Tuesday 24 October 2017

Obituary: Gerry Anderson, a distinctive broadcaster

Broadcaster's zany style gave Northern Ireland's radio audiences a respite from the Troubles, writes Alan Murray

Gerry Anderson’s radio show provided a mixture of music and musings away from political controversy
Gerry Anderson’s radio show provided a mixture of music and musings away from political controversy

Alan Murray

There was an originality about Gerry Anderson's style of broadcasting unmatched across the popular radio networks in these islands.

He once joked that he would turn up to work in Radio Foyle's studios for nothing he so loved the job, adding: please don't tell my BBC bosses. And listening to Gerry Anderson was an effortless exercise where no "crazies", as he described them, featured to fulminate at their opponent's position or threaten or castigate.

Sandwiched between two bristling current affairs programmes on Radio Ulster, Anderson provided 90 minutes of levity, clowning and some awful music between the phone-ins where the political "crazies" popped up. Willie Nelson duets of unknown melodies and other obscure renderings were all part of Anderson's distinctive style.

You wondered if he was having his own sarcastic laugh at his listeners by playing some of the utterly forgettable melodies he professed to enjoy, but such was the frequency of those he aired each week that few could have doubted that Gerry Anderson did indeed enjoy those banal compositions.

Born in Derry in 1944, he performed as a professional musician and social worker before devoting 30 years of his life to his natural talent of broadcasting.

A self-taught bass guitarist with the Chessmen, one of Ireland's top bands during the showband era, he departed for Canada when the era of the showbands waned and continued a musical career with Ronnie Hawkin's band The New Hawks.

His return to his native city saw his musical career continue with Toejam until he commenced a broadcasting career in which he created a special place for himself with his easy manner, laid-back attitude and fits of uncontrollable laughter.

He was both kind and disparaging in equal measure, but one always wondered what mischief lay behind the compliments he uttered. Of a rival broadcaster, he suggested that the most interesting item on the other station was the named broadcaster's instructions on how to open a package, upon which he dissolved into giggles - it was ridicule in spades but he got away with it and many listeners nodded knowingly.

He once categorised the London-based BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce as a lady whose manner and disposition was asking 'do you want to buy me a drink', a remark which would have raised shrieks of panic from a Radio Four producer in that bastion of the network.

Unexpected and unscripted utterances like that were part and parcel of the Gerry Anderson Show, which left producers scratching their heads in trepidation wondering what was coming next, but had listeners in awe at his off-the-cuff remarks.

In another live exchange, one female caller to his show in shrill and admonishing terms described Anderson as "a lounge lizard" - it was difficult to determine if he took this to be an insult or a compliment.

His style was unique, too unique for the aficionados of BBC Radio Four, whose producers and listeners found his relaxed and irreverent style infuriating. Anderson Country in 1994 didn't go down well in the leafy lanes of Gloucestershire and other sedate places which only Radio Four reaches.

It was back then to "Stroke City", as he dubbed his birthplace in recognition of the different titles nationalists and unionists accord it, and he was welcomed with open arms 
by producers and listeners alike.

The zany, bantering Anderson, with his foil Sean Coyle, who has since taken over Anderson's slot, built up a huge listening base once again on Radio Ulster with both sides of the community appreciating the silly stories about goats and donkeys and human idiosyncrasies.

Unlike Radio Five's Danny Baker's style of loud screeching mayhem, Gerry Anderson's mayhem was manic without the volume and subtle and clever - enthralling without deafening.

The titles of the Gerry Anderson dialogues available on download from the BBC Northern Ireland website can but convey a flavour of the calculated, inane ramblings he constructed.

"Gerry explains why he doesn't get on with fan belts", "Gerry wonders whether a dog has knees" and "Gerry and Sean address the problem of neck shrinkage" are a sample. That a listener who phoned into his show described him as "turkey neck" was all part of the banter.

In addition to his daily radio show, Anderson made documentaries, particularly in the United States, which he visited often. In this mode too, his style was in part what made the programmes compelling because you wondered how Americans would respond to his cryptic observations, whose import we understood but which they may not have fathomed.

Gerry Anderson died in hospital on Thursday, aged 69, after a long illness. He is survived by his wife Christine and his children David and Kirsty.

He will be buried following a service at St Eugene's Cathedral today in the place he dubbed "Stroke City".

Sunday Independent

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