Terry Wogan obituary: one of the most skilled broadcasters of his generation
Millions tuned in to hear his gentle and witty commentary on the affairs of the day
Terry Wogan pictured with Diana Ross in 1981 when she was a guest on his early morning BBC Radio 2 programme,Photograph: PA Wire
Terry Wogan was one of the most skilled, popular and enduring broadcasters of his generation, with more than 40 years at the top of his profession.
His BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, with his velvet voice and his wry, rambling thoughts on life, achieved the UK’s biggest and most loyal audience.
Millions of early-morning listeners tuned in to hear his gentle and witty commentary on the affairs of the day, both trivial and momentous. It was all delivered in a soft Irish brogue, sometimes cutting but never malicious. He put a smile on the faces of countless people at their breakfast tables.
He announced in September 2009 that he would be quitting that breakfast show the following New Year after a total of 27 years. There was an immediate outcry from his hordes of fans, but that merely proved how right he was to stop when his listeners were asking for more.
But that decision did not mark the end of his days as a broadcaster.
Wogan was no less popular on television and had hosted a hugely successful chat show. There was real bitterness when that talk show was axed in favour of the ill-fated soap Eldorado.
And he was famous, too, for his ironic and sometimes blistering — but always amusing — commentary at the Eurovision Song Contest, a role he gave up in 2008.
Those outside his loyal circle of listeners probably had no idea what a TOG (Terry’s Old Gits and Gals) was, or the significance of Deadly, Boggy or the ‘Totty from Splotty’, but to his dedicated audience of eight million, they were all part of the Wogan lexicon.
He saw a succession of younger radio rivals come and go. Noel Edmonds, Mike Read, Zoe Ball and even his successor Chris Evans were among those who passed through the doors of Radio 1 during his lengthy stints on Radio 2.
Apart from the very start of his career at RTE, Wogan was always a BBC man through and through, but that did not stop him criticising “Auntie”.
He lampooned former BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey on his Radio 2 show, claiming “Dukie” lived in a cardboard box by the gate, and another chairman Sir Christopher Bland was no sooner in place than Wogan affectionately started on him as well.
Wogan was born in Limerick and first headed into the world of banking after leaving college in 1956 but, after answering an advertisement, joined RTE where he worked as a newsreader and announcer.
He moved on to become a DJ and hosted quiz and variety shows. Moving to the BBC he hosted a mid-’60s programme called Midday Spin and when the Corporation reorganised its output, he began working on the new Late Night Extra slot on Radio 1, for which he commuted from Dublin.
He proved himself during a stint as holiday cover for Sir Jimmy Young, and was rewarded with his own show. He landed the afternoon show — which was broadcast simultaneously on Radios 1 and 2 in those days — and then from April 1972, he was given the Radio 2 morning show.
TV work also flourished. Sir Terry began his long association in the early 1970s and he fronted the long-running humorous panel show Blankety Blank, complete with his famous ‘wand’ microphone. He would also appear as a guest on shows such as Celebrity Squares and New Faces.
He even found time to have a novelty hit single in 1978 when he released a version of the Floral Dance. The same year he started his association with the BBC’s Children In Need appeal, which grew from a short Christmas Day appeal to a live TV special.
A regular presenter of the fundraiser for many years, he missed last November’s appeal at the last minute on the advice of doctors following a procedure on his back, being replaced by Dermot O’Leary.
Wogan left his breakfast show at the end of 1984 in anticipation of the launch of his thrice-weekly BBC1 chat show “Wogan” which ran until 1992 and saw him interview everyone from royalty to Hollywood A-listers, with a drunken appearance by George Best providing one of many memorable moments.
Other TV shows included his Auntie’s Bloomers series and a morning chat show he hosted for Five.
His stinging commentary for Eurovision proved to be one of the many highlights of his career. He would snipe at the acts, the political manoeuvring of Eastern Europe’s voting and the half-time entertainment. But it was all done in a spirit of affection.
He returned to Radio 2 in 1993, and his popularity and worth to the BBC was accompanied by one of the Corporation’s biggest presenter salaries, said to be around £800,000 (€1 million). His influence helped to make stars of Katie Melua and posthumously Eva Cassidy among others.
His easygoing manner on-air and his cheery natters with colleagues also made his studio team part of his listeners’ extended family with his late producer Paul Walters and newsreaders “Deadly” Alan Dedicoat, Fran Godfrey and John “Boggy” Marsh all part of the Wogan experience.
Wogan— who was granted joint British and Irish citizenship in 2005 — saw his audience pass the eight million mark in 2005. On hearing the news, he joked: “Hang on, there’s 60 million people in the country — what are the other 52 million listening to?”
He was one of the founders of Children in Need and hosted the telethon for more than 20 years, helping to raise more than £400 million for charity.
In 1997 he was awarded an honorary OBE and was knighted in 2005. He was married with two sons and a daughter.