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Why Gerry Anderson was king of the airwaves - former colleagues share their memories of the star


Broadcasting legend: Gerry Anderson
Broadcasting legend: Gerry Anderson
Gerry Anderson with Pudsey Bear before Children In Need
Gerry Anderson with Stephen Nolan after winning ‘Battle of the Big Mouths’ in aid of Children In Need

In the second part of our series to mark the launch of podcasts and new shows celebrating the work of Radio Ulster’s Gerry Anderson, former colleagues share their amusing, and sometimes poignant, memories of the beloved star.

Kerry McLean: Gerry made the ordinary extraordinary

I always loved working on a Friday when Gerry Anderson was on air. On that day of the week, he used to travel up to Belfast to present his mix of weird and wonderful music and chat from the studios here and, if I was lucky, I’d be given the responsibility of helping him out.

I can still picture him, clear as day, leaning back on the chair, feet up on the desk, regaling me with some story or other of roguish behaviour that he got up to in his youth that would leave both of us in fits of giggles.

Quite often he’d tell the same story but completely change the ending and would laugh like a foghorn if I cottoned on and called him out on it.

It was an honour to work with him, someone I had grown up listening to, and I can truly say that what you heard on air was what you got with Gerry.

On those days when he’d be in Belfast, I’d ask him what kind of listeners he’d like to talk to and he’d respond with, “Just put everyone through”.

He could get a story out of a stone wall. Sometimes it was the quietest, shyest callers who would end up sharing the most outrageous, hilarious tales, all because Gerry had the knack of putting them at ease.

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Calls from a woman looking for a husband, an owner of chickens looking for advice for her pets and the man who phoned seeking a way to get Biro marks off a sofa before his wife came home from bingo and scolded him all stick in my mind.

Gerry had that unusual gift, to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Linda McAuley: I will always remember his kindness to me

Gerry was Gerry and there was and never will be anyone quite like him. He loved people and you could feel the warmth in his voice as he talked to them, and he managed to make the most mundane subjects interesting — like headstones.

I will never forget his interview with a man who was a monument sculptor, a Derry man who spent his days putting names and dates onto headstones.

Not much to say, you’d think, but Gerry got right into the subject — the stone, the people, the weather and the graves. But of course, being Gerry, it wasn’t in solemn tones. Was he busier in the winter? Did more people die then? The man said it was true he wasn’t so busy in the summer.

“So what do you do then?” Gerry asked.

The answer still makes me laugh to this day. “I just do Dochertys,” he said, pronounced ‘Dorritys’, in a Derry accent.

And when you think about it, he was right. There are lots of Dochertys in Derry, of course, and a fair bet that sooner or later there’d be an order for one.

That’s just one of many memories. There was also his kindness to me, his relationship with listeners, his handovers to Stephen Nolan and William Crawley, his on-air rapport with Sean and Sean’s impersonations, which had me weak with laughter. There’ll never be another Gerry.

Stephen Nolan: He was 10 times the broadcaster I could ever be

Gerry and I were like the two naughty schoolboys of BBC Northern Ireland — we were always getting into trouble.

I remember fondly Gerry ringing me one day to tell me how to survive.

He had a plan to thwart anybody in management trying to control his broadcasting.

Gerry Anderson with Stephen Nolan after winning ‘Battle of the Big Mouths’ in aid of Children In Need

Gerry told me in his soft, wry tone: “Never ask for permission. Just do it, apologise profusely afterwards and then do it again.”

He also told me he would literally sprint out of the building, before the bosses would catch up with him.

Gerry was very kind to me, and when either of us had got into serious trouble because we had been mischievous on air, we would plot an escape route for each other.

Many people comment about the handovers I would do with Gerry, when the Nolan show was ending and his starting.

The reality is I had to really up my game during the handovers with Gerry because he was 10 times the broadcaster I could ever be.

I did everything I could to hinder his genius, only so that I could keep up.

I distorted his voice to make him sound like Popeye and he still got the better of me.

Of all the broadcasting that

I have done over the last 25 years, my fondest memories are when I was with Gerry Anderson.

That is because I was presenting with a true broadcasting legend.

I miss him, big time. 

Kim Lenaghan: Gerry was the Spike Milligan of the airwaves

I always thought Gerry Anderson was like the Spike Milligan of radio. He could turn the biggest load of nonsense into something hilarious.

That’s because, like Spike, he was a genius and had this utterly unique view of the world and the people in it — in this case, his callers. He could take one seemingly throwaway comment and turn it into a brilliant 90-minute show and all you could ever expect when you tuned in at 10.30 was the unexpected.

My favourite place to listen was always in the car. You’d be stopped at a set of traffic lights and some wee woman would just have called in about her blocked sink, or something else completely random, and Gerry would be taking the hand out of her and she wouldn’t have a clue what he was going on about.

I’d have tears rolling down my face and I’d look across at the other car and the driver there would be laughing their head off as well and I’d recognise another Anderson appreciator.

He didn’t care about the rules, he had no idea what a script was, or a running order, or a playlist. He just made it up as he went along and it was mostly brilliant.

As it was all so off-the-cuff, and often so bizarre, it’s hard to think of specific examples of Gerry’s humour, but there is one I remember very clearly because I laughed until I ached.

This man called in for advice about how to stop next door’s cat going into his garden.

By the time this idea had meandered, hilariously, through the landscape of Gerry’s imagination and about 20 minutes had gone by, his advice to this poor man was to roar like a lion down the empty cardboard tube from inside a kitchen roll because surely a wee cat would be scared to come in to the garden if he thought there was a bigger cat living next door.

That was Gerry.

Audrey Carville: His loss to radio in these islands is immeasurable

Gerry Anderson had a very rare quality for a broadcaster. He could make his audience laugh. Laugh until the tears rolled down their cheeks.

I don’t know of any other radio presenter who can do that. I was a huge fan of this broadcasting genius long before I had the privilege of sharing a studio with him.

One of his other greatest qualities was his ability to make everyone feel that what they were saying was interesting and important.

He once told me his secret was to act like it was the first time he heard a story, even though he may have heard it dozens of times.

I broke down after finishing a news bulletin once, when after a trail for Hugo’s Town Challenge, Gerry said, with his usual dry wit: “Town Challenge. Not to be confused with University Challenge.”

His loss to radio in these islands has been immeasurable. His audience, who loved him and laughed with him, miss him every day.

David Maxwell: He could apply both charm and gentle sarcasm

Gerry really was one of a kind. No matter who phoned in, he could apply his sharp wit and have listeners in stitches.

Whether it was someone looking for a second-hand bike or a football club holding an auction, he seemed to be able to extract every ounce of humour.

His light touch extended to complaints, which he’d deal with on air and then infer that the person complaining was mad!

Who can forget his legendary phone calls with Geordie Tuft and his impressions. And I still laugh thinking about Sean Coyle asking him why he hadn’t got a knighthood — Gerry said he’d be more likely to get a CBE, a “Character of the British Empire”, and then he did a hilarious impression of Sir James Galway accepting his.

Presenting seemed completely effortless to him and I think listeners were drawn to his honesty and the way he could apply both charm and gentle sarcasm.

The Gerry Anderson Show podcast is available now to download via BBC Sounds and usual podcast providers. The Anderson Archive begins this Saturday, March 9, BBC Radio Ulster, 10.30am

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