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Anatomy of a Wogan

[This was first published on TV Cream in 2010]

Thanks to that unexpected repeat of a 1987-vintage episode of Wogan the other night, it was possible to take a good, hard look at the armoury Tel deployed on telly to such effect for so long.

And what an armoury. Many were on display during that episode, as indeed they seemed to be during every episode. There always was a lot more to old Wogan’s act than merely the “I don’t know what’s going on here but I wish it would stop” stuff.

Anyway, TV Cream has sallied forth, as the great man himself would say, unto the technological interface that is the screengrab in order to assemble an anatomy of a Wogan.

First, the opening gambit:

Note how our host doesn’t simply walk on set; rather he engages in some visual badinage with his first musical guests, simultaneously acknowledging and patronising them with a mock-bow. Cheeky, but charming. Then instead of walking to the front of the stage, our man gambols and skips into position, gently tickling the conventions of chat. Once in place, the gurning can begin:

Two examples of how to pull off the tricky task of engaging with the camera, yet not actually looking into it. Tel looks a little undignified to begin with, but soon finds his poise, hands clasped in front, ready to discharge another peroration. Time to look the viewer straight in the eye:

Now we’ve stepped up a gear and are witnessing Wogan’s wheezes at full pelt. First we have the nonplussed shrug of the shoulders, deflating whatever pomposity was evident in tonight’s line-up. Note the slight tilt of the head – we’ll see more of this shortly. Second, the wide-eyed stare of delightful desperation. Old Tel’s up to his old tricks again! But wait, there’s more:

Wogan cranks up the corn still further, essaying first a worried glance to the heavens, then a toothy explosion of hilarity. Phew! Now that the climax has been reached, our man can move to the conversation area and deploy his next battery of whimsy…

…whoa! Wogan goes for not simply a tilt of the head but an entire body swerve. This is masterful stuff, coupled as it is with feigned gestures of falling asleep at the prospect of meeting tonight’s guests. Speaking of which, let’s introduce the first batch, with a little kick of the leg to reassure viewers that he is actually enjoying things after all. Tch! Once the music is done with, it’s time for the chat. Let’s examine two examples of the Wogan-as-questioner pose:

First, a tightly-framed shot of the man at ease with his surroundings and supplicants. His interlocked hands rest on crossed legs, to help put his guests entirely in a state of good grace. In the wide shot we see Tel is resting his hands on the arm of his swivel chair, legs splayed in front in a manner that seems to have disarmed Messrs Peel and Blackburn completely. Note the shiny shoes – every inch of Wogan seems perfectly groomed for early-evening telly. Finally, two examples of Wogan testing the BBC Television Theatre to destruction by virtue of a bit of multi-media magic and some good old-fashioned prop silliness:

Smitty and Bungalow are totally upstaged by our man, even though he’s barely a couple of inches high. Then, for good measure, Tel pretends an ordinary garden rose is some kind of joke flora that is about to emit a stream of water. The ideal note upon which to bid viewers farewell.

And there you have it: an anatomy of a Wogan, where all aspects of the man – expression, appearance, pose (both standing and sitting) and presence both alone and in company – are functioning in harmony.

Hope you were taking notes, DG.

Next week: Anatomy of a Jameson*.

*No it isn’t.

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