So “Sir” Terry Wogan is the latest celeb to die.
I cant say that I ever liked him (in so far as it is possible to actually “like” or “dislike” a person that I have never actually met). Actually that pretty much defines “celebrity”.
The majority of people reading this will not be old enough to remember a life without Terry Wogan (he has died aged 77). But to a man of 63, I can actually recall a life before Wogan.
I have often joked that I remember Terry Wogan when he was called Eamonn Andrews. And actually that makes a bizarre kinda sense.
For in September 1959 when our first TV set was delivered, Eamonn Andrews was already a fixture on BBC…the host of “Whats My Line”, “This Is Your Life”, “Crackerjack” and presenter of the Saturday afternoon BBC radio sports programme.
The Andrews defection to ITV in mid 1960s was a big thing. He never really got the hang of the Sunday night chat show. Modelled too much on the new fangled American show, Johnny Carson it was simply too dependant on the ability of (too many) six guests on a sofa engaging with Andrews and each other. Notoriously Lee Marvin never uttered a word.
Andrews fared better with a revised “This Is Your Life” and a televised sports programme but ultimately his best years were in the 1950s and 1960s at the Beeb.
Eamonn Andrews was Irish. And unashamedly so. He wrote “thank you” cards in green ink to his guests and was one of the main forces behind the scenes when RTE (then Teilifís Éireann) was established around 1961. And seemingly a regular Mass-goer at Quax Road in Kilburn, the main church of London’s Irish community.
As Eamonn Andrews eased into retirement, Terry Wogan was getting to be the acceptable face of Irishness on the BBC. Originally a disc jockey on Radio One, he sensibly eased into TV with things like “Come Dancing” and “Blankety Blank” but essentially unscripted early morning radio was what he did best …the invention of “Wogan Towers” (his home), the “first Mrs Wogan” (actually his only wife) and an understanding that the listening audience had their own obsessions…notably the TV show “Dallas”.
I dont know if it was Talent or Greed but he never seemed to be off TV…he even made the Top 20 singing “The Floral Dance”nobody did BAD TELEVISION better than Terry Wogan. Indeed he rejoiced in bad television….which explains his long association with the Eurovision Song Contest….and in tackling a thrice-weekly chat show…he made the same mistake that Eamonn Andrews had made two decades before. For a chat show depends on the co-operation of the guests and notoriously Geoge Best was not helpful.
But compare and contrast Eamonn Andrews and Terry Wogan. Just how Irish was Wogan? Well his success depended on his accent and charm….yet he was rather too fond of the “United Kingdom” entries in the Eurovision Song Contest…and he was “TV Royalty”….golfing buddies with Jimmy Tarbuck and Ronnie Corbett…..and then there was that knighthood thing. “Sir” Terry Wogan was probably a Conservative voter. He had gone native.
Of course for the British viewing public in the 1970s, it cant have been easy to see Irish people like Andrews, Wogan, Val Doonican and Frank Carson and hear accents and maybe those who had the acceptable faces of Irishness are owed a debt. It is just that Wogan lost something along the way. Or maybe he just gave it up.
There is always a place on the BBC for an “Irishman” so long as the “Irishman” conforms to a certain profile. Thus twinkly Graham Norton is the logical successor to Andrews and Wogan. Right down to the Eurovision Song Contest and the “UK entry”.he has come a long way from being Father Noel Furlong.
Dara O’Briain…he may speak perfect Irish and be more intellectual than the rest but his “stand up” will eventually become full-time TV presentation. An Irishman for the 21st century.
For an Irish person to succeed in London….whether as a TV celebrity or a hospital nurse requires a degree of compromise.Those of us who considered leaving West Belfast for North London in the 1970s were often put off migration by the degree of compromise.
The notion of “Europe” has maybe undermined a sense of Irish citizenship and re-invented Irishness as a cute ethnicity. Thus Irish accents on BBC and ITN News as reporters or financial or medical experts is routine.
Should I mention Eamonn Holmes? In the mode of Wogan, he seems to spend every waking hour on TV. He dors not seem very selective. He has come a long way from Cavehill Road in nOrth Belfast via UTV studios to the increasingly pompous and irritating Sky News presenter every morning.