Direct from London’s verdant Shepherd’s Bush Green, we celebrate the televisual excursions of….
LORD TERENCE OF WOGANSHIRE
JACKPOT (RTE 1964)
Eager for excitement after a few years as a bank clerk, Tel applied for an announcer’s position on Irish radio, and when television arrived in Ireland, he was among those radio voices who were tried out on the screen. Tel’s big break was when he took over from the legendary Gay Byrne as host of a primitive game show called, with stunning originality, Jackpot. Tel wasn’t initially popular, mostly because he wasn’t Gay Byrne but also because on his first show he forgot the rules and failed to work out the game had ended, but he soon created a self-deprecating presentational style that added a bit more spice to this rather dull format. A few years later, though, they axed it without telling him and this was the spur for him to approach the Beeb about getting some work in the UK. Hence he was there on the steps of All Souls in 1967, initially commuting from Dublin, then by the end of the decade he was in London full time and broadcasting every day on Radio 1.
COME DANCING (BBC 1970)
The odd beauty contest aside, we think this was Tel’s first regular presentational gig on British screens, although the format hardly gave him much scope to stamp his personality on proceedings. Indeed, although he presented it for seven years, he eventually realised that nobody actually remembered who presented Come Dancing and when he announced his departure the biggest response appeared to be from people who thought Peter West was still doing it.
LUNCHTIME WITH WOGAN (ATV 1972)
By 1972 Tel had moved from afternoons on radio 1 to breakfast on Radio 2 and was well on his way to become a wireless institution. His first regular starring vehicle on telly, though, came on ITV with an afternoon soiree which was one of the first shows to take advantage of the relaxation of broadcasting hours that brought about all day TV. A very light chat show, the most interesting aspect was Tel’s co-host, an Old English sheepdog that continually upstaged him. Oddly just a few months into its run it was awarded the honour of being part of ITV’s All Star Comedy Carnival on Christmas night, which is presumably the only fragment that exists, and which you can see at the above link.
DISCO (BBC 1975)
We’d love to see a full episode of this, not just the first thirty seconds they sometimes wheel out to embarrass Tel. This was “a light-hearted pop quiz” in the unusual slot of Sunday at half past three on BBC1 and filmed in the palatial surroundings of Cinderella’s Discotheque, Sayers Common. Tel pops the questions to teams captained by Tim Rice and Roger Scott – why they didn’t use a Radio 1 DJ, either as host or captain we don’t know – and “a special feature each week will be a live group”, including the great 5000 Volts. If Never Mind The Buzzcocks was a bit more like that, it might be worth watching.
A SONG FOR EUROPE (BBC 1978)
Tel’s first Eurovision commentary for the radio was in 1973, but it was in 1978 when he started commentating for telly (though he missed 1979) and also, after a strike put paid to it the previous year, hosted the UK’s selection procedure. This was always great fun but the one we’re alighting on the demented 1980 contest, with far too many acts and too many juries, which rather brilliantly manages to end with a tie. Tel just about manages to hold it together (“It’s at times like this you need a secretary!”) while they scoot around the juries again to get a show of hands (and there’s an even number too, so that could have been a draw too) and John Mundy becomes Britain’s top rock powerbroker. This is the kind of thing Tel does so well and you can tell he’s relishing every minute of it.
STAR TOWN (BBC 1978)
Still Tel couldn’t find that vehicle that allowed him to be as entertaining on the telly as he was on the radio. This was an undistinguished talent show were eight British towns battled it out to see which housed the most talented residents, to little effect, though some excitement came from the celebrity captains, including Stanley Unwin going in to bat for Coventry. Tel didn’t much enjoy it, not least because he had to drive up to Manchester to it after his radio show, then drive straight back, whych left him totally knackered.
BLANKETY BLANK (BBC 1979)
At last! Well, we all know what this is, although Tel initially turned it down because they showed him the Australian version (where it went under the slightly different name of Blankety Blanks) and he hated it, and it wasn’t until they convinced him to watch an episode of The Match Game that he decided to take it on. Immediately he realised this was the TV show for him, played for really low stakes and not to be taken seriously at all.
FRIDAY NIGHT SATURDAY MORNING (BBC 1980)
With its demented set and bizarre choice of hosts (ie Harold Wilson), Friday Night Saturday Morning was the very definition of “mixed bag”, though its lasting legacy came when it invited Tel to host an episode during the second series. His star guest was Larry Hagman, a man whom he’d been talking about non-stop for the previous year, and he proved himself so effective a chat show host, the hunt was on to find a format to allow him to do that on a regular basis.
WHAT’S ON WOGAN (BBC 1980)
YOU MUST BE JOKING (BBC 1981)
This wasn’t really it, though. As the trailer suggests, What’s On Wogan was a pretty low-concept affair, screened on Saturday teatimes, where seemingly the idea was that he’d just replicate the kind of thing he was doing on the radio, but with some celebrity guests. Inspiration was a bit harder to come by in front of the camera, though, and the only bit anyone remembers is Tel’s desk with each week featured an anagram of the programme’s name. Twelve months later, in exactly the same slot, came a panel show where members of the public were invited to guess whether the film clips Tel showed were true or false, which despite Beadle on scripting duty didn’t amount to much.
