Beloved “son” of all Ireland
3th August 19938 – 31 January 2016
Sir Michael Terence “Terry” Wogan, KBE DL (3 August 1938 – 31 January 2016) was an Irish radio and television broadcaster who worked for the BBC in the United Kingdom for most of his career. Before he retired from his BBC Radio 2 weekday breakfast programme Wake Up to Wogan in 2009, it had eight million regular listeners, making him the most listened-to radio broadcaster in Europe. Wogan began his career on the Irish national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann where he presented shows such as Jackpot in the 1960s.
Wogan was a leading media personality in the UK from the late 1960s and was often referred to as a “national treasure“. In addition to his weekday radio show, he was known in the United Kingdom for his work for television, including the BBC One chat show Wogan, presenting Children in Need, the game show Blankety Blank and Come Dancing and as the BBC’s commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest from 1971 to 2008. Wogan used to present a two-hour Sunday morning show, Weekend Wogan, on BBC Radio 2. He also hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 1998 in Birmingham along with Ulrika Jonsson.
Wogan was granted a knighthood in 2005. He held dual British and Irish citizenship and was thus entitled to use “Sir” in front of his name. He died in January 2016.
Wogan, the son of the manager of Leverett and Frye, a high class grocery store in Limerick, was educated at Crescent College, a Jesuit school, from the age of eight. He experienced a strongly religious upbringing, later commenting that “There were hundreds of churches, all these missions breathing fire and brimstone, telling you how easy it was to sin, how you’d be in hell. We were brainwashed into believing.” Despite this, he has often expressed his fondness for the city of his birth, commenting on one occasion that “Limerick never left me, whatever it is, my identity is Limerick.”
At the age of 15, after his father was promoted to general manager, Wogan moved to Dublin with his family. While living in Dublin, he attended Crescent College’s sister school, Belvedere College. He participated in amateur dramatics and discovered a love of rock and roll. After leaving Belvedere in 1956, Wogan had a brief career in the banking profession, joining the Royal Bank of Ireland. While in his twenties, he joined the national broadcaster of Ireland, RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) as a newsreader and announcer, after seeing a newspaper advertisement inviting applicants.
Wogan conducted interviews and presented documentary features during his first two years at Raidió Teilifís Éireann, before moving to the light entertainment department as a disc jockey and host of TV quiz and variety shows such as Jackpot, a top rated quiz show on RTÉ in the 1960s. It was here that he developed his signature catchphrase, based on his name: “Wo’gwan.” When the show was dropped by RTÉ TV in 1967, Wogan approached the BBC for extra work. He began working for BBC Radio, initially ‘down the line’ from London, first broadcasting on the Light Programme on Tuesday 27 September 1966. He presented the Tuesday edition of Late Night Extra for two years on BBC Radio 1, commuting weekly from Dublin to London. After covering Jimmy Young‘s mid-morning show throughout July 1969, he was offered a regular afternoon slot between 3 and 5.
In April 1972, he took over the breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, swapping places with John Dunn, who briefly hosted the afternoon show. Wogan enjoyed unprecedented popularity, achieving audiences of up to 7.6 million. His seemingly ubiquitous presence across the media meant that he frequently became the butt of jokes by comedians of the time, among them The Goodies and The Barron Knights. He was capable of self-parody too, releasing a vocal version of the song “The Floral Dance” in 1978, by popular request from listeners who enjoyed hearing him sing over the instrumental hit by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. His version reached number 21 in the UK Singles Chart. A follow-up single, entitled “Me and the Elephant”, and an eponymous album were also released, but did not chart. In December 1984, Wogan left his breakfast show to pursue a full-time career in television and was replaced by Ken Bruce. His first chat show Wogan’s World, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from 6 June 1974 to 21 September 1975.
