Gerry Anderson didn’t make it to his 70th this October, but he’d never have admitted to that big birthday anyway.
If you wanted to wind Gerry up, you talked about “ a man of your age”. It was only last weekend, that I passed a picture of him talking to me on-air at Blackstaff studios in Belfast, when we were doing a programme for Radio Ulster. I wondered then when he would be back. He’d been expected to return to the airwaves last Christmas, a year after he went off ill. But that was not to be.
Since I first heard of his passing yesterday, I can’t count the number of people who’ve stopped me with a tear in their eyes and a story about Gerry. I knew him from radio and that was where his star shone most brilliantly. A rule-breaker of the first order, he didn’t sail close to the wind, he ignored the wind completely and sailed by his own steam.
Gerry was unstoppable, except when he was derailed for a while on Radio 4. Constrained by a script and broadcasting to many who didn’t understand Ulster banter, Anderson Country was anathema to Home Counties listeners. But Radio 4 bosses saw sense in more recent times and Gerry went on to make successful documentaries for them, taking a sideways and thoughtful look at local life in the place he called Stroke City. When I spoke to him about a programme proposal for Radio 4, Gerry said: “Sure, they like me now. I’ll put my name to that.”
He could take the hand out of somebody, as we say here, and then to be able to help people to understand the little tragedies of life too. Maybe that was why we both shared a love of American country music. I’d let him know if I’d come across an artist that I thought he would like and he’d do the same for me. A particular favourite of Gerry’s was Robert Earl Keen’s ‘The road goes on forever’ and ‘the party never ends’. Gerry Anderson’s party ended sooner than we’d hoped, but his spirit lives on.