Monday 22 January 2018

It's time to honour king of airwaves with city freedom

With his Wildean wit, Terry Wogan has charmed audiences at home and abroad, writes Ulick O'Connor

Sir Terry Wogan has done enormous good for Ireland in the past fortnight with his two programmes on the BBC. On radio he has been the most successful broadcaster in Britain with eight-and-a-half million listeners, and he has topped the poll, too, on television.

His radio show charmed listeners with his Irish chat and wit, a sort of Oscar Wilde of the airwaves. Both used the technique of the Irish storyteller -- sophisticated seanachies. Some of Terry's best comments do have a whiff of the author of The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

"Football may be the new religion but its temple is the pub, its altar is the widescreen, and its faithful are the lads" and "Celebrity-hood has become a minefield. People get elevated to the stars and shot from the skies in almost the same breath."

The remarkable thing is that Wogan, having mastered the art of radio presentation, was able to take on the role of host on his television chatshow, an entirely different form. When I went on his BBC TV show I observed a look in his eye of the sort I previously encountered in the USA with top interviewers such as Johnny Carson and Studs Terkel. There was an encouraging twinkle, which creates a chemistry that brings out the best in the interviewee. It was like having a chat in a Dublin coffee shop. You forgot you were being watched by a few million people. I was so relaxed that I drawled, "I remember you, Wogan, when you used to feck apples in Templeogue".

This caused mayhem. The next morning the airwaves were buzzing with complaints. The trouble was "feck" in Dublin meant "to steal"; whereas in England it was no different from the "F" word. It didn't take a feather out of Terry, however. The following morning on his radio show he laughingly explained the situation to disturbed listeners.

Why did RTE let this brilliant broadcaster go in late 1969? Terry himself has described the event: "Eventually a top official in RTE called for me. I knocked on his door.

"Come in! Ah, Wogan. Where the carpet starts you stop!

"I knew then my future was elsewhere ... "

In the most terrifying moments of the recent troubles in the North, Terry's remarkable personality and charm acted on numerous occasions to soothe hatred and fear in the English public's mind. As king of the airwaves he was in a key position and he used it for our benefit. How can we adequately honour him? Perhaps the distinction, which had been bestowed on a former Wesley College boy, George Bernard Shaw, could now be offered to a former Belvedere boy -- the Freedom of the City of Dublin.

There is one question I would like to put to Terry about his fine BBC programme. How could he, who knows hundreds of poems off by heart, have stood at the foot of Ben Bulben mountain in Sligo, and resisted reciting on screen Yeats' famous lines, inscribed on his gravestone in the nearby Drumcliffe graveyard?

"Under bare Ben Bulben's head/In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid/An ancestor was rector there/Cast a cold eye/on life, on death/Horseman, pass by!"

I would love to have heard him recite these lines. Perhaps the next time.

Sunday Independent

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