Terry Wogan 1938-2016: ‘I prefer not to think of the Grim Reaper’

Terry with Keith Wood after the broadcaster was conferred with an honorary doctorate from UL in 2004.

“It’s a possibility when I lie on me deathbed that I’ll say a few prayers, just in case.”

With that usual twinkle in the eye, that was Terry Wogan’s response when I broached the topics of death and health with him.

He had just finished his morning BBC radio programme, having risen at 5.30am. And finding time for me and my notebook was not a bother on him. As we walked from the BBC building in Shepherd’s Bush to a nearby hotel, a man of the streets clutching a bottle of alcohol shouted: “Hi, Terry.”

Acknowledging the misfortunate soul, Terry replied: “Take care of yourself.” Time for everybody. That was the essence of this generous man.

As we talked, he spoke about how good his health was. This was February 2000.

“But I am susceptible to flu. I think this is a result of a holiday in Kilkee when I got a virus pneumonia and that makes you susceptible and I get flu almost every year.”

When I ventured into the subject of the hereafter, Terry paused: “I prefer not to think about the Grim Reaper and I don’t subscribe to religion. A belief in God is a great consolation to people. It’s a possibility when I lie on me deathbed that I’ll say a few prayers, just in case.”

But whatever about religion, he had great respect for the Jesuits and nuns who educated him as a boy.

He recalled: “I started school at the Salesians [nuns] and then when I was about eight I went to the Jesuits in the Crescent. Fr ‘Snitch’ McLoughlin was the prefect of studies. He was a stern disciplinarian. But he was a great friend to my mother when my father died.

“Great school friends from those days were James Sexton, now a solicitor in Limerick. Others I palled around with were Bill Hayes, John Horgan, who is a very distinguished surgeon, and Michael Leahy. Des O’Malley was in the same class and sat directly behind me. A great friend of our family was Gordon Wood [former rugby international and father of Keith Wood]. He would often go fishing with my father. Gordon was one of my heroes, along with Paddy Berkery.”

On his love of sport in his native city he said: “Limerick soccer was my life then. I remember watching Mick Lipper, the Collopy brothers. That team was my life for about 10 years and I hardly missed a game at the Markets Field.”

The Wogans moved to Dublin when Terry was 15.

He said: “My father was manager of Leverett and Fry in Limerick and he was made general manager for the entire chain of about 20 stores they had in Ireland.

“I was very sad leaving Limerick as I had to leave behind all my friends at an important time of my life.”

On his early starts for radio work he said: “I usually get up around 5.30am and a chauffeur gets me to the studio by 7am. I do little or no preparatory work.”

On the day we met, he was heading for lunch at the Garrick, one of London’s most exclusive clubs.

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