Saturday 25 November 2017

Programme of the week: Terry Wogan’s Ireland

Paul Whitington

Although Terry Wogan retired from his morning radio show in December 2009, he remains Britain's most popular broadcaster, and is frequently referred to over there as a national institution.

His 'Wake Up to Wogan' show attracted a faithful audience of more than eight million, making him the most listened-to radio broadcaster in Europe. He had his own TV chat show, made a stupid panel show ('Blankety Blank') more than watchable, and energised the Eurovision experience with his warmly satirical commentaries.

But Wogan, of course, is not British at all but Irish. He started his broadcasting career here and is very proud of his Irish roots. In fact, he once said of his native city: "Limerick never left me -- whatever it is, my identity is Limerick."

In this documentary, he makes a personal pilgrimage to the old country and visits some of the places dearest to his heart. Wogan is always witty and watchable, and he starts his journey in Dublin, where his career as a broadcaster began, before travelling on to Limerick to find his childhood haunts.

Born in Limerick on August 3 1938, Wogan was educated by the Jesuits at Crescent College, and when his family moved to Dublin when he was 15, he completed his education at Belvedere College.

Initially, he seemed likely to fulfil his parents' dreams of landing a permanent and pensionable job when he joined what was then the Royal Bank of Ireland. But Wogan had the soul of a performer: he became a regular cast member of an amateur dramatics group and developed a strong interest in rock 'n' roll.

Wogan had spent five years toiling behind a desk in the Bank of Ireland when, on a whim, he entered a newspaper competition to find a radio announcer. He won, and joined RTE in the early 1960s.

Wogan did his time in continuity announcing, where he gained a reputation as something of a practical joker. He and Mike Murphy later recalled how they used to set each other's scripts on fire during broadcasts. He soon moved to DJ work, and gained some TV experience before landing irregular radio work with the BBC.

Between 1967 and 1969, he commuted to London to present a show called 'Late Night Extra' on BBC Radio 1, before moving to England with his family after the BBC offered him a permanent contract.

Wogan initially provided cover for Jimmy Young, then landed his own afternoon radio show, before shifting to the mornings in 1972. His jovial style made him an instant hit: Wogan soon achieved listenership figures of 7.6 million, and his mellow and melodious Irish accent became a beloved part of the middle-English breakfast. This at a time when the IRA was hitting its stride, and the last thing that should have sold a broadcaster was Irishness.

In the 1970s, there were only two Irish voices regularly heard on British TV and radio outside the grim news broadcasts. One was Dave Allen, the other Terry Wogan, and both presented an urbane, sophisticated and witty Irishness that fitted neither the stereotypes of the thick Paddy nor the image of Irish people as dangerous fanatics.

Wogan is a legend, but he has never forgotten where he came from, and this documentary proves the point.

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