Sunday 18 August 2019

How the 'Toy Show' won the hearts of generations of kids

Everyone has their own favourite moments from RTE's iconic show, but our reporter asked the three presenters what made the show special for them over the years

Original 'Toy Show' host Gay Byrne gets to grips with a Zag teddy while donning his festive jumper in 1989.
Original 'Toy Show' host Gay Byrne gets to grips with a Zag teddy while donning his festive jumper in 1989.
Ryan Tubridy opens the 2014 show with a 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' medley
Pat Kenny rides in wearing his navy 'Toy Show' jumper in 2000
Gaybo has fun on set in 1987
John Joe Best - the horologist from Late Late Toy Show
Ed Sheeran and Aimee on 2014 Late Late Toy Show

Vicki Notaro

'I can't tell you anything," says Ryan Tubridy. "it's like a festive omerta, so stop asking!" No, the broadcaster hasn't gone all mobster - he's just sworn to secrecy about the details of Friday night's Late Late Toy Show, the shining beacon in RTE's winter schedule.

And perhaps the presenter, taking the reigns for the seventh year running, is right to be coy about what we can expect of this much-beloved television institution. It is after all the unofficial start of the Christmas season in Ireland, and the one time of year that kids (little and large) actively encourage their parents to tune in to the Late Late Show.

It's become such a behemoth in the 40 years it's been a standalone show on RTE One that last year's production was the most-watched Irish TV programme this century - especially impressive when you think of the amount of digital distractions and web series vying for our attention in this day and age.

It's so big that another Irish institution, Penneys, has teamed up with RTE to produce a line of Late Late Toy Show Christmas jumpers and loungewear in aid of Temple Street Children's Hospital.

"It all started with a little idea," Gay Byrne tells the Irish Independent. "One of the researchers went to Nimble Fingers in Blackrock and brought back a few little gimmicky toys which were more for grown-ups than kids, and we thought it would make a nice little segment.

"It went down so well, we did half-an-hour the following year, and then the year after that we got the idea to do the standalone toy show.

"I don't think anyone had tried anything like it on TV before, and we weren't afraid to experiment. People realised in watching it that they could stay up late with the kids and have a special adventure."

If you and yours are planning to kick back with a selection box and watch the Toy Show tomorrow night with oh, more than a million other people, you know you can expect cute kids, amazing gift ideas and brilliant performances as well as some loud jumpers (looking at you, Ryan).

But what are the most memorable moments in the show's history, the segments that shot the show to infamy and settled it firmly in the nation's hearts? We asked the main players, past and present, to recount their best bits.


It's fair to say that Gay Byrne was one of the country's most serious and well-respected broadcasters by the time the Toy Show rolled around in 1975, but he was no stranger to playing the fool on this one occasion every year, literally rolling around on the floor with the kids, allowing stunts to occur right over his head and, of course, wearing his civvies.

"I don't know whose bright idea it was for me to wear those ridiculous jumpers, but I do know we copied it from Val Doonican. What happened though, was that I'd be sweating like a pig all night under the lights, so perhaps it wasn't a very good one."


When Pat Kenny took over in 1999, he was loath to continue the festive geansai trend.

"I wore a navy jumper with 'The Late Late Toy Show' embroidered on it, and navy trousers," he recalls.

"I wanted to be unobtrusive, and to allow the children to really be the ones that shone. After all, it was all about them, and that's one thing our team did really well - put the kids front and centre."

One way in which Kenny was happy to shine during his tenure was with the ever-creative openings. From a pre-recorded trip to Lapland, to jumping out of a helicopter and even rolling in to studio in a giant zorbing ball, Pat did like to make an entrance.

His most fondly remembered arrival? "Oh that would have to be the year I came in on the back of an elephant, I think that was 2002. It was special for me because my father was the elephant keeper at Dublin Zoo for years, and the feeling of elephant hair in your hands is very evocative and brings back lots of memories.

"It's quite a powerful thing to sit astride one! And I don't know if that would be allowed these days, with health and safety."


John Joe Best - the horologist from Late Late Toy Show

John Hoe the horologist

"I think everyone remembers John Joe the horologist," says Tubridy, referring to the eight year-old book reviewer from the 2010 show that stole hearts across the country with his matter-of-fact tone and adorable glasses.

"He was a wonderfully eccentric young man and it was tremendous to see people take him into their hearts. That's the great thing about the Toy Show, you can plan and plan but the magic comes in the moments that you just can't predict."

John Joe was such a star that the Late Late Show had him back on in 2013. Three years older and wiser, he said at the time he "treasured" the memory of the segment, and how well received it had been.

John Joe wasn't the only star though. There was Alex Meehan from Dundalk, whose response to Ryan's "any craic?" was a simple "Níl" before cycling off, and little Toby that suffered from extreme stage fright in front of Girls Aloud.

One young man that got a taste for the spotlight was Joseph McCaul, famous since his appearance in 2000 for winning You're a Star with his sister Donna, representing Ireland at the Eurovision and this year, appearing on The X Factor.

He's Kenny's most well-remembered child star. "He stood out, I'm not surprised he went on to entertain."

"Being a guest on the Toy Show at such a young age was brilliant, I was so happy to have been a part of it and my mam was over the moon!

"Since I could open my mouth as a baby I was either singing or acting, so I always knew that I wanted to be on telly and be famous. But then I suppose been on the Toy Show and gaining insight into TV world made me realise it was something I really wanted to do more of," said Joe.

But it nearly wasn't meant to be. "Mum had sent in a video of me singing, but they got it too late to be considered. Instead, they invited me to audition to test the toys."

Joe says he's just waiting for his friends to start posting the video of his appearance to social media again. "It happens every year, and it's so cringey!"


Ed Sheeran and Aimee on 2014 Late Late Toy Show

Ed Sheeran and Aimee

Star guests have long been a big part of the Toy Show, from Boyzone's return to Gaybo's stage a year after their first appearance as a group, to the familiar faces of Dustin the Turkey and Jedward, Irish celebrities have always seen the value in showing up.

However, soccer star Robbie Keane went one better when he surprised little fan Domhnall in 2013.

"That moment when Robbie came out and Domhnall couldn't talk was special," recalls Tubridy.

"And last year's Ed Sheeran moment was great (above). Aimee's reaction was brilliant and even though he'd just come off a flight he instantly got what the spirit of the show was about. There was a warmth about it that was just gorgeous and it had people talking for days afterwards."


"One thing I insisted on was having a segment on books," remembers Gay. "It was important to give children the gift of reading, and they responded so well to it."

"It's the kids that make it magical, and my most memorable Toy Show moment are all the small memories," says Tubridy.

"Like my first Toy Show when one of the kids was doing a toy demonstration and her nose was running. I had a tissue so I wiped her nose clean because her dignity was under attack.

"It was a tiny gesture, the sort of thing you would do as a father with your own kids, and it was in that moment that I thought 'This is what I should be doing'. That was when I felt like I had taken ownership of it."

The Late Late Toy Show airs tonight (Friday November 27) on RTE One at 9.35pm.

Irish Independent

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