Return to radio
In January 1993, he returned to BBC Radio 2 to present the breakfast show, then called Wake Up to Wogan. His tendency to go off on rambling, esoteric tangents, often including banter with his then producer, Paul Walters, seems to have become popular with both younger and older listeners. The show was highly interactive with much of the entertainment coming from letters and emails sent in by listeners (many of whom adopt punning pseudonyms, such as Edina Cloud, Lucy Lastic, Sly Stunnion, Roland Butter, Lucy Quipment, Anne Kersaway, Peregrine Trousers, Alf Hartigan, Mick Sturbs or Hellen Bach, for the purpose) with an often surrealistic bent. One memorable occasion involved Wogan reading out an email from someone using the name “Tess Tickles”, without realising what the name was referring to, prompting Paul Walters’ standard reply in such situations – “I only print ’em!”
As his radio show was considered to attract older listeners, Wogan jokingly referred to his fans as “TOGs”, standing for “Terry’s Old Geezers” or “Terry’s Old Gals”, whilst “TYGs” were “Terry’s Young Geezers/Gals” who he joked were forced to listen to him because of their parents’ choice of radio station. Wogan was referred to as “The Togmeister” on his own programme by himself and members of his production team, and he referred to the podcast of his show as a ‘togcast’ in keeping with the acronyms described above.
There were also running jokes involving Wogan’s newsreader colleagues Alan Dedicoat (nicknamed ‘Deadly’ after the spoonerism ‘Deadly Alancoat’), Fran Godfrey and John Marsh (nicknamed ‘Boggy’). Marsh once told Wogan on air that his wife was called Janet, and a series of “Janet and John” stories followed, read by Wogan during the breakfast show. These are a pastiche of children’s learn-to-read stories but are littered with humorous sexual double-entendres which often led to Wogan and Marsh breaking into uncontrollable laughter. Five CDs, the first with fourteen stories, the second with sixteen, the third with eighteen (two never broadcast), the fourth with eighteen and the fifth with nineteen (one never broadcast), have been sold by listeners in aid of Children in Need, and have raised an enormous amount for the campaign (to date: over £3 million from all sales of related TOG/TYG products). A long-running campaign by Wogan criticising the British government for levying VAT on these CDs eventually led to a government rebate of £200,000.
Another feature of the programme was Wogan’s exchanges with “the Totty from Splotty “ – Lynn Bowles, the Welsh traffic reporter from Splott, Cardiff – which often involved reading limericks from listeners cut short after 1 or 2 lines as risqué innuendo in the later lines was telegraphed. Through his show Wogan is also widely credited with launching the career of singer Katie Melua after he repeatedly played her debut single, “The Closest Thing to Crazy“, in late 2003. When she performed on Children in Need in 2005, Wogan jokingly said to Melua, “You owe it all to me, and maybe a little to your own talent”. He has, however, made no secret that the credit for discovering her lies with his longtime producer, Paul Walters.
In 2005, it was reported that his breakfast show Wake Up to Wogan attracted an audience of eight million. According to figures leaked to British newspapers in April 2006, Wogan was the highest paid BBC radio presenter at that time, with an £800,000 a year salary.
In an interview with Britain’s Hello magazine in its 30 May 2006 issue, Wogan confirmed this, saying, “The amount they said was true and I don’t give a monkey’s about people knowing it. Nor do I feel guilty. If you do the maths, factoring in my eight million listeners, I cost the BBC about 2p a fortnight. I think I’m cheap at the price”. On 23 May 2005, Wogan crossed BBC strike picket lines to present his show. He wished the strikers luck but explained that “I have a job to do. I am on a contract”.
Wogan was forced off air on 16 February 2007 when steam from a nearby gym set off fire alarms. For 15 minutes an emergency tape played non-stop music. On returning, Wogan read out several light hearted comments from listeners saying that they thought he had died with his sudden disappearance and the playing of such sentimental music. On 7 September 2009, Wogan confirmed to his listeners that he would be leaving the breakfast show at the end of the year with Chris Evans taking over. The Times published an ode to Terry: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Terry Wogan is abandoning his microphone”, and novelist Allison Pearson commented: “Heard the one about the Irishman who reminded the British of what they could be at their best? His name was Terry Wogan.” Wogan presented his final Radio 2 breakfast show on 18 December 2009.
It was announced that Wogan would return to Radio 2 from 14 February 2010 to host a live weekly two-hour Sunday show on Radio 2, featuring live musical performance and guests, between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm. The show, titled Weekend Wogan was hosted in front of a live audience in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House until the 4th series where he returned to the studio.
