The day Sir Terry put me in my place – and proved his genius

I remember running into work once because of a tube strike. On went the barely-used tracksuit bottoms and a faded T-shirt. Shattered by the end, I just about made the six miles from my home in west London: jogging across Hyde Park to the Radio 2 building at Oxford Circus.  

Out of breath and bathed in sweat, I stumbled into BBC reception. To my embarrassment, as I waited for the lift, another figure joined me ― Sir Terry Wogan, on his way to present the breakfast show, wearing a perfectly-pressed cream linen suit.

The two of us got into the cramped Radio 2 elevator. Me sweaty; him as cool as a cucumber, carrying his leather briefcase. Terry was going to the  sixth floor where his studio was located, and I was about to press the lift button for the second when I looked at my watch.

“Good grief, Terry,” I said. “It’s twenty-eight minutes past. You’re on the air in two minutes.”

He replied, “Yes, I’m early this morning.”

Concerned that stopping for my floor might make him late, I say we should go straight to the sixth so he can get out of the lift first.

“Fine by me!” he says cheerfully in that famous baritone.

He exits at the sixth and I go down to my office and turn the radio on. The news ends, the Radio 2 jingle plays and the voice we all knew so well says, “Hello, it’s Terry Wogan.”

He then tells his listeners — “You know, one of the great things about a tube strike is that you get to meet your colleagues in the strangest places. So in the lift this morning, there was Jeremy Vine. Just finished a six-mile run from Hammersmith. And believe me ―” here he pauses, as if inhaling deeply ― “you could tell.”

Standing in my office, I remember thinking: that is the genius of Wogan. He arrives to do his breakfast show with seconds to spare, and the first link is something that happened in the lift. And the subtlety, too ― he never said, “Vine was drenched in sweat, and he ponged something terrible.” He just stopped for an instant as if finally able to breathe fresh air, and the point was made.

I first heard him on the breakfast show when I was six years old. I vividly remember him playing “Waterloo” by Abba on a tiny transistor radio in the kitchen before school. He was the voice on the school run too, morning after morning. Imagine how it felt for me, thirty years later and with a deep love of radio, to join Wogan’s station and be able to get to know the man in person.

What can I say about him? If you ever heard or watched Wogan, there is not much I can add: you already knew him. The Wogan I met was courteous and friendly, as well as hugely encouraging to the new boy on Radio 2 (which he did not have to be). A person cannot do half a century at the top of broadcasting if they have two different selves, one for the show and one for the rest of life. Wogan’s kindness and sincerity were real.

There was a beautiful moment when the Queen visited Broadcasting House in the nineties. “How long have you worked here?” she asked Terry, who was part of the official welcome. He replied: “Your majesty, nobody works here.” It was a nod to the beautiful chaos of the BBC (his longest-running jokes were always at the expense of the management), but also to the love Terry felt for his job. Which was not a job at all.

There is a strong argument that he is the greatest music broadcaster since the invention of the microphone. His fame was partly through television, but TV is obsessed with what is new; radio thrives on continuity. In television you need one show to make history; in radio it is ten thousand. Radio gave Terry longevity and it was the innate intimacy of the medium that caused him to be so loved.

For me, it all boiled down to an answer Terry gave when someone asked him how many people listened to his breakfast programme. At the time it was breaking records, and he could easily have said nine million.

But his answer was different.  “Only one.”

Which was the approach that made him great. If you ever heard Sir Terry Wogan speak on the radio, you believed he was speaking only to you.

Jeremy Vine official website

(This story was written for the Daily Mail)

55 Comments

  • David says:

    Great story Jezza he was a true genius.
    He will be so sadly missed

    • Neil Paterson says:

      Hi Jeremy,
      I to am the same age as you and remember listening early Radio 1 and 2 and many other stations as a youngster. However I always ended up coming back to Radio 2. Sir Terry was an institution and I loved listening to him in the mornings. To be in fits of laughter at Janet and John and other many funny moments was a joy .The presenters past and present have made Radio 2 the best station to listen to by far . Sir Terry will be missed by all who love radio the world is a slightly duller place with his passing . Wishing his family strength at this sad time.

  • George Drummond says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    Your tribute to Terry was heartfelt and touching, he will indeed be sadly missed but we still have some great Jocs on Radio 2 and you are one of the very best.

    Keep up your good work it is greatly appreciated

    regards from Scotland

    George Drummond

  • Jim says:

    It’s as if my favourite Uncle has passed away, very sad.

