DOCTOR OF LETTERS
MICHAEL TERENCE WOGAN
Michael Terence Wogan has been one of Ireland's and Britain's best known, best liked and most successful broadcasters on both radio and television for over forty years. During that time he has entertained, enlightened and engaged the people of both islands with his combination of self-deprecating wit, understated knowledge and empathic kindness. While such distinction might, of itself, warrant many awards - and indeed it has done so down the years - it is essential to recognise today his social, charitable and personal contributions which have had a substantial and long-lasting impact on the well-being of what are commonly referred to as 'these islands'.
Michael Terence Wogan - known universally as Terry - was born in Limerick in 1938 and spent a happy childhood moving between attentive relatives in Limerick and Dublin. He attended Crescent and later Belvedere Colleges, where he excelled at rugby, acting and, occasionally, Latin. He showed early promise with the Rathmines & Rathgar Musical Society and, after a brief interlude in banking, he joined RTÉ as a radio presenter first of documentaries and later of quiz and variety shows. At RTÉ he acquired a reputation as a consummate professional and an inveterate prankster, but the best indication of what was to come was an internal RTÉ memo which warned producers, in the starkest terms, "don't let Wogan ad lib". Since then, first at RTÉ and later at BBC, Terry Wogan has made ad-libbing his inimitable speciality.
Terry Wogan's 35 year career with the BBC is without parallel. He has moved effortlessly between the intimacy of radio and the glare of television, playing the roles of compere, notably for the Eurovision Song Contest, quiz-master, in-depth interviewer and whimsical commentator with equal ease and distinction. He has had the courage to leave many programmes at the height of their success so as to explore new formats or ideas. Typically, he left BBC's most popular radio show to host the live chatshow, Wogan which, in turn reigned supreme in TV terms from 1985 to 1992. He capped his subsequent return to radio when, last year, his Wake up with Wogan became the most popular radio show in Europe with an audience of 7.2 million. Wogan himself was quoted as hailing 'the triumph of the coffin-dodgers'.
Terry Wogan has won many awards, both from peers and from the public, in his 40 year career in broadcasting. He has been recognised by the Variety Club, the Pye Society of Authors and the Radio Industries Club. Sartorially he has been voted 'Tie Man of the Year' and 'Best Dressed Man of the Year'. In newspaper polls he has been voted the 'Most Popular TV Star of the 1980s' and the 'Most Popular Radio Star of the Past 25 Years' in the UK, reflecting his unique place in the affections and appreciation of a huge radio and TV audience. Some find it difficult to explain such an outstanding record of success and popularity. Terry's autobiography is of no assistance. It describes a conventional, easy-going family man who, by some strange twist of good fortune, has continued to be rewarded for merely chatting to himself and allowing the audience to overhear the conversation. Indeed he is at pains to point out that he has "never done a hard day's work" in his life, nor ever held a "proper job", and concludes by asserting : "I seem to have floated on the sea of life, eschewing effort, avoiding conflict. An optimist - you know, someone who does not realise the seriousness of the situation." Closer examination reveals a man who is well-read, innately good-natured and genuinely interested in people. Possessed of a profound sense of the absurd and with a deep distrust of anything or anyone self-important, Terry Wogan combines a sharp ear for dialogue with an immense store of turns of phrase, all of which are unmistakably Irish. A description of one interview as being "a joy to those who like to watch a painless execution" maybe misses the mark. The Wogan show merely provided the forum in which self-importance and cant could self-destruct in public.
Terry Wogan's charitable activities are too numerous to list in full. He was President of the Lords Taverners and the Saints and Sinners charitable societies and is patron of Arthritis Care, Action for Epilepsy and of the association for Adventure Playgrounds for Handicapped Children. He works with a number of hospitals including Hammersmith, St. Mary's Paddington and Wexham Park. For six years he held the Terry Wogan Golf Classic for the benefit of Irish charities and he continues to be involved with the Ireland Fund in Great Britain. However he is best known for his commitment to Children in Need, of which he is now a trustee. Every year since 1980, Terry Wogan has been the presenter and the main driving force behind this BBC charity telethon. Using his charm, humour and quiet determination to the full, he manages to make this relatively low-key event a resounding success every year. To date Children in Need has raised over £300 million for a wide range of charities.
No matter how much he might seek to minimise or even deny it, Terry Wogan has made a major contribution to improving relations between the peoples of Britain and Ireland. Just as Jack Charlton - also a recipient of an honorary doctorate from this University - was the archetypal Englishman whom the Irish came to love, so Terry Wogan is far and away, the most popular Irish person with the average Briton. Just like Jack Charlton, he never hid or minimised his origins. Terry Wogan was always proud to be Irish and has chosen not to change his citizenship, even for the possibility of official UK honours - hence his OBE in 1997 was of the honorary variety. During the darkest days of Anglo-Irish relations, when British cities were the targets of atrocities, Terry Wogan was a constant, persuasive reassurance to an outraged populace that the vast majority of Irish people, wherever they lived, shared their outrage, sympathised with the victims and wanted to live in peace with their neighbours. In particular, in 1984, with the Anglo-Irish Agreement newly signed, Terry Wogan invited the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, to be his guest on the Wogan TV show. It would be foolish to underestimate the value of such actions to the Irish in Great Britain and to the wider sphere of Anglo-Irish relations.
For all of these accomplishments, for his quiet championing of values and principles, for his consummate professionalism, for his service to the common good of the people of Ireland and Great Britain and for the pleasure he has given, and continues to give, to millions of listeners and viewers, it is timely and appropriate that Terry Wogan should be honoured by the University of his native city.