Exactly 50 years after his first words on the BBC, showbusiness stops to remember Terry Wogan

IT WAS at a quarter past noon on a September Tuesday that a young Irishman sat nervously in front of the microphone at Broadcasting House.

Chris Evans speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey

As the sing-along programme, Pick of The Past, drew to a close, he drew breath and intoned, “Welcome to Midday Spin.”

The 45-minute show on what was still called the Light Programme, was the BBC’s sop to the pirate pop stations that were beginning to eat into its audience.

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Few within the corporation took much notice. Fewer still would have wagered that exactly 50 years later, all of showbusiness would stop to salute a personality who had come to define the BBC itself.

Joanna Lumley speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey

Terry Wogan was already a minor celebrity in his native Ireland. But the state broadcaster, RTE, was an unreliable source of employment, and the BBC’s bigger, broader audience was impossible to resist.

Within a year of that first Midday Spin, the Light Programme would give way to Radios One and Two, and Wogan would be part of a presenting team that set the tone of popular broadcasting for a generation.

But Wogan was more than just a disc jockey. Few others have grown along with their audience, radiating such warmth and friendship that millions could close their eyes and believe he was talking just to them.

At today’s service of thanksgiving for Sir Terry at Westminster Abbey, it Chris Evans, was his successor on Radio Two’s breakfast show, who led the tributes. Wogan was, he said, always the best.

Sir Terry Wogan

The unforgettable Irish brogue could be heard at the service, which opened with recordings from his archive.

Katie Melua, who made her name with the help of Sir Terry, and Peter Gabriel sang at the moving event, which was attended by Sir Terry’s three children and his wife, whom he famously described as “the present Lady Wogan”.

The biggest names in broadcasting turned out for the event, A Service Of Thanksgiving For The Life And Work Of Sir Terry.

They included Dermot O’Leary, Claudia Winkleman, Fearne Cotton, Tess Daly, Joanna Lumley, Gloria Hunniford, Jimmy Carr, Eamonn Holmes, Ruth Langsford, Matt Baker and Jo Whiley.

Katie Melua performs during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey

Strictly Come Dancing co-host Winkleman said afterwards: “I thought the service was beautiful.”

The event included tributes from Sir Terry’s children and a poem especially co-written for the occasion by actress Lumley, in which she compared Sir Terry’s voice to “an aural, newly ripened peach”.

It ended with The Floral Dance, which was a hit for Sir Terry in 1978.

The BBC Concert Orchestra performed at the event, where Sir Terry was described as “a legend in his own lifetime.”

Claudia Winkleman leaves Westminster Abbey, London, following the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan.

The congregation was asked to donate to one of Sir Terry’s most beloved causes - Children In Need.

BBC director-general Tony Hall paid tribute, saying that Sir Terry was most proud of his work for Children In Need - he fronted the main appeal show from its inception in 1980 to 2014.

He also spoke of the broadcaster’s “numerous” and “memorable” Eurovision quips, adding: “My own favourite comes from 2007, when he announced as the coverage began: ‘Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually I do, I’ve seen the rehearsals!’”

He called Sir Terry a “national treasure” and thanked him “for giving us so much sheer unalloyed joy”.

Evans told how Sir Terry invited him for lunch when the younger broadcaster landed the job hosting the Radio 1 breakfast show, going head to head with the veteran Radio 2 star.

Evans said that he had been “gifted” ...”the single most useful piece of advice” about broadcasting “from the great man himself”.

Peter Gabriel performs during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey

After a marathon lunch, rounds of golf, dinner and plenty of alcohol consumed, Evans suggested, close to midnight, that the pair get the bill.

“’Well’, said Sir Terry. ‘I never had you down as a quitter’.”

When Evans asked whether “even you” have to prepare just “a little bit” for the following day’s breakfast show, Sir Terry “looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

“He looked at me and said ‘it’s very simple. They either like you or they don’t’,” Evans recounted.

“Of course he was exactly right.”

Sir Terry died in January at 77, following a battle with cancer.

the actress Joanna Lumley summed up his appeal in a new poem, co-written with songwriter Sir Richard Stilgoe, entitled For The Former Greatest Living Irishman.

She compares Limerick-born Sir Terry’s voice to an “aural newly-ripened peach/That never spoke to all, but spoke to each” in the poem, written especially for the service.

“I think he was the tops, the cat’s miaow,” she says.

“For pity’s sake, who else would you allow/To mutter in your ear each dawn of days/Just rambling on, with nothing on his mind?/A brainy burbling, charming us to shreds/When we should long have risen from our beds.”

Ms Lumley, who provided one of Children In Need’s most memorable moments when she stripped off to her underwear on live television in 1983 as host Sir Terry pretended to yawn, will add: “If he was here I’d kiss his handsome face/And tell him that they simply broke the mould/ When he was made.”

Sir Terry, who died in January at 77, and whose career spanned more than four decades, was known for his long-running BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, his chat shows, Children In Need and his often blistering commentary on the Eurovision Song Contest.

Chris Evans, who took over the Radio 2 breakfast show from Sir Terry, will give a tribute at the service.

Fellow Radio 2 broadcaster Ken Bruce will read WB Yeats’ The Song Of Wandering Aengus at the special service, which marks the 50th anniversary of his first radio broadcast for the BBC.

The Abbey worked with the BBC and the family of Sir Terry in planning today’s event.

Sir Terry’s children Alan Wogan, Mark Wogan and Katherine Cripps will pay tribute to their father’s “love of our mother, his children and grandchildren”...”his true understanding of charity” and his “empathy and selfless wisdom” and his “life’s work, warmth and humour...his gentleness and for his love of people”.

The broadcaster’s marriage was one of the most solid in showbusiness and Sir Terry affectionately called his wife Helen “the present Lady Wogan” on air.

Music by George Frideric Handel, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar among others will be played by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Dubbed a “national treasure”, Sir Terry was last on air on BBC Radio 2 on November 8 last year.

Days later, he was forced to pull out of presenting Children In Need at the last minute owing to health issues.

It was later announced that he had died, with a family statement saying: “Sir Terry Wogan died after a short but brave battle with cancer. He passed away surrounded by his family.”

BBC Director-General Tony Hall at the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
Stevie Spring, Chairman of BBC Children In Need, speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
The Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
A general view of guest during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
Jimmy Carr leaves Westminster Abbey, London, following the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan.
Joanna Lumley speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
Sir Terry Wogan
Katie Melua performs during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
Claudia Winkleman leaves Westminster Abbey, London, following the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan.
Peter Gabriel performs during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
BBC Director-General Tony Hall at the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
Stevie Spring, Chairman of BBC Children In Need, speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
The Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
A general view of guest during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, speaks during the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey
Jimmy Carr leaves Westminster Abbey, London, following the Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Terry Wogan.