Wogan continued to host the show until 29 November 2015 when, due to ill health, he was replaced by Richard Madeley.
Terry Wogan’s Best Bits
Children in Need
Sir Terry Wogan attempts Gangnam Style
In 1980, the BBC’s charity appeal for children was first broadcast as a telethon called Children in Need, with Wogan presenting alongside Sue Lawley and Esther Rantzen. He campaigned extensively for the charity and often involved himself via auctions on his radio show, or more directly by taking part in well-publicised sponsored activities.
David Icke destroys Terry Wogan
He was reported to be the only celebrity paid for his participation in Children in Need, having received a fee every year since 1980 (£9,065 in 2005). Wogan, however, stated that he would “quite happily do it for nothing” and that he “never asked for a fee”. The BBC stated that the fee had “never been negotiated”. Wogan’s fee had been paid from BBC resources and not from the Children in Need charity fund. His first and only appearance on the panel comedy show QI was in the 2008 episode for Children in Need, ‘Families‘.
In 2008, Wogan and singer Aled Jones released a single “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” which got to number three in the UK music charts. The money raised went to BBC Children in Need. The two recorded a second Christmas single “Silver Bells” in 2009 which was also in aid of BBC Children in Need.
George Best & Terry Wogan” embarrassing drunk interview.
Wogan was the main regular presenter of Children in Need for more than thirty years, his last such appearance being in 2014. In November 2015, Wogan was unable to participate in the televised Children in Need appeal for the first time in its 35-year history due to poor health after a surgical procedure on his back. He was replaced by Dermot O’Leary. Prior to his death, Wogan hoped to return to Children In Need 2016, carrying on as main presenter.
Eurovision Song Contest
Eurovision 1993 Voting with Terry Wogan’s Commentary
In 1971 and from 1974 until 1977, Wogan provided the BBC’s radio commentary for the Eurovision Song Contest. He became better known for his television commentary, which he handled first in 1973 and then again in 1978. From 1980 until 2008, he provided the BBC’s television commentary every year and became known for his sardonic and highly cynical comments. He co-hosted the contest with Ulrika Jonsson in 1998, in Birmingham on 9 May were Dana International of Israel won the contest. From 1977 until 1996, Wogan hosted the UK selection heat each year, returning to the job in 1998 and again from 2003 until 2008. In 1973, 1975 and every year from 1977 until 1984 and once more in 1994, Wogan also presented the UK Eurovision Song Contest Previews on BBC 1.
Wogan’s commentating style, which often involved humour at the expense of others, caused some minor controversy: for example, when he referred to the hosts of the 2001 contest in Denmark, Søren Pilmark and Natasja Crone Back, as “Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy”.
During the presentation of the Dutch televote in the Eurovision Song Contest 2006, Wogan called the Dutch televote presenter, Paul de Leeuw, an “eejit“, as de Leeuw started to make ad lib comments, gave his mobile phone number and lengthened the Dutch results. Chris Tarrant later remarked that “Terry Wogan’s commentary is why any sane person would choose to watch the Eurovision,” referring to his well-known acerbity.
During the 2007 BBC show Making Your Mind Up, in which the British public voted to decide their Eurovision entry, Terry Wogan announced, wrongly, that the runner-up Cyndi was the winner. The actual winner was the group Scooch and, according to the BBC, Terry Wogan had been provided with the correct result during the live show. His response to this on his radio show was quite simple, “It’s not like anybody died or anything.” He also stated that if they’d gone with Cyndi, we’d not have come last.
In recent years, the Contest has become notorious for what is widely seen as an increase in political voting (an aspect of the voting which has been suspected for many years). In the 2008 contest, the UK’s entry, Andy Abraham, came last, much to Wogan’s disappointment. Wogan argued that Abraham “gave, I think, the performance of his life with a song that certainly deserved far more points than it got when you look at the points that Spain got, that Bosnia-Herzegovina got – some really ridiculous songs.”
Unknown to the majority of television viewers across Europe, Wogan was well-known to many veteran broadcasters across the continent, being seen as a Eurovision Song Contest institution. Indeed, at the 2008 contest he was acknowledged by both hosts, and welcomed personally by name to the show (alongside only two other individuals from the 43 participating broadcasting nations: France’s Jean-Paul Gaultier and Finland’s 2007 Contest host Jaana Pelkonen).
