as a land of milk and honey either. Derry is like an independent statelet, I suppose. It’s Monaco without the money.
Who did you cheer for in the European Championships?The Republic, of course. There was great support for the team here. But don’t forget that three members of the squad – Shay Given, James McClean and Darron Gibson – were born within 10 miles of where I’m sitting. People tend to forget that. Supporting the Republic is not wholly a political statement. It’s personal too.
In 2013, Derry becomes the first ever UK City of Culture. It’s a title that will only be awarded once every four years, so it’s not some Mickey Mouse thing. Is that on people’s radar yet?Oh, it’s probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to the city. It’s the opportunity we’ve always wanted to punch above our weight. The Turner Prize exhibition will be held here and the city will become a focal point for all artistic and cultural events in the UK for that year.
Most cities would welcome an opportunity to celebrate local culture on the international stage with open arms. Here the City of Culture offices were bombed.Well, that’s nothing new. We can’t even decide what to call the place, so what do you expect? It’s Derry. It’s Londonderry. It’s Derry-stroke-Londonderry. For City of Culture purposes, apparently, it’s to become Derry-squiggle-Londonderry [laughs] There are also objections to the “UK” designation, so instead it has become simply a City of Culture. People grumble now. But once they see a tangible benefit to the city, all doubts, all quibbles, will be forgotten.
Speaking of tangible benefits, what difference has peace made to the city in the last 10 or 15 years? What difference? The place is unrecognisable. For a long time here, if you went out for a drink at night, there was a good chance you might never come back. Now people are happy. People are relaxed. When you see a car parked in the middle of the street, you barely notice it. Or if you do, you think “Some poor guy has broken down here”. You don’t assume it’s a bomb and you’re about to die.
You presented a light-hearted morning radio show through some of the darkest days of the Troubles. That must have been difficult. Yes, it was incredibly difficult. I presented the first live radio broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster to go out after the Omagh bombing. I was broadcasting to two diametrically opposed communities. I have to avoid offending anyone but, at the same time, be true to myself. It was a high wire act and of course there were often complaints.
What kinds of thing did people complain about?Absolutely everything. They still do. I’ve even had people take offence to the word God, as in “Oh my God!” Other times it isn’t even what you say, sometimes it’s how your tone is perceived. There are a lot of sensitive people out there who actively want to be offended. To avoid saying Derry or Londonderry, I coined the term Stroke City and some people even complained about that!
What is the biggest misconception people might have about Derry?I think they think that we’re a lot more belligerent than we are. I think they underestimate the fellow feeling we have for people across the Border. Quite honestly, I think people from the North feel a lot more in common with people from the south than vice versa. That was one of the saddest things about the Troubles. It alienated people from the South. It convinced them that we’re a bunch of trouble makers. And we’re not.
Finally, what is Derry’s best kept secret?The nightlife is incredible. The craic is serious. The pubs are wonderful. That’s the one thing that always takes outsiders by surprise.
Derry is great fun!
The Gerry Anderson Show is broadcast from 10.30am to 11.55am, Monday to Friday, on BBC Radio Foyle