Terry Wogan had millions of listeners in hysterics with his innuendo-filled version of the Janet and John children’s stories. How did he get away with it?
The original Janet and John volumes, written by Rona Munro, helped parents of the 1950 s and 1960 s to teach their children to read. The innocent tales, about the adventures of a brother and sister, were bestsellers, but they eventually fell out of fashion.
In the 1990 s they became the basis for a series of parodies on Terry Wogan’s radio show that seemed to test the limits of savour and decency. In them, the subjects were an adult Janet and John. Written by a listener use the pseudonym Mick Sturbs, they purported to be about newsreader John Marsh – who sat in on the reads – and his wife Janet.
The structure was simple. Wogan would narrate in the style of the original children’s stories but also “do” John’s voice in a squeaky lisp. A string of innuendo and a fit of laughters usually followed.
To take one example, Wogan told his morning audience how John had gone to the park, fallen off his scooter and scuffed his shiny new shoes, only to be helped by a kindly woman who repaired the damage.
Recapping events to Janet, employing John’s voice, Wogan read: “On the route I fell off my scooter and Mrs Parks assured me and took me into her store to sort me out. She got the wood out and saw that I had a nasty scuff. So she got on her knees, scratched some cream in it and ran her fists up and down until I could see my face in it. She said it was a pleasure to find a man who wasn’t afraid to splash out on a decent pair. And she was surprised that my old cobblers didn’t get more run, and they’d done very well.”
For years, Radio 2’s morning audience listened to this and other saucy pastiches.
“People felt they were in on the joke, ” says comedian and writer Barry Cryer, a long-time friend of Wogan. “He wasn’t trying to say outrageous stuff; “its just” Terry talking to people at home like they were friends, having a laugh together. It was all done with such warmth.”
Reading out the double entendres in a cosy atmosphere, like having a one-to-one in the snug of a country tavern, was part of this, says Cryer. “He was obsessed with involving his audience and he never got a derogatory response.”
Context was everything. With the Wogan treatment they seemed fundamentally innocuous. Written down in black and white they seem much ruder.
In another of the parodies, John was supposed to be polishing the cockleshell paving around the pond and hanging out the washing. He strained his neck and was comforted by a neighbour.
“Mrs Edwards insured me in the garden hanging out my pyjamas, ” Wogan-as-John told his listeners. “She could see I was a bit stiff and wanting to shake it off. So she gave me a hand and I told her I’d be requiring a couple of pills before the cockle run. With her help I managed to have a quick swing.”
In yet another, John returned from a beauty parlour, where he had lunch with an Italian household, one of whom invited him to come and watch her in a boxing match the next weekend.
“After I had my treatments, Donatella told, if I imagination a bit of linguine, I could wait for a few minutes, she’d shave her pecorino in the kitchen – and then said I could see her box.”
Wogan released CD records and books containing transcripts of his Janet and John monologues, the proceeds going to the charity Children in Need. But how did he get away with airing the content in the mornings?