Gerry Anderson - goodbye to a very special son of Derry

Gerry Anderson was a true one-off. His unique style of broadcasting made him a household name not only in Northern Ireland but further afield.

Irreverent, laid-back and easy going - it was this innovative style that won him both critical and profession acclaim and secured him radio and television audiences that were the envy of the broadcast world.

Gerry Anderson, one of Northern Ireland's best-known presenters, has died aged 69 following a long illness.  In a career spanning 30 years, he hosted radio and TV programmes for BBC Northern Ireland,

Gerry Anderson, one of Northern Ireland's best-known presenters, has died aged 69 following a long illness. In a career spanning 30 years, he hosted radio and TV programmes for BBC Northern Ireland,

Never one to shy away from his love for his home town, Gerry acknowledged that his unique sense of humour was a “Derry thing”.

Late last year, in one of his final ever interviews with the media, he told the ‘Journal’ that he loved Derry - both the place and its people - because it was “gregarious, good natured and larger than life.”

Born in Derry in 1944, he grew up in the Sackville Street area of the city - at a time when the nearby port was still a bustling hive of activity. It was this era that he wrote about in his first book, “Surviving in Stroke City”, and which was later depicted in “A City Dreaming”, a film described as a “love letter” to Derry.

In the film, released just last year, Gerry went back in time to paint an intimate portrait of his home town - an emotional process, he told the ‘Journal’, in which he learned a lot about himself.

However, rewind to the 1960s and it was as a guitarist that the young Anderson first introduced himself to audiences. An early break came on the Manchester music scene, where he worked the clubs, and tours of the UK and abroad followed with the showband, The Chessmen.

Later on, while living in Canada, he joined a band called Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.

However, the excesses of life on the road gradually lost their appeal and, in his own words, Anderson “dropped out of rock and roll and went to university”.

He returned home to Derry and studied for a degree in sociology and social anthropology and then a postgraduate diploma in education. At this time, he also dabbled in community journalism.

A teaching career beckoned but, as fate would have it, it was the world of broadcasting that proved too much for him to steer clear of.

His broadcasting career at BBC Northern Ireland started almost 30 years ago when he presented his first programme on BBC Radio Foyle in 1985.

Before long, his popular mid-morning programme was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle every weekday morning from 10.30am-12pm.

In the programme Gerry, joined by his ‘side-kick’ Sean Coyle, would share his passion for music while imparting his musings on life and embarking on weird and wonderful conversations with his listeners.

The Derry broadcaster, famous for coining the phrase ‘Stroke City’, would go on to forge a successful career on both radio and television, winning Radio Academy Awards and Royal Television Society Awards.

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

Although best known for his BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle programme, in 1994 Gerry also presented his own network radio programme on BBC Radio 4 and has enjoyed a successful television career with BBC Northern Ireland.

As well as presenting his own chat show in the early 1990s, other memorable television programmes presented by Gerry include the long-running series, “Anderson In”, “Gerry Anderson’s Wild West Show” and, more recently, “Gerry Anderson’s Losing It”, in which Gerry looked at the issue of male pattern baldness.

In 2006, Gerry became a clay model for the animated television series “On The Air”, which featured real, unedited clips from his radio programme. “On The Air”, which returned for a further two series, highlighted the bizarre and often hilarious conversations Gerry had on air with Sean Coyle, his listeners and occasionally himself as he, Sean and many of the colourful characters who called into his programme where turned into Claymation models.

It was in 2012 that Gerry was struck down by ill-health and was forced to take time off work. As he told the ‘Journal’ in November 2013: “It’s been quite a complicated time. I’ve undergone a number of operations and it’s involved a long recovery process.”

He attended the premiere of “A City Dreaming” at Derry’s St Columb’s Hall in December 2013 and had hoped to return to work some time in 2014 but, sadly, his illness worsened and he passed away this week.

Derry MP Mark Durkan probably summed it up best for many when, on hearing of Gerry’s death, he said: “Derry has lost a very special son, an unceremonious ambassador, and broadcasting has lost a limited edition of one.”