After hinting of his intentions on live television during the closing credits of the 2008 contest, on 11 August 2008, Wogan said in an interview with the Radio Times magazine that he was ‘very doubtful’ about presenting the Eurovision Song Contest for the United Kingdom again, claiming it was “predictable” and “no longer a music contest”. On 5 December 2008, Wogan officially stepped down from the role after 35 years. Graham Norton succeeded Wogan as BBC commentator for the 2009 contest and has commentated since then. Norton said during the opening comments “I know, I miss Terry too.”
In November 2014, Wogan reviewed Norton’s autobiography for The Irish Times. Describing his attitude towards the contest, he writes that he saw it as a “sometimes foolish farce”. However, he hints that the 2014 winner, Austrian drag act Conchita Wurst, was a “freakshow”.
Wogan’s first foray into TV interviewing was with What’s on Wogan?, which ran for one series in 1980 on BBC1, primarily on early Saturday evenings. In 1981, he had a chance to host a one-off chat show, Saturday Live. Among his guests on this show were Larry Hagman, promoting S.O.B., and Frank Hall. Hagman was at the height of his fame, which gave the show a high profile.
Soon after Wogan was given his own chat show, Wogan, which after a trial run on a midweek evening, was recommissioned for broadcast on Saturday nights from 1982 to 1984. Between 1985 and 1992, the show became thrice-weekly on early weekday evenings. Memorable incidents in the series included the interviews with a drunk George Best, a silent Chevy Chase, a nervous Anne Bancroft who was so petrified she gave monosyllabic answers and counted to ten before descending the entrance steps to the studio, Ronnie Barker announcing his retirement on the show, and David Icke claiming to be the “Son of God“, to whom Wogan famously stated: “They’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you.”
The BBC stopped an interview in 1989 with Simon Hayward, a former Captain of the Life Guards, just hours before he was due to appear on the Wogan show. Hayward insisted that he was innocent of drug smuggling offences. The decision was taken by the then Controller of BBC 1 Jonathan Powell after protests from several MPs. However, the BBC was accused of censorship and Conservative MP John Gorst described the decision to ban Hayward from Wogan as “outrageous”.
Wogan was released from his talk-show contract in 1992 after pressure from the BBC. He claims that the BBC also wanted his scheduling slot for the ill-fated soap Eldorado. After Eldorado took over the 7pm slot, Wogan briefly hosted a new weekly chat strand Terry Wogan’s Friday Night in 1993, but this series was not recommissioned.
Wogan presented Wogan Now and Then (2006), a show where he interviewed guests from his old chat show as well as new guests. BBC Two launched a new compilation series, Wogan: the Best Of in 2015 featuring selected interview segments and music performances from Wogan’s past chat series, linked by new introductions from Wogan.
Other television work
Wogan set the world record for the longest successful golf putt ever televised in 1981, which was 33 yards at the Gleneagles golf course in a pro-celebrity TV programme on the BBC. Wogan narrated the BBC television series Stoppit and Tidyup which was broadcast in 1987.
Wogan appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross four times, between 2004 and 2009. In an appearance on the BBC programme Top Gear, Wogan managed to become the second-slowest guest to go around the test track as the “Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car“, a Suzuki Liana. His time of 2 minutes and 4 seconds was faster only than Richard Whiteley‘s 2 minutes and 6 seconds.
In 2010, Wogan made a cameo appearance in the second series of Being Human, and also guest-hosted the fourth episode of the 24th series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks. The following year, Wogan hosted Wogan on Wodehouse for BBC Two.
On 21 September 2013, Wogan appeared as a panellist on ITV game show Through the Keyhole. In November 2013, he participated in a celebrity edition of the BBC One game show Pointless, with celebrities including Bobby Ball and Esther Rantzen, in aid of Children in Need.
On 31 March 2014, Wogan was a guest reporter on Bang Goes the Theory, on which he discussed old-age dementia. During the week of 12 to 16 May 2014, Wogan appeared on the Channel 4 game show Draw It!.