CHILDREN IN NEED (BBC 1980)
Tel had presented the Beeb’s Children In Need appeal a couple of times when it was just a five minute programme, and when the decision was taken to extend it to a whole evening, he took on the job of linking it all together. For the first five years it popped up between the programmes, and the first production was somewhat fraught, being shunted out to the Cunard Hotel in Hammersmith and with It Ain’t Half Hot Mum refusing to let them put the number on screen. By 1986 it enveloped the whole evening, but given Tel was presenting most other things on BBC1 by that point, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.
WOGAN (BBC 1982)
WOGAN (BBC 1983)
Same title, slightly different format. The first incarnation of Wogan was a low key show on a weeknight with a miscellany format that, initially, included celebrity gossip from Paula Yates. A year later, Tel was promoted to fill the Saturday night slot vacated by Parkinson, although Tel pointed out “My show will be different from Parkinson’s, because I am different from Parkinson”. The one innovation was that instead of the guests walking on stage to join Tel, he would walk to them, which was apparently quite big news. Tel’s relaxed approach ensured it was a hugely successful series, though, and he became renowned for helping a number of stars – such as Cilla Black and Freddie Starr – back from troughs in their careers. The link up there too features Tel’s favourite ever interview, with Mel Brooks.
WOGAN (BBC 1985)
Same title, but different again, this is the version everyone remembers, three nights a week at seven for seven years. Tel was actually very pleased with the extended run, thinking viewers had too high an expectation for weekly shows and he wanted a show that would just motor along and viewers could dip into and didn’t need to create a spectacle every episode. Sadly for Tel episode one’s most talked about moment was when he fell arse over tit while meeting Elton John. In many ways it was the eighties equivalent of The One Show, not a series you’d seek out but watch if the opposition didn’t appeal, and occasionally it could come up with the goods, like that episode up there based around the screening of the last episode of Dallas. We had hoped to feature all the title sequences, but though we’ve got the We’ve Got A Computer titles, we can’t find the turquoise jigsaw ones, alas. Tel was getting a bit bored by the end and thought a good time to pack it in would be 1991 when they’d reached a thousand episodes and the TV Theatre was closing down. However the Beeb demanded to carry on, relocating it to TV Centre and gaining these titles but then much to Tel’s embarrassment they almost immediately decided to axe it, Tel spending the final year going through the motions, with the odd innovation including some bizarre Partridge Over Britain-esque political debates.
STOPPIT AND TIDYUP (BBC 1988)
Presenting 150 shows a year didn’t leave Tel with much time for other stuff, though one hugely appealing diversion was his narration of this fondly remembered cartoon series, created by the Tidy Britain Group and with a fantastic musique concrete-inspired theme tune.
TERRY WOGAN’S FRIDAY NIGHT (BBC 1992)
Despite Wogan getting the chop, the Beeb didn’t want to lose Tel completely, though, and immediately gave him a new weekly show, safely after the watershed. Tel said it would be more than just a chat show, with guests “made to entertain”, and to emphasise the changes, Tel was behind a desk, joined by rotating sidekicks, including in this episode Frank Skinner, and mixing interviews with monologues and filmed reports. Although it lasted six months, it didn’t really work out, being a bit of an awkward blend of the old Wogan and some sub-Letterman bits of business, and Frank says Tel seemed a bit bored of the whole thing anyway. This episode, which is here almost in full, is worth a look though, because although we don’t have Frank’s Rothmans joke, we do have a discussion on women priests which, according to Frank’s autobiography, took on a rather different tone before it was edited with Cliff coming out rather badly, and a very familiar name on the writers’ credits.
DO THE RIGHT THING (BBC 1994)
During the run of his Friday night show, Tel returned to his old stomping ground of Radio 2 and it was immediately like he’d never been away, eventually presenting the breakfast show for far longer than he did the first time round, to wild acclaim. However he still had a golden handcuffs deal with BBC Television, which meant occasional shows like Auntie’s Bloomers, Eurovision and the odd interesting project like this. Each show featured a moral dilemma via a short drama and Tel invited a panel (including in the first series his old mate Frank Skinner), the studio audience and viewers at home to have their say, eventually opening up the phone lines to choose which (pre-recorded) ending would be shown. Though shown on Saturday nights in series one, series two was punted around weeknights before being dropped, though it made for mildly amiable viewing, and gave Russell T Davies a bit more cash to spend on Doctor Who memorabilia.
WOGAN’S WEB (BBC 1998)
Probably Tel’s only worthwhile telly gig since has been this short-lived but highly entertaining series. It was basically his radio show on the telly, though not a simulcast. As you can see, it was set in a mock-up radio studio and Tel, accompanied by Paul Walters, would simply chat, solicit letters and e-mails and meet a few guests for an hour at lunchtime. Freewheeling and fun, it did better than most shows in bringing Tel’s radio persona to the screen, but sadly it only lasted a month and never came back. For shame!