Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Anderson: Mourners including Eamonn Holmes, Stephen Nolan and John Hume attend funeral of popular broadcaster

Gerry Anderson was an enormous and unique talent who can count re-naming a city among his many achievements, mourners at his funeral were told.

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More than 1,000 family, friends and fans gathered to say a final farewell to the BBC Radio Ulster stalwart in his native Derry/Londonderry - a place whose alternate title, Stroke City, was famously coined by Anderson in typically wry style to reflect the endless contention over the other two names.

The irreverent 69-year-old, who had been battling a long illness, died on Thursday.

Broadcasters Eamonn Holmes, Stephen Nolan and Colin Murray, singer songwriter Phil Coulter and former SDLP leader John Hume were among a host of well-known faces who joined Anderson's widow Christine at St Eugene's Cathedral to pay their respects.

Father Paul Farren said the radio personality, who brought humour to the airwaves during the darks years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, had always been "true to himself".

"We gather to give thanks to God for Gerry's life and for all the joy and gifts and entertainment that so many people received through Gerry, especially those into whose lives he brought light and joy when light could be dim and joy hard to find," he said.

The cleric revealed that, despite his very public persona, Anderson was an "immensely private man".

"In many ways everybody knows Gerry and, in other ways, only Christine and her family know Gerry."

Fr Farren added: "He is a man full of life, he is a man who died too soon.

"He is the man who could entertain the masses and the man who was never happier than when he was at home with just his family around him."

Fr Farren said Anderson was unaffected by his fame and was known for his "boundless generosity".

"He is the man who could re-name a city and he is the man his family describes as being a simple man who enjoys simple things," he added.

Anderson was forced off the airwaves almost two years ago due to ill health but, until relatively recently, had always expressed a desire to return.

The former show band guitarist had a 30-year career in broadcasting.

His professional highlights included his 2005 induction into the UK Radio Hall of Fame, while his brief and ill-fated spell on BBC Radio 4 a decade earlier was undoubtedly a low.

He also hosted a number of TV programmes on BBC Northern Ireland, but it was his contribution to Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle for which he will be most fondly remembered.

Anderson's quirky morning phone-in show, which he presented with long-time friend and colleague Sean Coyle, had a legion of loyal fans.

Coyle was among those who carried Anderson's coffin from the church at the end of the service.

The late presenter was taken for burial at the City Cemetery.

Tributes paid to much loved broadcaster

Tributes came flooding in this week following the news Gerry Anderson had died at the age of 69.

Anderson had been off-air for almost two years due to ill-health.

In a career spanning 30 years, the presenter hosted radio and TV programmes for BBC Radio Ulster, Radio Foyle and BBC Northern Ireland.

Anderson was also a former columnist at the Belfast Telegraph.

Director of BBC Northern Ireland, Peter Johnston, described the award-winning radio and TV broadcaster as a "true legend of the industry".

"Gerry was a man of great wit and mischief, but he also brought great wisdom and insight to what he did.

"Of course, he'll be sadly missed by all of us, but also by all his loyal listeners, for whom he often brought light on dark days over the decades.

"I had the great pleasure of being in London on the occasion when Gerry was awarded the Hall of Fame for the UK Radio Academy, which just demonstrated what a true legend of the industry he was, a really significant figure.

"I think in Gerry's case - it's often said lightly but in his case truly, I don't think we'll ever see his like again."

Former SDLP leader John Hume paid a warm tribute to the broadcaster, who he said was a held in such high regard by many.

"Gerry was a unique character, and Derry and the BBC are a poorer place for his passing," he said.

"I had such high regard for Gerry who put a smile on the faces of so many people.

"Pat and I extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Christine and the family, and to all of Gerry's colleagues." 

Fellow broadcaster, Gerry Kelly, said: "We here in the BBC and Radio Ulster were just expecting Gerry to come back at some stage.

"He wanted privacy throughout his illness and we granted him his privacy."

SDLP MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan said Londonderry had "lost a very special son".

"Gerry Anderson earned a special standing with his wit, warmth, his way with words and his off-the-cuff, on-the-button observations," he said.

"He was appreciated and respected in a way he never cultivated. He had a natural style but never styled himself for the status or the eminence he achieved, or the special connection that everyone felt with him.

"Derry has lost a very special son, an unceremonious ambassador, and broadcasting has lost a limited edition of one."

Anderson began his career as a radio presenter in 1984 and went on to become a household name in Northern Ireland.

