Why I prefer to Wake Up To Wogan

The Irish veteran's warm-hearted whimsy is far preferable to the quarrelsome heavyweight news on Today.

Patrick West
Columnist

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I’ve always been amazed and confused by people who listen to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. This appears to be a habit that afflicts both left- and right-wing people. But is it an affliction? Or an affectation?

I suspect that people listen to Today just to show off. Announcing to colleagues first thing in the morning ‘Did you hear that interview on the Today programme? It was brilliant/disgraceful’ seems to me a boastful declaration of intellectual rigour, as if to imply that you are sharp and on-the-ball right from the moment you have awakened.

I can’t think of a worse way to start the day than to be subjected to John Humphrys, Sarah Montague or James Naughtie being so efficiently quarrelsome, and needlessly haranguing their guests at half-past-seven in the morning. Morningtide is a time to digest information, not to interpret it. If I want immediate news, I’ll go to BBC Radio Five Live, which, despite its traffic reports and emphasis on cricket, tennis and other boring sports, just principally tells you what’s going on in the world.

Consider a parallel: when you read a newspaper, do you plough through the news pages before you read the comment section? Or are you the kind of bigoted weirdo who reads comment first? The Today programme has got things all the wrong way round. It is often accused of left-wing bias, and not without some justification, but this misses the point: its format is fundamentally flawed. For this reason it is always going to get things wrong. Placed in different hands it could as easily propagate right-wing propaganda, just as Fox News – a station that similarly wittingly or unwittingly blurs news and comment – does on television.

‘Thought for the Day’, the daily, two-minute religious muse, is especially ridiculous, and the argument over whether it should feature atheist guests is a redundant distraction. It would be as equally undesirable to be awoken by Mr Angry Atheist telling us that ‘you’re all stupid and credulous and I’m so brilliant and clever and above all you plebeian scumbags’ as it would be to be subjected to the Reverend Nice-But-Dim emitting formulaic, vacuous platitudes about ‘social justice’ and ‘the need for mutual understanding’. And who on earth in their right mind wants to listen to Robert Peston first thing in the morning?

I prefer the advice of another man with some experience of economics: the former banker Terry Wogan, the doyen of BBC Radio 2 morning broadcasts, on and off, since 1972 (1). Terry Wogan represents most that is good about BBC radio today.

The BBC’s television output has been constantly criticised for a multitude of reasons for many years, but its radio stations have also come in for flak in recent times. Radio 4’s perceived left-wing bias is believed not merely to reside in the Today programme but also in its other morning stalwart, Woman’s Hour, a repository of malcontent and self-pitying narcissism. This is a show on which I recently heard a feature on how a woman actually discovered Uranus, but, wait for it, ‘men took the credit for it’, it being another example of ‘women being hidden from history’. These kind of features remind you of those ethnic-brown-nosing books protesting how the ancient Celts actually invented the helicopter and how the Zulus first split the atom, but how this was all covered up by nasty white men.

Then there are Radio 4’s afternoon plays, which seem invariably to feature ethnic minority women in some terrible dilemma that is the fault of Western patriarchy. And evening kicks off with one of its comedy shows in which Hugh Dennis makes some repetitious, unfunny riposte about Daily Mail readers. Hardy-bloody-ha.

BBC Radio 3 has also been the subject of ire. It is now in the unenviable position of being accused by traditional listeners of ‘dumbing down’, while most traditional Classic FM listeners such as myself still find Radio 3, on the contrary, deliberately obtuse, and interpret its resistance to playing any popular nineteenth-century classics as a sign of snootiness and hostility. Radio 1’s detractors do have a more solid and consistent point, as Radio 1 djs are universally accepted to be complete cocks. And Radio 2 didn’t make any friends with the public after the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand debacle.

But what is endearing about Radio 2? Jeremy Vine’s lunchtime show is a fine mixture of music and political conversation: undidactic and intelligent without being formulaically belligerent. Before him is Ken Bruce, the smooth, kindly Scottish grand-daddy we all wish we’d had, and before him is Wogan himself: the impish and self-deprecatory Irish uncle we’d all wish we’d had.

I understand why people don’t like Wogan. He does seem to get paid a great deal of money. But so does Clarkson. Yet both have a huge following that warrants their wages (I find that as a general rule, if a presenter is known by his surname alone, he is worth paying for). Wogan does have his own posse of sycophants giggling at his jokes in the background. His jokes are awful – but they are meant to be awful. What is more, I suspect that his self-deprecatory image is just that. You don’t attain and maintain that kind of status in the BBC without possessing some nous, and possibly a streak of ruthlessness. Terry Wogan is from Limerick, after all. And to boot, he was schooled by Jesuits. As any Irishman will tell you, this is a lethal combination.

On Radio 2’s Wake Up To Wogan you will be treated each morning to a cornucopia of hackneyed gags, forced whimsy and your favourite tunes from the 1970s, which, for example, are normally Reelin’ In The Years by Steely Dan, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee, and More Than A Feeling by Boston. It is a pleasing way to start the day, and fortifies you for that day ahead. The appeal of Wake Up To Wogan lies in its retreatism and desire to avoid the monstrous hideousness of existence that Peston drones on about every morning. The morning should be a time for personal contemplation, not for existential confrontation. That comes afterwards.

If you don’t believe me, give Wogan a try. Admittedly, you may not win many admirers or much kudos among colleagues by subsequently declaring: ‘Did you hear Wake Up To Wogan this morning? I’d forgotten just how brilliant “Band on The Run” by Wings was.’ But you will have arrived at work in a better mood. The other morning I turned on the Today programme and they were over-earnestly discussing Trevor Phillips and the state’s future role in implementing multiculturalism and diversity. Meanwhile, over on Radio 2, Wogan was playing a classic David Bowie song. Now, which would you rather wake up to?

Patrick West is spiked’s TV and radio columnist.

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV and radio

(1) Listen on line via the BBC’s Wake Up to Wogan page

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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