Obituary: Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson in the studio

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For the past 18 months, the desk in the corner of our office has been unused.

"When's Gerry coming back?" is a question that Sean Coyle, Janet Sheerin and I have been answering on a daily basis since he took a break from his BBC Radio Ulster show in November 2012.

"He'll be back when he's recovered from his illness" was the answer we gave.

That was true until last week when we learned of his death, as a result of that illness.

Gerry started his radio career here in BBC Radio Foyle in the early 1980s, after he came in to be interviewed about a community magazine he'd found himself in charge of.

After a very detailed and entertaining 20 minutes, he was asked by the producer, Maureen Gallagher: "You didn't have a clue what you were talking about, did you?"

"Not at all," said Gerry.

On that basis he was invited to do a daily record show, which later involved Sean Coyle as co-presenter, object of scorn and answerer of phones. Within months it became a much-loved part of the BBC Radio Ulster schedules.

Throughout his career, he presented countless outside broadcasts on both radio and television - as part of his Anderson on the Road series. Gerry Anderson presented countless outside broadcasts on both radio and television

Gerry Anderson has been described as a radio genius in many of the tributes aired since his death. For once, that's accurate. Without script, or any other apparent preparation, he daily delivered 90 minutes of stories, impressions of Seamus Heaney, pastiches of Ulster Scots poetry and Irish folk songs made up on the spot.

Start Quote

It's for the wit and humour that we'll remember him”

End Quote Michael Bradley Producer

Callers would hypnotise chickens on air, play old records down a phone line, castigate him for his choice of music, read out terrible poems and make a connection between listener and broadcaster that hadn't really existed before in Northern Ireland.

I remember his morning routine in the office, when he would breeze in with a casually delivered insult to Sean Coyle, swinging a single doughnut in a polythene bag and carrying a bunch of letters from listeners. He would sit down, scan the papers for the latest atrocities and scandals and listen to the occasional record. Then he'd move to the Radio Foyle kitchen, read more papers and talk to those passing through.

Sometimes there was a plan. He would lean back in his chair and ask Sean: "Did you have any dreams last night, then?"

"Yes," said Sean.

"Keep them for later, we might do something on that."

Gerry Anderson in 1994 A Radio 4 stint didn't work out as expected

Many of the office conversations were not for public airing, of course. He had a wicked sense of humour, was as fond of scurrilous gossip as the next person and had great theories about the world and its people. In 1994, Gerry accepted an offer from Radio 4 to host a live afternoon show.

Anderson Country wasn't a good fit, for audience or host, so Gerry came home the following year.

After a short period of reflection, dusting down and starting over, he produced some of his best radio work, including a role as counsellor to the whole of Northern Ireland following the Omagh bombing in 1998. His caring and compassionate nature showed itself when talking to distressed callers on air, allowing them the time and space to grieve publicly over the atrocity.

But it's for the wit and humour that we'll remember him, whether from a radio or the desk behind us.

We'll also admire his great timing. His show started at 10:30. At 10:28 Gerry would grab the records and run down the stairs to the studio, arriving just as the previous show was ending.

Sometimes he would arrive after 10:30, when an embarrassed Sean Coyle would hold the fort until Gerry wandered in and sat down with a 'Good Morning, Gerald Michael Anderson hereā€¦.'

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