It’s been a cruel month for entertainers.
David Bowie, Lemmy, Glenn Frey and now Terry Wogan, all cut down mercilessly, with no regard to justice or the feelings of their admirers.
Wogan, you’ll probably agree, was the most subversive and perhaps the most influential, confronting sacred cows wherever he met them, shooing them off the road in his genial, engaging, self-deprecatory way and perhaps even winning a smile from them as he did so.
With his unfeasible 1970s goalkeeper haircut, his incomparable fluency and his invincible contempt for all things self-important, Wogan seduced all who listened to him or saw him on TV, and that’s where he surpassed everyone else because, after all, he was the Irish guy on the radio at a time when being Irish in Britain was like having leprosy.
But he did it, just as Dave Allen did, paving the way for people like Dylan Moran and Dara Ó Briain. Subverting the damaging Irish stereotypes.
But of course, that wasn’t all Terry Wogan subverted. He reserved his special brand of sardonic ridicule for the Eurovision Song Contest which he happily commentated on for thirty years or thereabouts, often to the dismay of the organisers. Who could forget Terry’s description of the Danish presenting pair in 2001? Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy.
A profoundly decent man, Terry Wogan seems to have made no enemies but many admirers. I don’t know if it’s true that Queen Elizabeth specifically asked to meet him during an official visit to Broadcasting House, but they say she proudly informed him that she was a member of Terry’s Old Geezers, the people he identified as his core followers.
When asked how many listeners he had, Wogan replied, Only one, a response that sums up precisely what made him such a great broadcaster. He wasn’t speaking to thousands. In his mind, he was speaking to you and he was always conscious that it was important to set you at your ease.
Why do I compare him favourably to Lemmy and to Bowie?
Simple. He went to a place that should have been hard. He took people’s hearts and he brought them on a gentle, insane, absurd journey. He showed them a different way of looking at the world, a mad, absurd vision dressed up in a cardigan and with a dodgy 1970s goalkeeper haircut, but underlain by a keen, probing intellect.
Terry Wogan was one mad bastard and the world will miss him.