If you’re younger than around 20, say, or not from these shores, then it’s possibly a little difficult to understand exactly how significant Terry Wogan’s death is to those of us who are.
I was born, and grew up, in the 1970s and, like a significant fraction of the whole country, I would listen to his rich mellifluous tones as I got ready for school each morning; in my early years at secondary school I’d laugh as Kenny Everett bent his oddly effete microphone on Blankety Blank; in my teens I’d watch his Saturday night chat show; as I was coming to the end of school, the mid-week chat show would be the accompaniment to my homework sessions. And then you’d see him pop up on Come Dancing, or Children in Need, or, as he did for so long, Eurovision. He was everywhere it seemed sometimes, and certainly one of the defining voices of the BBC.
He wasn’t like the newsreaders: he was warm, funny and erudite, though he wore that erudition very light. He spoke personally, to you. And even if you didn’t care for the music all the time (trust me, that was common on Radio 2 in the 70s and 80s), at least Terry would make you chuckle. I’ve even got a book of his, published back then, Banjaxed, which collects up a bunch of stuff from those shows, including gems like the continuing story of the DG’s vestal virgins on the roof of TV Centre, as well as long running exchanges between himself and the public. The thing to notice about the book is that it marks a real connection between the man and his audience, but on a slightly slower burn in the days before the instant response of electronic and social media. When that came though, in his second breakfast spell, he rolled with it. And it worked.
His passing marks a significant point. Ironically, as an Irishman, Wogan signified and embodied many of the values of the Reithian BBC. But he was an oddly and gently subversive presence too, as others have said at length. In my head I think of him running slightly parallel to Peel in that way, always ready with the pin, ready to puncture some kind of ridiculous pomposity . I know it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about his loss like losing a family member, but this is someone who was invited gladly into my home almost every day in the formative years of my life. The reason I laugh at some things the way I do is down to him, as is some of the way I look at the world. Wogan was a symbol of what the BBC should be in people’s lives: a warm, wise, witty, steady influence. The BBC will miss him deeply, and I think we all will too.