Did the Queen shed a tear? Because almost every other one of Terry Wogan’s eight million listeners must have blinked a little at 9.30 today, as with a blast of The Party’s Over, Terry Wogan signed off from the Radio 2 breakfast show he first presented in 1972.
As heavy snow brought chaos to the country, it seemed only fitting that Terry’s fans should stay inside, enjoying Wogan’s own brand of inspired broadcasting chaos for the last time.
“There’ll be no senior moments and no blubbing,” Terry promised at the beginning of Wake Up To Wogan, before presiding over an unashamed blub-fest of tear-jerking songs, tributes from fans and favourite in-jokes with his anarchic studio team, newsreader John “Boggy” Marsh , Alan “Deadly” Dedicoat , Chris Nove and Lynn Bowles “The Totty from Splotty”. As usual there were the quirky emails from fans “I’ve just heard you on the radio. I’ll be listening to you every day from now on!” but unusually there were more fulsome tributes.
Those writing in included a Mr G. Brown of Downing Street, who (perhaps a little enviously) admired Terry’s staying power, saying “Five decades at the very top of British broadcasting is a towering, indeed an unparalleled achievement” . A Mr D. Cameron also sent in a tribute, admiring Wogan’s tendency to focus on the positive and suggesting, “It is his ability to see a lighter, sunnier side of life which is why he is so loved.”
But it is the TOGs – Terry’s Old Geezers and Girls – who will miss him the most. The country’s most famous TOGs, the Queen and Prince Philip, who enjoy his breakfast show alongside their Tupperware tableware, had Terry to lunch recently to say a private thankyou. To the TOGs, Terry is more than just a radio presenter. Though Irish, he has become the deadpan voice of Middle England, the gently sardonic lilt that objects in a very British way to too much saccharine, earnestness, or political correctness. His show has been a refuge from the chill wind of current affairs and his quicksilver intelligence is matched with an endearing self-deprecation and an ability to poke fun at those who take themselves too seriously.
In particular, as in his favourite joke of reading out limericks from listeners before collapsing halfway in laughter, (“Boggy stood on the burning deck, Shouting what a farce..”) Wogan has epitomised the British habit of laughing at sex. This came to a head with his Janet And John series, a running joke based on a pastiche of the children’s learn-to-read books, which involved the show’s regulars in sexually risqué episodes, and spawned a best-selling series of CDs. Today’s programme featured a traditionally filthy tale, rigid with double entendres, involving something about bestiality and a golden shower. “If the Prime Minister’s listening to this,” said Wogan, “He’ll want to change his opinion by the next news.”
His decision to retire at the top of his game “while we’re still in love” will not stop Wogan returning in February with a Sunday morning show on Radio 2. But it is Chris Evans who from 11 January will assume the breakfast slot and the awesome task of taking on Terry’s devoted demographic. “This is the day I’ve been dreading,” Wogan, 71, told his TOGs in a tearful farewell. “It’s always been a source of enormous pride to me that you’ve come together in my name, to laugh with and poke fun at and when the world seemed a little too cruel, to shed a tear with. If anybody embodies the generous, warm spirit of this country it’s you, my listeners.” Those people outside, bracing themselves stoically in the street, might not just be awaiting another squall of snow. It might be the thought of next week, without Terry to take the edge off it.