Terry Wogan turned down by BBC ‘because he was Irish’

How being Irish prevented Terry Wogan from getting a job with the BBC in the 1960s

Recently uncovered documents reveal that late Irish TV and radio star Terry Wogan was rejected for a job at the BBC because they already had an Irish presenter. Letters from the BBC archives reveal that the much loved star had applied for a position on a UK TV show in the 1960s, having already enjoyed success in Ireland.

However, Wogan failed to land big jobs at the BBC twice; first in 1964, then a year later in 1965. The second time his rejection came from TV legend David Attenborough, who was controller at the time.

How being Irish prevented  Terry Wogan from getting a job with the BBC in the 1960s

Over half a century later, Attenborough cannot recall the time that he turned down Wogan. He told the Radio Times: “Good Lord! He wrote asking me for work? I don’t remember this at all.”

Wogan went on to have huge success in the UK, in particular with the BBC, but this shows he didn’t always have things his own way.

Wogan had been working at RTÉ and even applied to the BBC using RTÉ headed paper. He had wanted a job on a BBC Two show.
His application letter began: “My reason for writing to you is simply ambition.”

He went on to explain how he had been enjoying success in his career in Ireland and “should like to extend the sphere of my television activities, to see if the success which I have enjoyed in Ireland can be translated to British television”.

At the time there was already another Irish presenter on the show and the BBC were looking for a British presenter to join the team.

Attenborough wrote back telling him: “We do not have any vacancies for anyone with your particular talents and experience.

“As one of our chief announcers on BBC2 (Denis Tuohy of Late Night Line-Up) is also from Dublin… We would feel, other things being equal, that we should look for someone from a different part of the country [sic] if we were to make an additional appointment.”

Attenborough stood by his decision saying: “I think it was a perfectly reasonable answer. To have had two Irishmen presenting on BBC2 would have looked ridiculous. This is no comment whatsoever on Terry Wogan’s talents. It’s just that I couldn’t have had two Irish presenters.”

Other documents showed that Wogan was well thought of within the BBC by the late 1960s.

A memo from Entertainment producer Johnnie Stewart said that the then 29-year-old Wogan was a “likeable personality” and “still young enough to fit into most scenes other than pop…I think he would make a great all-rounder”.

Well, he got that right! Terry Wogan went on to become one of the most popular radio and TV presenters ever in Britain.

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