Sunday 18 August 2019

You know you’re watching The Toy Show when... 10 typical Toy Show treats

Some ‘institutions’ have been hoist with their own petard in recent times, but not the show that signifies the start of Christmas for children nationwide. Yes, tonight is the night when RTE hosts the only game in town, writes Sheena McGinley

John Joe Best - the horologist from Late Late Toy Show
John Joe Best - the horologist from Late Late Toy Show

Sheena McGinley

There are few certainties in life. Death is one, and the remainder all seem to occur during The Late Late Toy Show every year — well, every year since it became the beast it is today.

You see, The Late Late Toy Show wasn’t always the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that 1.3m viewers tune themselves into. It had humble beginnings in the early Seventies as a half-hour segment during the usual Friday night marathon of unrelated delights. Its purpose was to give viewing parents an insight into what the kids may want to ferret out from under the tree.

There were no children involved, nobody tap-dancing up a storm, just Gay Byrne casually running you through a couple of items. Such was its success, RTE decided to make it an annual jamboree. Usually airing the first Friday of December — and therefore heralding the onslaught of the festive season — it’s morphed into a veritable tornado of Christmas cheer, including festive knitwear, child-led performances, and all manner of unscripted frivolity.

This year, Ryan Tubridy will host arguably the TV event of the year for the 10th time. Since taking over the reins in 2009, the energy of The Toy Show has ratcheted up tenfold and the opening numbers have never been so elaborate. Or have they...

1. The Opening Number

The first of our Late Late Toy Show certainties sets the tone for the whole show. In recent years, Tubs has bustled his way onstage in an array of guises, including Baloo the big-arsed bear in The Jungle Book (theme of 2016), several characters throughout Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (theme of 2014) and busting out the moves as Sebastian the crab during 2017’s ‘Under The Sea’ spectacular. So anticipated is the theme, that bookies had odds on 2018’s efforts being Muppet-related. Of course, as we now know, this year’s  extravaganza is inspired by The Greatest Showman.

To date, The Toy Show has managed to orchestrate opening numbers based on Beauty and The Beast, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, and Toy Story (indeed, Tubs did make a good Woody), but none were as prolific as The Toy Show opening sequence of 2005. The boom was in full swing and not content with having Pat Kenny enter the studio astride a live elephant a few years earlier, the powers that be in RTE went all out with a vignette depicting Dave McSavage as a rather disgruntled Beetlejuice, who banned a herd of carollers from singing for Santa.

Instead of just heading off, the leader of the group (literally) gets her dad’s army to lay siege on the building. Seemingly, the props department didn’t have enough of the one theme to clothe an army, so the infantry comprised of sword-wielding Celts, Normans, an array of fire breathers and — weirdly — a couple of stormtroopers and Darth Vadar on horseback. And you’ll never guess who Darth was.

2. Jumper Joy

Tubridy on the new set. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Second annual Toy Show certainty, and almost as anticipated as the opening gambit, is Tubridy’s choice of attire. The Christmas jumpers displayed on this night have morphed from being a barrage of beige, a montage of wooden cardies, to all manner of woolly wonderment. It truly is a joy to behold. Okay, there was that dark year in 2016, when Ryan attempted to pull off a festive shirt as a Christmas jumper, but let us never speak of that again.

3. Demo Disasters

If anything, current host Ryan revels when a toy breaks or refuses to perform under duress. He riffs, ribs, and comically kicks the offending item off-screen, while casually turning our attention to something else. In fact, it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if Ryan demands that the production team tamper with some products for the purpose of improv. The same tenacity, however, couldn’t be said for his predecessors. During the Pat Kenny decade, if anything did not compute, buttocks collectively clenched across the country. Gay, meanwhile, would generally turn the patronising up to 11. 

4. More Song and Dance

For seemingly decades, it was a veritable Billie Barry bonanza, with the increasing amount of toy demonstrations peppered with tap-dancing seven-year-olds in identical slicked-back buns, sequins, lipstick and a blur of jazz hands. It was incredibly glamorous, especially since The Toy Show entertainment throughout most of the late Seventies consisted mostly of stoic set dancers and choirs. Nowadays, a single song and dance sequence demands several dance troupes, a soloist, a lone breakdancer, and a squeeze-box aficionado.

5. Trending Tubs

The Late Late Toy Show has long been an institution, but it’s truly come into its own since the proliferation of social media. Much like the Eurovision, a second screen usually enhances the experience.

The Twitter of 10 years ago was noticeably different to that of today. In 2009, when Tubridy started, the PC police weren’t out in force, so most of the posts would raise more than a few brows. The majority of comments would be good-natured, often scraping just a bit off the bone, but it would be taken in good jest.

Nowadays, 20pc of tweets from viewers are either overtly saccharine (because people are perennially petrified of saying the wrong thing), while the other 80pc are baying for the blood of an innocent six-year-old girl who — according to Lord Twitter — incited animal cruelty by singing a questionable My Little Pony rhyme.

6. Midlands Minute

Almost every year, you are guaranteed a child with the head of a 50-year-old on him, usually hailing from Roscommon, or Cavan. There was  There was Junior Culchie of the Year Junior Culchie of the Year Mark McSharry from Co Cavan, who arrived straddling a motorised tractor in 2009, resplendent in his tweeds, his trilby, and what appeared to be plastic sheeting. 

