Wit, humour and geniality; some tv accolades broadcast this morning. 31st January, 2016.
So for me it was with great sadness when I heard Sir Terry Wogan had died after a short yet brave fight with cancer. Such sorrow, as for many years in the 1980s he played a major part in my life. In fact I would say that Terry and his Radio Show kick-started my writing career.
Terry has a special place in my heart and that of my partner, Bryan. For many years in the late seventies and eighties the two of us tuned in to his Radio 2 radio show to follow stories and jokes. At the time we were both married to other people but, when I discovered Bryan had written some of the stories that Terry read out on air, I took more interest. Wasn’t that what I always wanted – to be a writer?
Not only did my social gathering of girlfriends know that Bryan Anders wrote to the big Tel but he would turn up at local dinner parties with his latest letter recording on the old style cassettes. At home, he even bought a special music centre with double cassette ports so he could transfer his own letters to a master tape for posterity.
Initially, I joined my friends in decrying his obsession with Terry’s show, his fast accumulation of countrywide friends, who also wrote to the show, and who called themselves TWITS (Terry Wogan Is Tops Society). They began to phone each other, to convey congratulations on the wit and humour in the letters and the manner in which Terry read them. At the time I was absorbed in pursuing the onset of my teaching career and my three daughters who were, by now, all at school and in numerous local activities. I spent my life driving to and from swimming pools, ballet classes and drama rehearsals. I really didn’t have the time. But I found, as you do, that if you love something enough, you can indeed find the space in your life.
After one dinner party, where we were subjected to yet another offering from Bryan that had been used on Radio 2 – I believe it was the start of the duvet debate – my friend Jill and I had a conversation which was to change my life forever. We were laughing at how serious Bryan’s addiction was, musing that there was an element of showmanship in his endeavours. I suggested that, if one of us wrote to the morning show, it might take the glow off his domination of the airwaves in our small Middlesex village. I was already listening to the show during breakfast and during my short car journey to College each morning, so I knew which themes which were being broadcast. We agreed that all the girls in our Mums’ group would listen and I would record the programme on cassette so that I could show off my efforts at the next school dance or dinner party. In our words, this would put our dear Bryan in his place.
That evening I sat down at my Olympia portable typewriter and composed something I thought would fit the present bill. I then scribbled over it and retyped it, addressed it to the BBC and popped it into the post. Little did I know that I was about to set alight a love affair which would endure for 40 years.
But on that day I knew little of what might happen. I knew the pattern was to post one day, Terry would read it after his next morning show and select letters to read the following morning. I wrote my first letter on the Monday night, posted on the Tuesday and on Wednesday rose early to begin recording the show. About 7.45am I heard my name – ‘Di Castle of Ickenham’ and then an unabridged reading of my letter. I can still remember the thrill and how I ran around the house shouting ‘He’s read it, he’s read it.’
Five minutes later the telephone rang and a voice at the other end said ‘so I have competition … …’. I remember worrying I had annoyed him and hoped this would not end what was a lovely friendship I had with this guy, but never anticipated what was to come in the months and years to come.
From that day we would arrange to send letters on different days – our theory was that Terry was unlikely to read two letters from Ickenham on one day. On one occasion, however, we did have letters read on the same day with Terry announcing ‘here’s another listener from Ickenham.’
Sometimes Terry introduced my letter as ‘From Ickenham …. Di Castle …’ but months later when I had moved to Hillingdon he announced a letter as from ‘Mad Di of Hillingdon’. I was thrilled. I was referred to as Mad Di for several letters and even headed them up with my new title but then the ‘mad’ was dropped.
Bryan and I both recorded the show each day and would dub cassettes with the other’s letters and chase round to each other’s houses to drop tapes through the door. We also liaised to ensure we did not coincide and ruin the chances of a good letter being read out. We decided early on that our chances were less if both Ickenham contributors had also posted.
Sometimes, we wanted a letter to go out earlier. There was urgency perhaps; a theme that could fade and we wanted to get our contribution in for the next possible programme. Bryan would drive round to my house in Hillingdon and I would jump in the car which then sped into central London and Broadcasting House. Bryan would race into reception and hand in his letter thus saving the delay of one day using postal delivery. I suppose we were both obsessed. I know all our seven children thought we were although there was a hint of some Kudos at school as their parents were frequently aired on Radio 2.
Of course, these days, letters would go by email, via the Radio 2 website and via Twitter. In the eighties, we only had snail mail and, while Bryan wrote his letters in perfect handwritten script, mine were typed on the old Olympia portable with lashings of Tippex over the errors.
We were having so much fun, following the themes of the programme, adding ideas to existing themes and commenting on topics in the news with the humorous punchline that we could both do so well. It was clear early on in our relationship that we shared a unique sense of humour and a sense of what would appeal to Terry on his show, which is why we were so successful. In two years, I had 120 letters read out on the show and Bryan around one hundred, a lower figure he has always resented!