Honours and awards
Wogan was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1997 and elevated to an Honorary Knight Commander of the same order (KBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2005. After asserting his right to British citizenship (he retained his Irish citizenship) that year, the knighthood was made substantive on 11 October 2005, allowing him to use the style “Sir”. On 29 May 2007, he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.
On 15 June 2007, Wogan’s home City of Limerick honoured him with the Freedom of the City at a ceremony in Limerick’s Civic Hall. The Freedom of Limerick honour dates from medieval times and the City received it charter from Prince John in 1197. Because of his long absence from the city and unflattering remarks about the city in a 1980 interview, the local press carried out a vox pop which resulted in unanimous support for the award. He acknowledged the city, saying “Limerick never left me; whatever it is, my identity is Limerick. I am so pleased that I am from Limerick.” In 2004, he received an Honorary D.Litt. degree from the University of Limerick as well as a special lifetime achievement award from his native city.
Wogan was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1978 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Broadcasting House. In the first ‘hit’ of its kind, Eamonn interrupted Terry’s BBC Radio 2 morning show to surprise him live on air. Wogan was inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame at a gala dinner held in his honour on 10 December 2009. Wogan was announced as the Ultimate Icon of Radio 2, commemorating the station’s 40th birthday. The shortlist of sixteen candidates had been published on the BBC Radio 2 website and the winner was announced live on Radio 2 during Family Favourites with Michael Aspel on 30 September 2007. He praised his fellow nominees, The Beatles, Diana, Princess of Wales and Nelson Mandela during his acceptance speech which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 2, and he chose Nat King Cole‘s recording of “Stardust” as his iconic song of the last 40 years. Wogan was fond of this song and had chosen it twice before as his favourite record on Desert Island Discs, “It is absolutely magical -the most wonderful piece of music And… I want to be buried with it.”
On 25 April 1965, Wogan married Helen Joyce. They lived in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, with another home in Gascony. They had four children (one of whom, a daughter Vanessa, died when only a few weeks old) and five grandchildren. In 2010 Wogan explained the anguish he felt on the loss of his baby daughter.
Wogan was brought up and educated as a Catholic. In an interview with Gay Byrne on the RTÉ religious programme The Meaning of Life and in the Irish newspaper The Sunday Independent, he stated that he was an atheist but respected those who have “the gift of faith”.
|1971, 1974–77||Eurovision Song Contest||Presenter||Radio Presenter|
|1974||Castlebar Song Contest||Presenter|
|1980—2014||Children in Need||Main presenter||Telethon presenter, with various co-presenters|
|1982–1992||Wogan||Host / Presenter||British television chat show|
|1973, 1978, 1980–2008||Eurovision Song Contest||Presenter||Commentary for the final|
|1999–2008||Points of View||Viewers’ letters section presenter|
|2003–04||The Terry and Gaby Show||Presenter||With Gaby Roslin|
|2006||Blankety Blank DVD Game||Presenter||Returned to Blankety Blank for a special DVD edition|
|2008–10||Wogan’s Perfect Recall||Presenter|
|2014||Secrets of the Body Clock|
|2014||The One Show||Guest presenter||1 episode|
|2015||Terry and Mason’s Great Food Trip||Presenter||Documentary series|
- Those Were the Days (Pan Macmillan, 2015) ISBN 9781447298243
- Fight the Flab: Keep Fit With Terry Wogan (BBC Books, 1971) ISBN 9780563119937
- Banjaxed (1979) ISBN 9781908461995
- The Day Job (1981) ISBN 9781909040342
- Wogan on Wogan (Penguin, 1987) ISBN 9780140108453
- Terry Wogan’s Bumper Book of TOGs (Andrews UK, 2011) ISBN 9781908262776
- Where Was I?!: The World According to Wogan (Orion, 2009) ISBN 9781409111337
- Wogan’s Twelve (Orion, 2007) ISBN 9780752888439
- Something for the Weekend: The Collected Columns of Sir Terry Wogan (Orion, 2013) ISBN 9781409148814
- The Little Book of Common Sense: Or Pause for Thought with Wogan (Orion, 2014) ISBN 9781409146568