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Happy legacy of the master behind Wanderly Wagon

One of my fondest childhood memories is being taken into the RTE studios -- where my Dad worked -- as a small child. It was, as now, vast and we were bamboozled by the make-up rooms, enormous studios and the sets which seemed so huge on television but in fact were small, and fake.

It didn't matter. We were only there to see one thing. We had heard that the Wanderly Wagon was there. Our absolutely favourite programme with the most magical of props -- long before the Tardis and the strange Doctor entered our lives. Wanderly Wagon with its wonderful characters -- Mr Crow, Judge and Godmother. But our favourite, of course was the late, great Eugene Lambert who played O'Brien (and, if truth be known) all the other non-human characters as well.

But we thought they were real, so the art of puppeteering was lost on us. No matter. It was a wonderful day, marred only by the disappointment that none of them were home the day we visited and it was bare and tiny inside with wooden beams and not even a cracked teapot for Godmother to make a cuppa. What had happened? Where was everything gone?

"They're here, but you won't see them," explained my Dad. "They're magic, you see. They only come out when the television is on." Ah! We understood completely. We were at the age of the equally elusive Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

As an adult, we had myriad birthday parties in Lambert's Puppet Theatre in Monkstown for my own children. It was a bit like Wanderly Wagon itself, tucked into a side street in a small building, which, when you entered, opened up into a 250 seat auditorium as if from nowhere.

The kids loved the live performances of Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella or Sinbad. They loved the simplicity of the birthday tea which was lovingly prepared by one or more of the extended Lambert family.

You could bring your own cake and everyone would get a tour of the puppet museum, allowed to touch and operate the complicated mechanisms.

Little did we know then our footsteps would be followed by the illustrious Michael Jackson who visited Lambert's and marvelled, just like we did, over the magical art which brought the inanimate to life.

Eugene Lambert's death won't bring an end to the puppet theatre -- which was world renowned. Hopefully the skills he taught his ten children, some of whom now run the shows and parties, will continue.

It's funny how iconic people can come from humble roots. Eugene was a refrigeration technician but his large family meant money was tight. He made extra income by running Punch & Judy shows which ended up being not only his business, but his love.

After Wanderly Wagon there was Bosco, voiced by first Miriam and then Paula Lambert. Then there was the Green Cross Code ads which made Judge the Dog even more famous. Every child in the country knew that song.

Truly, Eugene Lambert left this country a legacy ... and a lot of happy children.


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