Born in Londonderry/Derry, he coined the alternative name "Stroke City" in a nod to the endless contention over what his home town should be called.

Paying tribute, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: Gerry Anderson brightened all our lives,as a broadcaster he had few equals.My sympathy to his wife Christine,their family & BBC colleagues.

Fellow broadcaster Gloria Hunniford said Gerry Anderson was "unique".

"Very deeply sad to hear about Gerry. We sort of grew up together as broadcasters," she said.

"Gerry really was unique...We loved him dearly."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt MLA expressed his sadness at the news.

"Gerry was an unchained and irrepressible spirit who liberated BBC Radio Ulster at a time when local broadcasting was dominated by rules. Gerry couldn't spell 'rules' and he helped free up all of us who were presenters on Radio Ulster in the 1980s and beyond," Mr Nesbitt said.

"He was also a very generous, encouraging man who had no fear of rival talent."

Mr Nesbitt added: "I first worked with him at an Ulster Grand Prix when I was a sports presenter and he arrived as a roving reporter in white shoes on a dark, wet Saturday when the paddock was a sea of mud. He simply did not see what the problem was.

"My condolences to his wife Christine, and broader family. The BBC is a poorer place today.”

Anderson, a former teacher and showband guitarist, was named Broadcaster of the Year three times and won a Regional Presenter of the Year award in 2004.

In 2005 he became the first broadcaster from Northern Ireland to be inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame.

In 2006, Gerry became a clay model for the animated television series On The Air, which featured real, unedited clips from his BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle programme.

On The Air, which returned for a further two series, highlighted the bizarre and often hilarious conversations Gerry had on air with Sean, his listeners and occasionally himself as he, Sean and many of the colourful characters who called into his programme where turned into Claymation models.

Paying tribute, Fergus Keeling, head of radio, BBC Northern Ireland, said: “Gerry was possibly the cleverest man I've ever known. He was also naturally funny and he had an unmatched style of broadcasting in radio in Northern Ireland.

Larry Deeney, editor, BBC Radio Foyle, said: When I arrived at BBC Radio Foyle as a young journalist, I was in awe of Gerry Anderson. Growing up in Derry, everyone knew his name, his face and most of all his voice," he said.

"I quickly realised that in Foyle, Gerry was just part of the team: approachable, intelligent and most of all very, very funny.

"I don’t think anyone had ever heard anything like those programmes that he broadcast with Sean Coyle over the years and I know we never will again.

"Everyone here at Foyle will miss him more than I can say. I would like to send our deepest condolences to Gerry’s family."

BBC director general Tony Hall said Anderson was a "distinctive and iconic voice in radio in Northern Ireland and beyond".

"That he was inducted into the UK Radio Academy Hall of Fame speaks volumes of how special and unique a broadcaster and personality he was," he said.

"His long-running, mid-morning show on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle will be missed by his listeners. Gerry will be missed by his friends and colleagues in the BBC."

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said Gerry Anderson was a "broadcasting pioneer".

"He had an inordinate wit which brought joy to so many," she said.

"He could be scathing and endearing, and was often both at the same time. But his humour was based in a real affection for his home town of Derry and the north, and listeners loved him for it."

Fellow Radio Ulster broadcaster Stephen Nolan - who shared many on-air exchanges with Anderson during their show handovers - said his often lack of preparation was "a sign of his genius".

"I loved his danger, his cheekiness, during the handovers, it was probably only the time I got terrified," he said.

"That's when he got close to the edge."

Another BBC man who knew Anderson well, Hugo Duncan, said his colleague and friend always "treated you as an equal".

In an emotional tribute, Duncan described Anderson as "an old comrade".

"I remember when I got up this morning, and heard it on the news, it brought a tear to my eye," he said.

"At the time, I couldn't have talked about it. It was so tragic.

"He was always there, always greeted you. I came in as a real novice, but he treated you as an equal."

In a joint statement, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness paid tribute to Gerry Anderson.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Gerry Anderson. Gerry was a hugely talented broadcaster with an irrepressible personality who will be greatly missed.

"In many ways his unpredictable style and wit on TV and radio was ahead of its time and he undoubtedly had an influence on the younger generation of broadcasters.

"Gerry’s long and varied career is a tribute to the loyalty he inspired. Throughout his broadcasting career his warmth, energy and sheer enthusiasm attracted legions of devoted fans.

"The world of broadcasting will be all the quieter without Gerry in it. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Christine and family at this difficult time."

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