Sir Michael Terrence Wogan was born in 1938, grew up in Limerick and started out in the media as a continuity announcer for RTÉ Radio in Dublin, before beginning broadcasting for The BBC in the late 1960s. And then he ended up becoming a legend in his own lifetime.
His breakfast radio show, both on BBC Radio 1 and later Radio 2, achieved listening figures approaching 15% of the entire population of the British Isles, five days a week for twenty-seven years — 1972-2009 — even with a break in the middle from 1985 to 1993, after which he returned to the airwaves more popular than ever. He was also the Deadpan Snarker commentator on British TV broadcasts of the Eurovision Song Contest, starting in 1973 and for every edition between 1980 and 2008... even when also presenting the Contest in 1998 after Britain's win the previous year.
During and after Wogan's time away from national radio he was also a familiar face on UK television, hosting the prime-time chat show Wogan on BBC-1 between 1982 and 1992, three evenings a week for its last seven years. He had already hosted the game show Blankety Blank, spent a decade each presenting Hilarious Outtakes show Auntie's Bloomers and viewer comments/complaints show Points of View — but his most enduring on-screen role would be his association with the BBC charity Children in Need, for which he was a tireless cheerleader and fundraiser and the main presenter for its annual Telethon from its debut in 1980 up to 2014.
As an Irish citizen, Wogan was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1997 for services to broadcasting and charity, and later became an Honorary Knight Commander of the same order (KBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2005. After asserting his right to British citizenship (while retaining his Irish citizenship) later that year, Sir Terry was officially knighted on 11 October 2005.
After stepping down from his daily radio show at the end of 2009, Wogan entered only semi-retirement, continuing to present a weekend show on BBC Radio 2 until late 2015. Having not publicly disclosed that he was ill, his death from cancer was announced on 31 January 2016, to national mourning.
In November 2016 the central London building Western House, where Radio 2 (among others) is broadcast from adjacent to the BBC's HQ at Broadcasting House, was renamed Wogan House in his honour.
His career contains examples of:
- Audience Participation: Letters, emails, texts and tweets from listeners to his radio show — dubbed TOGs (or TYGs) for 'Terry's Old (or Young) Geezers/Gals' — were a key part of the show's surreal and occasionally deranged humour.
- Big Eater: One of the many Running Gags was the amount of food he had delivered to the radio studio each morning. Or "the decided lack of provender" if they didn't have any food delivered to the studio that day. On occasion they'd have similar foods delivered in a week for occasions such as "Pie Week", where they'd dine on different types of pies all that week. The BBC acknowledged this in 2015 by giving him a dream TV show. Terry and Mason's Great Food Trip saw Wogan travel the length and breadth of Great Britain for two months, in the company of cheerful Cockney taxi driver Mason McQueen, stopping in at least thirty locations, presenting a show from each, and allowed to sample the local delicacies, drinks and provender. To their own satisfaction.
- Bottled Heroic Resolve: Four or five litres of it accompanied him into the Eurovision commentary box each year, purchased from the nearest off-license. His eventual successor on the broadcast, Graham Norton, would reveal that Terry's main piece of advice to him on taking over the role was "not to start drinking until 9 songs in". Each year since, Norton has toasted Wogan on air nine songs into the Contest.
- Conspiracy Theorist:
- Many of his letters came from listeners expounding bizarre conspiracy theories about things like the dark purpose behind traffic cones or a lighthouse fifty miles inland.
- David Icke turned from former football player and football commentator into a nationally-known (and mocked) Conspiracy Theorist live on Wogan in the early '90s, when he declared himself the "Son of God" in mid-interview.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Do Well, But Not Perfect: When listeners sent in ideas for a 'TOG test' after suspiciously young people were reported to be sporting TOG stickers on their cars, some of the questions took this nature to reflect TOGs' forgetfulness and living in the past. For example, a question was "Who is the current leader of the Labour Party?" — points were deducted for a (then) correct answer of Tony Blair, but awarded for out-of-date examples like Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson.
- Eccentric Mentor: His semi-coherent, rambling yet still erudite and very funny tangents are the stuff of legend.
- Knight in Sour Armour: You could make a case for him being both, but either way he didn't have to appear on Children in Need every year, let alone donate all the profits from his tie-in merchandise to it.
- Medium Awareness: There were jokes about the show's radio medium, such as Terry referring to a blackboard he supposedly had in the studio and telling listeners to read what he had written there today. Fans of course played along, one, for example, writing in that when he peers into his radio's left speaker he can clearly read every word, but when he looks into the right speaker there is nothing, and is beginning to suspect that his radio is not stereo.
- Me's a Crowd: A gag in the 1970s involved the idea that there was actually a factory in Limerick stamping out Terry Wogan clones or androids, to explain why he could be in so many places at once on television and radio. A similar joke was used decades later on Harry and Paul about Jeremy Clarkson.
- The Nicknamer: Had one for each of his regular support team, none of whom seemed to mind much despite some of them being rather unflattering:
- Alan Dedicoat was spoonerised to 'Deadly Alancoat'. Also sometimes called 'the Voice of the Balls' due to doing the TV voiceovers for the National Lottery draws.
- Fran Godfrey was referred to as 'Frank Godfrey'.
- John Birt, the then Director General of the BBC, became 'Bert Birt'.
- John Marsh became 'Jean Marsh'. And then at some point he became known as 'Boggynote Two-Sheds' instead.
- N-Word Privileges: He could (and did) do Irish jokes long after they had become verboten for any British-born radio presenter.
- Punny Name: The pseudonyms adopted by his TOG correspondents, mostly of the Incredibly Lame variety. Examples include "Edina Cloud", "Lucy Lastic", " Hellen Bach" and "Tess Tickles"... the latter of which he didn't catch onto until it was rather too late. "Mick Sturbs" wrote the Janet & John stories.
- Real-Person Fic: There was a trend in The '90s for listeners to send in homemade 'bodice-ripping sagas' about the Love Dodecahedron between the people on Wogan's show (and the radio in general) such as Fran Godfrey, John Marsh and Alan Dedicoat.
- The Janet & John stories, written by listener Mick Sturbs are this to John "Boggy" Marsh and his actual wife Janet.
- Running Gag: Plenty of them.
- Some of the classics over the years include the obsession with the real, dark purpose behind traffic cones; the man who takes his budgerigar for a walk; a lighthouse fifty miles inlandnote ; the idea that Wogan had a blackboard with him in the studio and encouraged his listeners to 'look' at it through the radio speakers; and most general of all, the problems and nostalgia associated with being a TOG.
- Despite having been married to the same woman since 1965 and not being married to anyone else before her, Wogan would usually publicly refer to his wife as "the present Mrs. Wogan". After his knighthood he upgraded this to "the present Lady Wogan".
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted with Chris Evans on his radio show. On Eurovision, while Graham Norton isn't really that similar, there is the oddly specific fact that they are both deadpan snarkers, chat-show hosts and BBC Radio 2 broadcasters from the Republic of Ireland incongruously hosting the British coverage of the Contest.
- Theme Parks: One item in The '90s was one listener coining the idea of a TOG-based theme park, "Wrinkly Valley" and others writing in about it. Depending on the Writer, it was either a normal theme park with a stereotypical old-people twist (like mobility scooters on the rollercoaster) or a recreation of a nostalgic ideal of Britain sometime between The '30s and The '50s.