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Page last updated at 12:46 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 13:46 UK

Wogan and the Togs

Terry Wogan

Sir Terry Wogan is going, but his dedicated band of aficionados will live on. So just what was behind the broadcaster's cult following?

For those who only watched Terry Wogan on television, either leading the Children in Need coverage or wryly raising eyebrows at the more ludicrous aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest, there is one version of the Irish broadcaster.

But for the millions who listen to his Radio 2 breakfast show, Sir Terry is the ringmaster of a very strange programme. A novice listener would immediately be struck by the tangential, even at times stream-of-consciousness, delivery of the host.

He has perfected the idea of getting people to write the programme for him and then giving it back to them
Norman Macintosh

Wake Up To Wogan was and is a surreal affair, shot through with countless in-jokes and slews of letters and e-mails from comically-named contributors.

These fans are known as the Togs - Terry's Old Geezers (and Gals) - and their supposedly fogeyish nature was the base for much that went on in the show. They make up the biggest radio breakfast show audience in the UK - 7.93 million.

"The term was coined by Terry's own daughter who said 'are you still talking to those old geezers on the radio'," says Norman Macintosh, a leading Tog who gave up his job to concentrate, along with his wife (Hellen Bach), on charitable Tog-related ventures.

The definition on the Radio 2 website reads: "Togginess is a state of mind recognised by many, as that feeling of being old before your time."

Mick Sturbs

The principle of user-generated content is now established in the news, but the interaction on Sir Terry's shows was pioneering in many respects.

"He has perfected the idea of getting people to write the programme for him and then giving it back to them," says Mr Macintosh.

One notable source of input is the Janet and John series, written by Tog Mick Sturbs, or Mixed Herbs, and read out by Sir Terry.

There's a degree of ease… like having a really nice relation
Gillian Reynolds
Radio critic

The stories, loosely based on the traditional children's tales that many Togs would have grown up with, are laced with innuendo that occasionally reduces Sir Terry as well as the listeners to helpless mirth. They have been sufficiently popular to be gathered together for charity CDs.

Another aspect is Sir Terry's interaction with the other personalities involved in the show, most notably the late Paul Walters, which generates an ambience not unlike the anarchic "zoo" format of radio.

One in-joke involves traffic reporter Lynn Bowles, known for her Land Rover antics, while another stemmed from an incident involving Walters, says Mr Macintosh.

"He famously passed wind just before they came on and they couldn't speak for laughing. From then on everything was 'an accident'."

The in-jokes even had a life in the real world. Repeated references to the "lost city of Leicester" by Sir Terry led the Togs to hold their annual convention there.

"It was called the lost city of Leicester because you could drive round it but never find it," says Mr Macintosh.

Gentle humour

And while the hardcore Togs immersed themselves in a surreal alternative universe, there was a more general appeal.

"His gentle humour, the way he talks about people and to people - he is a really nice man," says Mr Macintosh. "He has a wry outlook on life. His way of life and the way he has conducted himself has never really offended anyone."

Sir Terry had filled a slot that others had struggled to achieve longevity in, says Daily Telegraph radio critic Gillian Reynolds.

"He has that easy assurance that led you to believe he can see the funny side of everything. If it's raining and it's Monday morning and it's gloomy and you've heard the news and everything's going to hell in a handcart, it helps enormously to have someone who is cheery company."

And the way the cultural references were dropped into the show did not exclude the less knowledgable listener.

"He has an enormously rich range of reference about which he is quite casual. There's a degree of ease… like having a really nice relation."

And now that relation is being replaced by Chris Evans. Mr Macintosh is surprisingly philosophical about the change and says others will be too, but he acknowledges there are some Togs that will be struggling to cope.

"For them Terry is Terry and no-one can ever replace him."

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