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  • Blarney, ‘blanks’ and Terry Wogan’s tax planning

    3 April 2017

    Andy Wood

    Although his first job application to the BBC was rejected by none other than Sir David Attenborough, Terry Wogan went on to become just as much of a fixture in the broadcasting firmament as the godfather of the Corporation’s Natural History department.

    From the early 1970s, he made Radio 2’s breakfast slot his own before hosting an eponymously-titled chat show, a comedic game show (‘Blankety Blank’), assuming the role of chief compère for the annual ‘Children in Need’ fundraising spectacular and winning renown for his tongue-in-cheek baiting of contestants and judges alike in the Eurovision Song Contest.

    Over more than half a century on the airwaves in his native Ireland and the UK, Wogan – who was made a knight in 2005 – was the epitome of Irish good humour and gift of the gab or ‘blarney’.

    However, another facet to his legacy may be the astute planning which he adopted before his death from cancer in January 2016.

    At one stage the BBC’s highest-paid radio presenter, Wogan was said to have earned more than £20 million during his career, an income which reputedly bought a country estate in Buckinghamshire and a holiday home in the south-west of France.

    Yet news reports have detailed how the net worth of his estate was a fraction of the total sums generated by his talent.

    What I found most was interesting was not just the disparity between the two figures or the professional guidance which he apparently received – allowing him to make lifetime gifts to and set up trusts for his family – but the tone of the coverage.

    The twin mix of celebrity and tax often leads to only negative headlines but Terry Wogan was being widely praised for having the “last laugh at the taxman”.

    That was a dramatic contrast with the criticism heaped on the comedian Jimmy Carr and boyband Take That for investing in tax avoidance schemes.

    Carr later admitted the furore was so great that it could have ended his career, while three members of Take That eventually paid up £20 million to HMRC to settle its investigations.

    In my opinion, the difference between their cases and Terry Wogan’s may be in part be to do with the fact that he was regarded as an avuncular, loveable Irishman whereas Carr is an acerbic, controversial comedian and Take That polarise the opinions of music-lovers.

    It is also perhaps reflects a different attitude to planning around inheritance tax and income tax planning / avoidance. Whereas the sort of tax avoidance practiced by Carr and Take That is perhaps now seen as a bit grubby, Inheritance Tax (IHT) planning seems, at present anyway, to be fair game. Why might this be the case? It is still tax. It still pays for public services.

    If there’s one possible positive from all the stories, it’s that they have given additional profile to the need to put effective, legal planning in place.

    Though, one is left wondering whether the Estate would have made any remaining tax liability with a blankety blank cheque book and pen…