But there were other knock-on effects which brought much pleasure. Bryan had always been good at contacting people and making friends. He contacted other writers to the programme and some of them were in touch with other writers so within a few months we had about ten contributors who all wanted to be in touch and we even started a magazine called the Twit Times written and edited by us which included funny letters and photographs, most of which related to the Radio 2 show and Terry Wogan. We began to meet up in London. Around this time a member made contact with Terry’s agent and what followed was one memorable occasion when we met up with the Great Man.
Then the devastating blow that was the announcement that the Terry Wogan show on Radio 2 would finish in December 1983. We were bereft but not deterred. We were already in touch with Terry’s agent and she made contact with us prior to the last show asking if we would come on the programme for his final goodbye. Discussions took place with Radio 2 and with us and we were finally invited to the last show to appear on the programme and to be entertained afterwards to a champagne breakfast in the roof-top restaurant adjacent to BBC Broadcasting House. I had to ask for a day off from my teaching job but my Head of Department was a Terry fan so there was no problem there
And so it was that, in late 1983, ten of us TWITS arrived at BBC Broadcasting House, to be treated as royalty and taken to the studio, the room where our many letters had been read on air. As well as Bryan and I there was Mike Walsh, Len Horridge, Alison Walker-Moorcroft, Betty Collyer, Nancy Chilver, Katie Mallet, Pat Stimpson and Frankie Bain. We were interviewed and, as pre-arranged – we presented Terry with a ‘Gong’. This had been organised by Bryan Anders and our names were engraved on it. Terry had often bemoaned his lack of knighthood or recognition in the ‘honours list’ so our Gong was a token of our respect as, at the time, we didn’t think he would ever receive one. But, of course, he did eventually become Sir Terry Wogan and no-one was more pleased than the ten TWITS.
Our experience at the rooftop restaurant is a day we will always remember but during the programme we had been able to write down what we wanted Terry to mention. For example, Bryan wrote something about his sons not liking the fact that he wrote to the programme and Terry read this out. I wrote down dedications to my three daughters, also duly read out. When the show was over and we had presented Tel with his Gong, we departed for the restaurant. The photographs are evidence of our ultimate thrill at being part of this final radio event.
The Terry experience was not over. We were then invited to Terry’s first television show and for a meal afterwards. During this programme, Terry tripped down the steps. He was not used to television and we were all aware that he was better suited to radio. However, his chat show endured and we attended several other programmes and were entertained by Terry in a nearby restaurant afterwards.
Is it any wonder that Bryan and I have such fond memories of Terry Wogan? After all, writing letters to his radio programme is what brought us together. When we eventually married in 1988 there was a telegram from him which read:
‘Those who Terry Wogan has brought together, let no man set asunder.’
It has not all been plain sailing but 35 years on we are still a couple. We do not live together but have separate flats in a large building overlooking Swanage bay towards Old Harry Rocks. We have fantastic days out, fun meals together, enjoy holidays and family events. Not a day goes by but we don’t remember the famous guy whose lovely radio programme and wonderful delivery of our funny letters made our life what it is today.
When we heard the news of Terry’s death we were both consumed with grief. I was away with family but listened to the Richard Madeley programme as I travelled back down the M3 to the south coast. Richard was standing in for Terry and had been doing so for a few weeks. He expected Terry to return in a couple of weeks but it was not to be. Today, 31st January, he played the songs that Terry loved and played on his turntable in the eighties and even more recently on his show. From the first song to the last, tears rushed down my cheeks.
They were ‘our songs’. The songs we shared during the early days of our relationship and the songs which had so much meaning for us.
Not many couples will ever have what we have – the memories of a great broadcaster – a legend in the BBC – reading our scripts without alteration, making listeners laugh, being part of our lives.
It is the greatest gift to make someone laugh. To bring pleasure. To bring smiles to faces.
And that is what we did for two or three years.
It is clear to me now – and I believed it would happen then – that Terry Wogan, Sir Terry Wogan to most, kickstarted my writing career. After our experience with his Radio 2 show, I sat down to write a humorous novel, and then a second. They did not get further than an agent’s shelf but I never gave up and the result eventually was, Grandma’s Poetry Book, which I know has given pleasure to so many with its humour and observation of the funnier side of life. Numerous other articles have won prizes or been showcased on websites. The humour from the Terry years is present in each and every one.
So what can I say on this saddest of days. He was a one-off, a generous, unassuming man with a tremendous intelligence and wit, warm and witty. We will not see his like again.
And Bryan and I are so very grateful. Grateful that we knew him personally, that we had a special link with his radio programme and the funny themes perpetrated by the big man himself and the TWITs. The TOGs came later but we had the best of times with Terry.
Today, my phone, email and Facebook page have been splurged with condolences and messages from friends who know how important this man was in our life together. We will never forget and will be forever in his debt for providing a medium that brought us together for life.