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Mustn't Grumble - Terry Wogan

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Author: Terry Wogan / 352 pages / Publisher: Orion / Released: 18 Sep 2006

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      12.09.2012 19:07
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      If you like to hear Terry chatter away, give it a whirl.

      Terry Wogan is a well-known radio and television personality who is perhaps best known for his extremely successful show on BBC Radio 2, 'Wake up with Wogan'. Myself, I know him best as the funny guy who predicts the political point scoring (point rigging) on Eurovision while getting steadily more sloshed and cynical.

      When I spotted this in the sale section of my local library I was intrigued. I'd eyed it up in a couple of bookshops over the years, but never been able to bring myself to part with the RRP of £19.99. In fairness, it's a standard price for a hardcover autobiography, but I baulk at spending that much on any book that isn't a textbook with a circumscribed readership. I scanned the first few pages, chuckled a couple of times, and happily lugged the book home, thinking I'd snagged a bargain for £1.

      ~ My thoughts ~

      'Veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan, or 'Sir Terry' as he insists on his family calling him, knows very well that 'veteran' is a euphemism for 'clapped out', and he'd be just as pleased if you'd pack it in...Don't think you can get away with 'iconic' either, because everybody knows that means you're not just dead, but mummified.'

      The inside cover's blurb made me chuckle, as did the first few pages (out loud. In a coffee shop.) This was certainly a promising start, but by the end of the preface I was lost and irritated by what I felt was a lack of apparent organisation. Wogan meandered from one topic to another topic with barely a discernible link. As this is the third instalment of his autobiography, I quickly found myself wondering whether the previous tomes had been more organised. Had he simply run out of new things to say? Of course, radio presenters are skilled in the non-sequitur and famed for their ability to ramble on about almost nothing in a way that is mildly interesting, so I really shouldn't have been so irked by the style.
      Funnily enough, the book appears very well structured if you judge it by the contents page: there is a prologue, 12 amusingly named chapters, an epilogue and an index. Chapters are usually about twenty pages long so there are plenty of appropriate places to pause, which I appreciated. Each chapter has a loose organising principle but develops in Wogan's usual chatty style, meaning the focus is more on the comic touches than on developing detailed knowledge about events and people. There are several pages of photos, many black and white with some in colour, all of which have mildly entertaining captions. I liked that there was a mixture of personal and more 'public' images, suggesting that Wogan really was sharing his history with his readers.

      There was plenty of reminiscing about stars which I found quite dull but guess is probably the point of this kind of book. I found the idea of friction between BBC radio and BBC television interesting and enjoyed reading the chapter on Eurovision. The humour was typically "Wogan": gentle, often self-deprecating and usually ironic. The autobiography also includes a surprising amount of poetry sent in by listeners, including an entertaining rewriting of Caroll's 'Father William'. I found some of these entertaining whilst others had too many 'in-jokes' for me to really appreciate them. I felt that this was due to a combination of me being perhaps slightly younger than many of his listeners, and therefore not sharing their reference points, and also the act that I never really listened to his radio shows. In the chapter "Can you hear me mother?" he recounts a speech given to the BBC. This was my favourite part of this book as it is the voice of Wogan I am familiar with: dry, witty, and full of criticism and "gentle guidance" for his bosses at Radio 2. Apparently, it fell on rather red ears, but I wish the whole book had been written in this style.

      I rushed through the last few chapters, having decided I wasn't really suited to the book. There were lots of reproduced emails relating to the show, and the other presenters, and bawdy humour followed by a brief epilogue which provided a satisfactory sort-of-finished-but-don't-be-surprised -​if-I-eventually-bring-out-another-round-​of-memoirs feeling.

      ~ Conclusions ~

      Enjoying years of Eurovision because of the dry wit of the presenter does not necessarily create the ideal reader for a full on autobiography. Next time, I will consider my choice of autobiography more carefully as I feel you need to already know quite a bit about the subject in order to enjoy the intimacy and style of such a book. I felt there were too many in-jokes and references that I didn't understand for this to be really enjoyable, although I found it mildly entertaining throughout. FI don't think I would read it again, so it is fortunate that this only cost £1 from the library!

      I imagine that dedicated fans of Wogan would enjoy this. He discusses his TV and radio work with honesty and a charming self-effacement, covering the significant aspects of his career. He seems to genuinely appreciate his listeners and stresses throughout the book that the audience interaction is what he enjoys. He reprints emails and letters from several regular viewers, who must be enchanted to find their humorous emissions in print. He comes across as likeable and good-humoured, reflecting ruefully on his age and relationship with the BBC. I think this would be an enjoyable read for a fan, although I think the enjoyment would be in remembering and revisiting the past; I suspect there is little new material here (I'm sure he repeats ideas and material even within this book, between chapters). There are no agonising events or traumas of any kind. Deaths are skimmed over. This is a pleasant relief given the current obsession with misery memoirs and grief packed narratives that the publishers seem to stack the shelves with lately.

      This is a light and easy read which is unlikely to offend or inspire. Unless you are (or know) a serious fan, I would advise borrowing a copy of this rather than buying it; unlike many books I read, I can't imagine revisiting this one. It is perfectly pleasant to read but utterly unmemorable and feels more like you're having a chat with Wogan than reading someone's autobiography.

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