Ben Lowry: How broadcasting genius Wogan kept his cool during TV pratfall

Sir Terry Wogan enshrined his position as Britain's foremost broadcaster with his three times a week TV chat show
Sir Terry Wogan enshrined his position as Britain's foremost broadcaster with his three times a week TV chat show

Terry Wogan’s career peaked when the chat show named after him, ‘Wogan’, moved into a three times a week evening slot at 7pm in 1985.

Anyone over the age of 40 will remember it clearly.

It is where the Irishman enshrined his position as Britain’s foremost broadcaster.

Everyone who was anyone from London to Hollywood tried to appear on the programme.

The UK loved Wogan and his style on that show explained why: he was always charming and humorous and thoughtful and cleverly probing.

Two incidents stand out in my mind that revealed his gifts as a presenter.

On an early show, perhaps even the very first, he went down to greet Elton John at the piano after the latter had performed.

Almost the very worst thing that can happen to a broadcaster did indeed happen. Wogan slipped on a lower step and fell.

Yes, at the bottom of the steps on live TV he fell.

There are very few people alive who could respond to that situation coolly. If he had betrayed even a trace of embarrassment it would have been excruciating for everyone, let alone if he had gone red in the face or lost his composure entirely.

But Wogan, the genius, did not waver. He was helped to his feet by Elton and then stared at the camera confidently, giving a wounded look.

It was sheer brilliance. Elton John and the audience roared with laughter.

The other episode that I recall watching was his interview with Anne Bancroft. Perhaps due to nervousness or eccentricity or mischievousness, the actress gave monosyllabic answers to his various questions. “Yes ... No ...” etc.

This again is potentially a nightmare on live TV. How do you handle that situation without two people sitting in humiliating silence until the next guest is ready?

The super-smooth Wogan quickly adapted to what was happening and turned his questions into long monologues, which then would be met with by a short answer from Bancroft, followed by another long monologue.

Wogan, our hero, filled the alloted time and ultimately brought the interview to a close.