Having intended to remain silent on the matter I have been persuaded to pen suitable words to commemorate the sad passing of my erstwhile mentee Terry Wogan. I first heard the young 'Tell Woe' (as I nicknamed him) in London's St Thomas's hospital, where I had been brought in to establish a neurosurgical unit and he to push the trolleys that bore my patients. When one of the announcers on the hospital's radio service fell ill, Tell Woe volunteered to take her place, fancying himself as the next Jimmy Young. His programme was aired in the surgeons' mess, and I quickly became sensitized to the tedium of his delivery, which was limited in the main to the passing on of 'special hellos' to patients from their relatives, and reading in a soporiphic monotone the daily specials from the canteen menu.
Sensing that the lad had not the first notion of the numbing effects of his performance, and wishing to be relieved of the ordeal of overhearing it, I suggested to him that he might find it educational to allow me to take the lead in one of his slots, a suggestion to which he gladly assented.
Even today I remember almost word for word the off-the-cuff banter I uttered in a rich resonant baritone when the strains of the theme music died away. Something along these lines...
'Yesterday in my Spartan Mayfair apartments my work on some matter of profound global moment was interrupted by one of my domestic staff. A call from Los Angeles. President Kennedy was hoping to speak with me. I put down my papers and beckoned for the call to be put through to my desk. The usual pleasantries were exchanged. Jackie and kids fine. Bobby still a worry, and so on. Something of my impatience must have sounded in my voice, for JFK apologised for taking my time, but needed some advice. This Bay of Pigs business. Military chiefs spouting on about game theory. Didn't understand a word of it. Didn't think they understood a word of it either. Given my role as von Neumann's mentor could I shed light on best strategy etc etc. I said it was best if he left the thinking to me, and I would call Kruschev after supper. No thanks necessary, Happy to help. Hope the introduction to Marilyn had lived up to expectations, and so on. No wonder I never got round to the crossword. But how's this. One across: 'Judas preferred chocolate to pigeons'. Seven letters. Prize to the first patient to ring in.' Then straight into the second movement of Scheherazade.
To say that Tell Woe was gobsmacked my impromptu delivery would be a major understatement. It was at least two hours before his hanging jaw closed and he uttered a word. That, I told him, is radio magic. But how, he wanted to know, how could he, with his narrow life experience, and his meagre fund of stories, possibly match my own peerless performance. Tell Woe, I said, art need not be true. No-one needs to know that you are a young good-for-nothing wastrel. If your true factual recollections are insipid and forgettable, invent. Unshackle your imagination. Let your listeners believe you are a seasoned man of the world, with Hollywood connections, backstairs influence, money, sex appeal. and the rest. It is radio, don't forget, so they cannot see the callow Limerick boy, they can only hear the character that he projects. And most of the rest you know. Tell Woe and I remained close friends, sharing carefree hours on the golf-course. With my talent for mimicry I was able to emulate his delivery faultlessly, and when in Broadcasting House I would often take over the microphone during his show so that he could slip out to Ladbrooks. Of course, television put a stop to those innocent capers, as I could never disguise my appearance to match his dumpy gormless look.