Sir Terry Wogan: “If this country ever allows the BBC to be diminished, we will regret it”

The TV veteran calls the BBC "the greatest broadcaster the world has ever seen" but acknowledges a difficult future ahead for the licence fee

Sir Terry Wogan has enjoyed a 50-year career in broadcasting, much of it spent at the BBC. But decades on from the days of his chat show Wogan, Blankety-Blank and Come Dancing, the Beeb is facing arguably its biggest crisis to date amid discussions around the Royal Charter renewal and questions posed by the Conservative government about the Corporation’s size and remit. 

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The future of the BBC – in Wogan’s words “the greatest broadcaster the world has ever seen” – is in doubt, and the TV veteran warns, “if this country ever allows it to be diminished, we will regret it.” 

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Wogan outlined the challenge faced by the Corporation to be all things to all people: “the BBC has always been between a rock and a hard place. It has to provide the very best in culture and the arts at the very highest level. At the same time it’s expected to produce light entertainment – the same kinds of things as Strictly Come Dancing – and it’s an almost impossible brief to fulfil but they’ve done it brilliantly for hundreds and hundreds of years.

“The BBC is the broadcasting organisation upon which all others are judged and can be judged and, as I say, it would be a great shame if it’s diminished.”

But Wogan did go on to acknowledge the implications of the change in the nation’s viewing habits at a time when content is available on-demand and the number of viewers watching television sets is falling. “Everything’s changed – young people are not watching television anymore, they’re watching their iPads. We can now record all sorts of programmes, look at them whenever we want to, we can pause them. The habits of viewing have completely changed and therefore it’s going to be very difficult for the BBC to continue to say everybody has to pay the licence fee.

“Not that the licence fee isn’t worth it – it’s the best value in broadcasting.”

Speaking ahead of the release of his new collection of short stories, Those Were the Days, Wogan also joked he was “quite sore” after being “cruelly overlooked’ for the task of presenting Strictly Come Dancing when it relaunched in 2004 – a job that went to Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly. 

“I presented Come Dancing for seven years on the television, traipsing around the country. What thanks did I get for it? After seven years the public was still convinced it was being done by Peter West. When Strictly Come Dancing came up they didn’t give it to me – they gave it to somebody who was about 20 years older than me.”

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But while Bruce hung up his Strictly shoes before last year’s 12th series, Wogan has no plans to retire just yet. “That’s the thing about this business. If I stayed in the bank [where he worked as a clerk before becoming a broadcaster] I’d have been retired about 25 years ago and here I am still clinging to the wreckage.”