In 2013, Fergal Smith (also from Cavan) got to co-host a segment alongside Ryan. Both looked a picture in matching green Nutcracker jumpers; 2012 saw the arrival of Alex Meehan, purposefully pedalling a tractor with a stuffed horse in the back. The five-year-old, a man of few words, was the star of Twitter thanks to his tweed cap, blue Rae Bans, and his cúpla focal.

No one, however, captured the hearts, minds and pocket watches of everyone in the audience in 2009 more than John Joe O’Reilly from Roscommon. His job was to review some Roald Dahl books — instead, we all wanted to hear about his grá for horology.

The now 16-year-old was last spotted in Paris, where he lives with his parents. He is still surrounded by clocks.

7. The ‘Surprise’ Guest

Whether it’s home-grown heroes like Dermot Bannon, Evelyn Cusack and Robbie Keane on crutches, or worldwide stars such as Ed Sheeran, Liam Neeson or a seriously befuddled Jerry Seinfeld (SEINFELD, Pat, SEINFELD) , the intended results are always the same. Little faces filled with impromptu joy as their idol pops up from behind them. Unless you’re Toby Kane, that is.

In 2003, Toby was happily crooning Girls Aloud’s rendition of Jump when all five members of the group sidled in. His response? You’ve never seen terror like it. Even when he was asked the enviable question, “Would you like to chat to the girls backstage?” the shook answer was a frenzied “no”.

The surprise guest appearance who shall not be surpassed, however, is one Sergeant Graham Burke, who had been serving in the defence forces in Mali, Africa. His three kids hadn’t seen him in six months when Ryan helped Burke hop out of a wrapped box on last year’s Toy Show. Now, moments like that are worth the licence fee.

8. Yet More Song and Dance...

Picture the scene: it’s 10.45pm, any children still viewing at home, mainlining hot chocolate while swaddled in their jammies, are either seriously on the nod or bouncing off the walls. And then, there’s another bamboozling musical interlude... WHY?! But then it becomes clear why. Because they’re amazing. 2016 showcased the stunning pipes of one Aaron Ryan who blared diva classic And I Am Telling You. He deservedly received a standing ovation. Last year, we had the Holy Family Junior Deaf Choir who melted hearts with their rendition of True Colours. They are the moments of brilliance worth waiting for.

9. Stamina Marvelment

Whatever about your own children staying awake for the show’s entirety, how, in the name of jaysus, do the kids participating on stage stay alert? How are they not headbutting the set pieces? It’s 11.30pm, and they’re still singing and dancing their little hearts out.

10. ‘Everyone in The Audience’ Envy

While regular viewers are used to hearing the term, ‘One for everyone in the audience’, it seems to be bandied every five minutes on The Toy Show and is always met with uproarious applause.

It been widely reported that businesses pay big bucks (allegedly in the region of €40k) to give away their wares to an entire Toy Show audience, as it’s a desirable advertising space: €100 worth of Lidl vouchers, two build-your-own farm vouchers, a Lego city, a Fuji Polaroid camera, a slew of new books, and — in true Irish style — all chucked into a sizeable bin bag for audience members to gleefully cart home. And that, dear reader, is why coveted Toy Show tickets sell on for the princely sums of €1,500. Worth every penny.

So grab your first selection box of 2018 and slip into the festive onesie, as we’re in for another treat tonight from 9.35pm. For those of you who prefer their Friday nights sans their children, it’s repeated tomorrow on RTE One at 2.45pm.


With roughly five to 10 toys being demonstrated by each child on the Toy Show, and in the region of 25 kids per show (including Ryan), that is A LOT of toys. We’re talking around 200 products per show. Multiply that by 43 years and, well, that just makes it near impossible to whittle it down to just a few. But sure there’s no harm trying!

 Batmobile Electronic Ride (2017)

Almost every year, you’re guaranteed a young man called Tadhg. Last year, Tadhg cruised into studio in a Batmobile Electronic Ride On (pictured above, worth €199.99). What was most memorable, however, was when Tubs careered the car across the stage before dragging poor Tadhg across the floor.

 The Diabetes Doll (2016)

Having diabetes herself, young Beibhinn was all over demonstrating the doll who also requires insulin injections. While impressed with the product, Beibhinn wasn’t as keen on Ryan’s choice of festive shirt...

 Plastic Toy Kitchens (2011)

Five-year-old Cassandra Bridgeman had to watch as Ryan inadvertently dismantle a toy kitchen before drop kicking it off the stage. And, boy, how we laughed.

 Super Soaker 50 (1991)

Arguably Uncle Gaybo’s Falling Down

moment: after being soaked by Zig, Zag and   Dustin the Turkey, Gay went rogue with this newly released water gun. He soaked the entire audience and one seriously irked stage manager in the process.

 Dryad Seagrass Stool Craft Kit (1990)

You see, kids, we were given a few bits of wood, some straw, and told to make the family some furniture. Despite possibly being the worst toy demo ever, Brian and Eamon O’Sullivan from Co Kerry were still suitably enthused. That was until Gay asked if it was difficult, to which they responded: “The weaving was the hardest... the instructions weren’t very good.”

 Record playing

VolksWagen Bus (1981)

A prototype product, this miniature mechanical VW Bus contained a speaker and a stylus and could, therefore, play any long play record it trundled around. Nearly four decades on and still impressive.



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