  • Helen Fox says:

    An absolutely beautiful and fitting tribute to a great broadcaster that was Sir Terry Wogan. You have such a wonderful way with words, Jeremy and feel he was just as lucky to have known and worked with you, as you with him. Definitely two of the world’s most sincere and genuine presenters. RIP Terry, you will be sorely missed. God bless you, and thoughts and prayers with your lovely wife and children.

  • Cate says:

    Thank you for your lovely tribute to Terry, he was a giant and a true original. I listen to your show every day and love the varied content and debates.

  • Ian Cross says:

    Hi listen to your show everyday , i grew up with Terry, seemingly the one constant in this ever changing world , and i feel will be missed by us all , thank you all for keeping us company though the days of ours lives , though the rainy days in the sunshine , the cold nights and the foggy days ,R.I.P Sir Terry . Much love to you all .

  • Mark Driver says:

    Jeremy, you spoke on your radio show recently about people grieving for celebrities they have never met, as though they were part of the family. I couldn’t understand this, even though I grew up listening to Bowie, I felt shock and a little sadness when he died but soon got on with my normal daily life. Sir Terry’s passing yesterday however, put me in the other camp. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him but yesterday I felt like a close family member had died. He was a gentleman, an inspiration and above all, he was real!

    My heart goes out to his family, close friends, and extended friends like me. He will be dearly missed.

  • Margaret says:

    Lovely tribute Jeremy. He was everyone’s best friend as well as a great broadcaster who always looked on the bright side.

  • Jane says:

    Great Tribute! I knew him through Golf and when I asked him if he had any friends that would like to join the club he turned and gave me that lovely smile and said “oh Jane you know I don’t have any friends” to which I replied “yes I heard that”!! he laughed out loud. We have lost a great man and it feels like everyone has lost a friend. Rest peacefully dear man xxx

  • Lee eckersall says:

    Jeremy i listen to you every day and your words never fail to hit the right spot.
    Terry was a legend and will be sorely missed, his wit charm and personality just brightened the cloudiest day. Sometimes the word legend is over used but this sums up Sir Terry perfectly

  • Christine Norman-Smith says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a great man, thank you Jeremy. I think we all feel we have lost a friend even though some of us had never met him.

  • Anne says:

    Jeremy, that’s such lovely tribute. At a couple of low points in life the only thing that got me up in the morning was Terry, just knowing that friendly voice was at the end of a switch. I listened to Terry when we were fighting the flab until his last day. Some days I laughed all the way to work just at him laughing and other days I would cry, when out of the blue he would play ‘Morning Town Ride or Welcome to my World’ just like this morning with the Chris Evans tribute. First I cried then I couldn’t see for laughing. RIP Terry I loved you.

  • Karen Tuck says:

    Jeremy. Thank you for your heartfelt tribute. We have lost so many greats this year already but only one ‘leg end’. It is indeed as if we have lost a favourite family member. We who are lucky to have grown up with Sir Terry are truly bereft.
    Keep up the great work yourself. Another stalwart of ‘BBC radio 2’

  • Susan Porter says:

    Terry Wogan was my companion every morning listening to R2. His ‘Pause for Thought’ slot made me do just that. I was devastated when he left but always listened to his Sunday show. He made me laugh so much and now I cry at his passing. My thoughts go out to his family. RIP Sir Terry and thank you for being you x

  • sally joyce says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    Like you school morning started with Wake up to Wogan, evenings doing home work watching Blankety Blank and the chat show, he will be sorely missed Sx

  • Simon Barnes says:

    Jeremy – thanks for that. From what everyone has said he was the same on the microphone as off it. I’m the same age as you – born April ’65 and my mum always had him on the radio.
    I seem to remember he also did an oxo advert with his wife?
    You’re now the elder generation – hope you’re around as long as he was. He’ll be missed 🙁

  • Ann Knaepen says:

    He was a monument also for the Belgium people

  • Carole Paton says:

    The very genuine affection for this kind and friendly man should be a lesson to all of us. Kindness is magic and the World would be a nicer place if we all behaved more like Terry Wogan.

  • vanessa wilde says:

    Lovely story about a great man, who will be so deeply missed by many. My only quibble, Jimmy Savile proved that you can be at the top in broadcasting for 50 years and present one persona to the world while living another reality. So it is always good to know that the reality lives up to the public image.

