Broadcasting legend’s pal and radio sidekick tells how star’s death has left him devastated.
BBC star Sean Coyle would give anything for one more radio show with his dear friend Gerry Anderson.
The BBC Broadcasting icon died at the age of 69 on Thursday after a long illness and was laid to rest after a funeral service at St Eugene’s Cathedral in his native Derry yesterday, which many of his showbusiness pals attended.
His voice cracking with emotion, Sean reflected on three decades of laughs in what is his first interview since the man he credits with moulding his career died.
“Thirty years is a long time,” Sean told Sunday Life.
“And you know we never had a cross word, not one fight.
“We just knew one another so well.”
The two Derrymen first met in the 1980s when Sean was a listener to Gerry’s BBC Radio Foyle show before he eventually teamed up with Gerry for their own show.
“I was a real fan, he said.
“Gerry played in a showband called The Chessmen and I loved them.
“On the radio he really appealed to me because of his quirky sense of humour; I thought he was our own Kenny Everett.”
Sean’s life changed forever when he sent a tape of his celebrity impressions to the BBC.
“The very next day Gerry sent for me and asked me to do some more.
“Suddenly here I was working with this man. I was in awe of him.”
On the secret behind their unique chitchat, Sean said: “It was all Gerry, I was just a fan.
“He could see things in me that I couldn’t, he was always pushing, always encouraging.
“He moulded my career.”
Sean received the sad news that his pal had passed away at 8am on Thursday morning, just two-and-a-half-hours before he was due on air.
“I had known since last Monday that he was very ill, so I was expecting a call,” he said.
“It was very difficult to go on air but to an extent you are on auto pilot.
“Friday was much more difficult because it had sunk in by then.
“I broke down a few times.
“There were so many messages coming in and they flashed up in front of me. I was so touched and Gerry would have been too because we are both big softies.
“A few times I had to stop talking and play some music instead to compose myself.
“They had to bring in extra staff for the phones because so many listeners were calling in.”
Sean has been presenting the mid-morning Radio Ulster show alone for almost two years since Gerry took time off to deal with his health issues.
But despite the time that had passed, Sean said he always believed Gerry would return to work.
“He never went into detail about his illness,” Sean said.
“He told us he had to take some time off; he said he’d be back in two months, max.
“Then it went on a few more weeks, then months, it just kept getting pushed back.
“But I always thought he would be back and so did he.
“I had all these ideas and plans of what we were going to do with the show once he came back, and now he’s never coming back.”
Sean still remembers Gerry’s last words to him as he left their BBC studio for the final time.
“He told me not to visit him, not to call him, that he would contact me. He didn’t want the fuss.
“Walking out the door he turned to me and said: ‘Right kid, I’ll see you.’
“That brings a tear to me now.”
The veteran broadcaster said Gerry remained in good spirits as he battled illness out of the public eye.
“If you asked him how he was feeling he would just brush it off,” Sean said.
“He always talked about ‘wee procedures’, and that he had to have another one but then he would be fine.
“He was asking about everyone else and how they were, if there was any news; he didn’t want to talk about himself. He was very private about it all.”
In the studio, Sean laughs as he recalls how mischievous Gerry would try to get him into trouble on air.
“There was never any script,” he said. “I would chat an idea through with Gerry but he would never rehearse, he just said, ‘Just do it.’
“You were always on the edge, but with Gerry that was a great place to be.
“I didn’t control the microphone so he tried to catch me out swearing or talking about something I shouldn’t have been.
“I guess with our bickering it was just like listening to two friends in the bar talking nonsense.”
As he prepares to remember his treasured friend at his funeral today, Sean said: “There will be laughter and tears.
“The thing about Gerry was that he was just such a nice person.
“That’s not showbiz rubbish, that’s the truth.
“There are so many people in this industry who believe their own hype, but Gerry wasn’t like that.
“He was so humble, his feet were on the ground.
“What you heard on the radio was exactly what you got — that was Gerry.
“Sadly, all that’s gone now.
“I just wish we could have one more show.
“I will miss him dreadfully.”