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Gerry Anderson: A fitting tribute to the shy showman who never really felt he was good enough

By Ivan Little

Published 19/09/2015

Gerry Anderson’s wife Christine at the Hall of Fame awards in Dublin last night
Gerry Anderson’s wife Christine at the Hall of Fame awards in Dublin last night
Happy times with her late husband

One of Ireland's finest and funniest broadcasters was honoured with a posthumous award last night in Dublin where Gerry Anderson would probably have relished the irony that half the people in the room barely knew him.

For even though he regarded himself as a Donegal man by nurture and lived only a short distance from the border on the outskirts of his beloved Stroke City, Gerry Anderson found his fame and acclaim through his outpourings, manic and measured, with broadcasting organisations based in the north.

And even though he sometimes bemoaned the fact that Dublin - like London - didn't "get" him, his peers still inducted him into the Irish Radio Hall of Fame, with Gerry's widow Christine collecting his Phonographic Performance Ireland (PPI) award at the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland offices.

"He would have been really proud," said Christine as friends and colleagues of the much-loved Radio Ulster star, who died from cancer last year at the age of 69, joined in the standing ovations for her former showband musician husband.

Earlier yesterday Christine talked movingly with Enda McClafferty on Radio Ulster about how she first met the pencil-thin and long-haired Gerry in the Embassy ballroom in Derry.

She said: "I loved him the first time I saw him."

But she stood him up on their first date, and it was months before they got together and were eventually married.

"He always made me laugh. All the time. People don't need to be told how funny he was. And it was completely natural. Off the cuff. But he never thought he was good enough," she said.

Christine said Gerry's illness was a nightmare. "He was completely devastated. I spent two years keeping him up. He was so brave and so strong… I don't think I realised how much I loved him."

Christine said Gerry kept the extent of his pain and suffering from her and their children. And just three days before he passed away she asked his consultant about the next stage of his treatment, but he told her: "I don't think you realise, Gerry's dying."

Christine said the medic's words were like a rollercoaster running over her. But reflecting on her life with Gerry, she added: "I feel so lucky to have had him."

Her sentiments were echoed by thousands of Gerry's fans and admirers in the media who felt as if they were his friends even though they'd never him.

To me, Gerry Anderson always looked more at home in a small cafe in Castledawson than he did in front of a huge adoring public.

He and I would sometimes bump into each other in Ditty's bakery shop as we stopped off for sustenance during our travels in opposite directions between Gerry's beloved Stroke City and Belfast.

We'd talk about music and football and exchange scandalous gossip about every Tom, Dick and Harry we knew.

But the serious chat would be reserved for Robert Ditty's latest delights, such as his apple pancakes or his unsurpassed oatcakes.

Mind you, Gerry was a man who could enthuse about anything and make it sound special.

His memory was astonishing and that recall, together with his impish and lightning-quick wit, made him a natural and engaging storyteller.

But his ability as a broadcaster was matched, surpassed probably, by his endless talent as a writer, as evidenced by his books and his columns in this newspaper. Christine said the same yesterday morning.

And even though he could sound like a hard-bitten, hard-edged hard-nose on the radio, it was easy for his fans to feel at ease with him.

Yet Gerry never seemed to be totally at ease in public. And punters in the bar of the Europa Hotel, where he stayed when he was in Belfast, complained he was aloof and rude.

They were wrong. He was actually the quintessential shy showman.

Yet in his own patch in his radio studio he was the master of mirth, the life and soul of his daily party. He always seemed to be enjoying the craic as much as we were.

His mischievous laugh was infectious as his friend and side-kick Sean Coyle let loose with his wickedly accurate impressions of everyone from Daniel O'Donnell, Ronnie Flanagan, Pat Jennings and even Ivan Little, UTV Liiive.

Yet Gerry also had an uncanny knack of knowing just what to say and how to say it in times of tragedy in Northern Ireland. Of which there were plenty.

Who could ever forget his sensitive and heart-rending broadcasts in the wake of the Omagh bombing in 1998? For despairing days on end, the compassionate Gerry was a shoulder for a grieving province to cry on.

In that week Gerry wasn't so much a presenter as a listener.

And a remarkably empathetic one, too. For that period alone he deserved his recognition from the PPI in Dublin yesterday.

The only shame was that it was posthumous.

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