  • Pauline Garlick says:

    Thanks Jeremy, great memory, he was so laid back it relaxed the listener. I mailed Paul Waters the morning after Diana’s death on their professionalism and applauded them for still presenting a radio show when all the world was at a loss to understand the tragic event. It was almost like a warm blanket that said “It’ll be all right” and despite all the mail they must have had that morning I got a lovely email back from Paul Waters thanking me. I love you The Jeremy Vine blog videos too.

  • Jackie Saxton says:

    Thank you for welcoming me to your website. I couldn’t have put my thoughts better than Helen Fox, 9.44am. Terry was brilliant, may he rest in peace.

  • John Williams says:

    Such a sad loss. Sir Terry was the voice and face everyone knew, I feel I have known him all my life. Even now living in New Zealand for 14 years he was on UKTV often. RIP Sir Terry, that cheeky glint in the eye, the cheeky smile and that most wonderful voice all will be missed.

  • David Levitt says:

    Lovely story Jeremy. Watching all the tributes the one thing that stands out is what a genuine and nice man he was.

    I watched the episode he hosted of ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ yesterday where he completely ruled the show and left all concerned with tears in there eyes.

    I think a lot of people had tears in their eyes yesterday – there will be more but I think tears of laughter too.

  • Des says:

    Not a TOG anymore just an OG God bless you Terry

  • jane green says:

    lovely tribute Jeremy he was a legend in every sense of the word,i remember wathing him in a taxi programme with mason McQueen he was great in it as usual.i also listen to your show Jeremy I also watched and enjoyed you on strictly

  • Great tribute Jezza. He sounds a grand lad off air as well as on.

  • Brian Beech says:

    Great story Jeremy,Terry always seemed to be there radio1,2.chat shows blankety blank,children in need etc.its going to be a sadder world without him.his shows always manadged to cheer me up.loved Janet and John and his laugh.

  • Tracey Haden says:

    Great tribute. The radio yesterday and today has been compulsive listening with all the memories of a lovely gentleman.

    PS Thank goodness you are back as I struggle to listen when it is VP standing in for you. I find her very patronising to those she interviews.

  • Helen McLean says:

    Such a lovely story to share. I love to read your points of view. You’re such a gentleman and I thank SCD for opening you up to me! Please keep up the excellent work…..I feel that I know you X X

  • Christine Neal says:

    I was a fan TW for as long ago as he started out on Radio 2. I would always listen as often as I could and when my children were born and I was at home every day he became ‘my friend’. I did write to him once and he read my letter. He did make me believe he was talking to me. When my now husband moved in with me he asked if I would not tune in to the TW show as ‘he couldn’t stand the man’. I ignored his request and before long he also became a life long fan

  • Lianne Ridgway says:

    I’m very sad about Terry’s passing. Others have likened his voice to a comfort blanket. This is a perfect comparison. Night Terry.

  • Quintin says:

    Nice tribute. It does feel we have lost a member of the national household

  • Wendy says:

    I always wanted to be Sir Terry Wogan. I didn’t make it but enjoyed the journey as in sure he did. Great story!

  • Rod Rippin says:

    That was well done Jeremy.RIP Terry.

  • Lisa Verwaerde says:

    Great tribute to Sir Terry. I can’t stop the tears; every time I read or hear something about him, the news hits me afresh and I’m devastated again. He was always there and I thought he always would be. May he rest in peace.

  • Catherine Moir says:

    That’s lovely comments of great man loved by the nation.Terry Wogan was a one off great entertainer,and you Ard so right Jeremy he was only talking to me,it takes a very special person to make us believe that.RIP terry much love to his Family. Thank you Jeremy your post with us to pass on our thoughts <3 x

  • BARBARA LAMBOURNE says:

    What a lovely tribute to someone I feel I have known forever, someone who was always around on the radio and tv. I have so much admiration and love for Terry and he made me laugh all the time when I used to listen to his morning show in the 70’s/80’s whilst getting ready for work. He was like a best friend even though I never met him. He was charming, kind, funny and genuine, a truly lovely man. I will never forget him.

  • Heather says:

    I’ve been crying and laughing all day. Your story was lovely.

  • Andy Wood says:

    Beautiful and poignant.
    A man I never knew but felt I could trust with my most intimate secrets.
    A man of wisdom, wit and a cheeky glint.
    A man who brought control with a calmness and serenity.
    A man of eloquence.
    A man who gave respect and earned respect in a flicker.
    A man of dignity.
    A man, a treasure.
    A man I will miss.

