Wogan really was a bridge between Ireland and Britain

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In an age in which sentimentality is never far from daily discourse, and in which some people seem to achieve celebrity based on dubious talents, the outpouring of sadness for Terry Wogan yesterday might have seemed a touch over the top.

But it wasn’t at all. He was, as countless commentators said yesterday, a broadcasting giant and a key figure in British and Irish cultural life.

There are few people who have retired from public life whose death would be a justifiable lead story on BBC TV news, as Sir Terry’s was last night, but the Limerick man was undoubtedly such a figure.

Wogan had a style that won millions of fans: friendly and humorous, often gently mocking but never malicious.

It is hard to say if he was more successful as a TV presenter or a radio one because he was a star at both. His radio longevity was longer, with his near 30-year reign as the breakfast presenter on Radio Two, first in the 1970s and 80s, and then with Wake Up To Wogan from 1993. In that latter role his popularity was such that he was the most listened-to radio broadcaster in Europe with eight million listeners.

But his television chat show in the 1980s was also a huge entertainment fixture at a time, before multiple TV outlets and the internet, when four channels dominated what people watched each night. Guests ranged from Margaret Thatcher, who appeared on it while prime minister, to George Best, who, tragically in the grip of alcoholism, turned up drunk.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday that Wogan “acted in no small way as a bridge between Ireland and Britain”.

That is exactly what he did. He neither hid his Irishness nor laboured it. He was simply an outstanding broadcaster with a wonderful voice who happened to be southern Irish. He was proud of that heritage, yet ended up being adored by middle England, knighted by the Queen, and insisting that he felt bewildered but deeply honoured by it all.