Tuesday 23 December 2014

'Late Late Toy Show' goes down a treat - without a spoonful of sugar in sight

John Boland

Published 30/11/2013 | 02:11

Fergal Smith from Cavan (11) and Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Toy Show
Ryan Tubridy with the performers on set of the Late Late toy Show 2013

YOU'D have to be the grinch who hated Christmas not to love 'The Late Late Toy Show'.

That, at any rate, is the accepted wisdom and every 12 months more than a million believers testify to its truth -- it's invariably the most-watched Irish television programme of the year.

Indeed, such is the devotion it commands that when a woman called Barbara informed the show's then host Pat Kenny that she wasn't interested in the tickets she'd just won to that year's 'Toy Show', the studio audience gasped at her sacrilegious scorning of these deified objects.

Kenny himself was so outraged at her effrontery that he tore her tickets up on the spot.

That was five years ago and a year later Ryan Tubridy first donned the woolly jumper that's been de rigueur for this festive occasion ever since Gay Byrne introduced the one-night-only casual look four decades ago.

And he didn't break the tradition on last night's show, which he had promised us during an advance puff on the tea-time news was going to be "a bit special".

By "special" he seemed to mean that this year's show was adopting a Mary Poppins theme, though that had been a very badly kept secret; or perhaps he was referring to the fact that he'd be bursting into song, though he'd already done that in 2010 when he warbled a tune from 'Willy Wonka'.

In the event he opened the show as chimney sweep Bert belting out 'Chim-Chim-Cheree', then sported a very loudly striped end-of-pier blazer and boater as a troupe of kids did a spirited rendition of 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'.

It was certainly a rousing start to a show that then settled into its time-honoured format -- chit-chat with children, trying out toys, musical numbers, novelty bits and special guests. And effortlessly holding it all together was its host, who was clearly having a ball.

Indeed, while Gay Byrne was always an avuncular presence and Pat Kenny earnestly intent on manufacturing a good time, Tubridy was in his element, interacting with the children on their own level, just as fascinated by the toys and gadgets as they were and only too happy to make an eejit of himself.

And they responded in kind, gabbling their heads off to him, as if he was just a taller version of themselves and with little or no self-consciousness about them. That's a tribute to Tubridy, who perhaps should consider populating the 'Late Late' with children rather than celebs throughout the rest of the year. Certainly he'd be more at ease and less likely to run through interviews as if he'd a bus to catch.

Oh, and when he got round to unveiling his woolly jumper, which even Noel Edmunds in his heyday might have baulked at wearing, he seemed genuinely tickled by its naff loudness.

Ninety minutes before the 'Late Late' began, Alan Hughes was sporting a red woolly jumper on TV3's 'Christmas Toys', a pre-emptive strike that seemed intended to steal some of RTE's thunder, though at one-fifth of the Late Late's length it was unlikely to do that. Filmed at Tattersall's country house in Ratoath, Co Meath, it was all a bit thin in its run-through of a range of toys and gadgets.

Still, Alan's infectious good cheer and his engaging rapport with the young children who were his toy-assessors couldn't be faulted.

Indeed, like Tubridy, he charmingly came across as the biggest child in the room. And for some viewers, the show might well have offered all they needed to know about toys.

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