  • Barrie Crabb says:

    What a lovely tribute for such a decent human being….we should all take a step back and conduct our lives in a similar fashion…. If only !

  • Brett says:

    Its very sad news. I particularly liked his “Terry and Masons great food trip” even though it was only the tip of the iceberg of his career. A genuinely funny and joyful human being.

  • Sue says:

    I loved listening to Terry on the radio, not many people could make me smile, let alone laugh out loud in the mornings! He did have a wonderful knack of talking just to you, and he really will be deeply missed by everyone. I send my love and thoughts to his family, with thanks for sharing this wonderful warm person with us all. God bless Tog master…you are greatly missed xx

  • Linda Lester says:

    Couldn’t wait to get in my car to go to work in the morning, to listen to Terry – he made me laugh and chuckle (sometimes at the expense of Alan Dedicote (Deadly))! Will miss his voice and his sense of fun.

  • LENA WORLE says:

    I loved Terry, even now every time I see his smile on the t.v which is often at the moment, I smile. He has that affect on everybody. As I told my Facebook friends, I haven’t seen such an outpouring of love at the loss of an entertainer since I was 10 years old. We had no televisions or telephones. Radio was our entertainment and a much loved entertainer, Tommy Handley had suddenly died. He had a show called ITMA amongst others. A group of us boys and girls were telling the grown ups as they were coming home. Everyone was so sad, we had all lost a best friend. Tommy had a Memorium Service at St Paul’s Cathedral. I enjoyed listening and watching Terry in anything including the last programme with the Taxi Driver, they came to Wells near my home. It was a brilliant programme and Terry looked so well just showing a bit of Silver in his hair like the rest of us oldies. May I add Jeremy that I like you too. Pete, my old chap watch Eggheads and love the way you sometimes put the Eggheads down and boost the brave contestants. Thank you BBC for giving us Terry and Jeremy.

  • Roger Gant says:

    You know it is both refreshing and sad to learn he was as the impression we all had of him. A genuine, caring, amusing, warm and talented man, without airs or graces. Refreshing, he was as we hoped and even sadder for us having learnt that, he has left us all so suddenly. RIP Sir Terry

  • A lovely tribute to a great guy. And now… It’s up to you and your colleagues at BBC radio to pick up the baton. Thank you for all you do. I’m sure Sir Terry was as proud of you as we the listeners are.

  • Trevor Hardy says:

    Such a terrible loss. Terry Wogan is part of that old school Britain. The charming, engaging and warm Britain…the cheeky seaside postcard, dads army, carry on…when someone like Terry Wogan leaves us, that little part of Britain crumbles into the sea and is gone forever. RIP Terry, you were a top man.

  • izabela says:

    I feel like a family member has passed away and I am not even English. This sad news really threw me. I so loved listening to Terry Wogan.
    Loved your eulogy Jeremy.

  • Sue Abbott says:

    Thank you for such a nice story. I used to travel to Huddersfield from Manchester to work and the journey was such fun with Terry, I seemed to laugh all the way. When he did Janet & John I still wonder how I managed to carry on driving whilst laughing my head off.
    The M62 is infamous for huge traffic jams but the good part was I got to listen to more Wogan.
    Purely by luck I retired a week before he left R2 had I still been working the journey would have been terrible.

  • Elaine Rutter says:

    What a lovely tribute to Sir Terry,as always you say it with obvious love and respect, he wiĺ be sadly missed. Love listening to your show.

  • pete sheppard says:

    Hi Jeremy I am sixty years old and have listened to radio 2 for most of my working life.I have to say that the presenters become part of your life and you begin to feel as though they are close friends.Terry was missed when he retired as will some of the others when the time comes for them to hang up the microphone but on will always stand out as the best and that will be SIR TERRY. God bless his real family and may he rest in peace. His radio family will always remember him
    PETE EASTBOURNE

  • Julie Franklin says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Jeremy. He was a constant, in all of our lives forever it seems. I will miss him. Please keep on doing what you do so well Jeremy, from your radio show to egg heads to entertaining dancing! X

  • Juliet Prior says:

    Thanks Jeremy for summing up what we all felt for Terry. He will be missed so much but we all have so many happy memories of him that as sad as we feel now a smile appears when we recall him. RIP Terry and our thought are with his family

  • Anna O'Leary says:

    Jeremy, you are so right about Terry. Laid back and quietly charming is how I’d describe him. I met him a few times, thanks to my late friend, jazz singer Anne Bushnell, who knew Terry from their days in Dublin.

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