Every year on a Friday, some weeks before Christmas, RTE’s Late Late Show hosts The Toy Show. Running for over 35 years ago, it’s a rite-of-passage for Irish children growing up. Some Anti Room contributor’s share their memories…
As a child I, along with my many, many sisters and lone brother, was always allowed to stay up for The Late Late Toy Show. It was an occasion observed as faithfully as turkey for Christmas dinner. My memories date exclusively back to the reign of Uncle Gaybo. In fact, although I can’t be absolutely sure of this I seem to remember that all the early ones I saw were broadcast in black & white. We huddled in front of the telly: faces scrubbed clean, teeth hastily done, pyjamas on and wrapped in a variety of hastily gathered quilts and blankets. As the distinctive signature tune rang out mum and dad shouted “hurry up, you’ll miss it” and we scurried down the stairs. Of course we craved the toys and bitterly envied the children invited on to demonstrate them but, despite our excitement, we rarely made it all the way to the end. One by one we dropped off to sleep even as we insisted that we “weren’t tired at all” and were carried upstairs and tucked into bed. Naturally, now that I have my own two little lads, we observe the same ritual. Tonight we’ll be in our PJs in front of a roaring fire with hot chocolate, marshmallows and a tin of Quality Street (I have my instructions) watching Uncle Tubs. It might even be snowing. As for my husband Derek. Well he’s inexplicably turning his back on the occasion and heading into the Button Factory to hear Steve Ignorant belt out a few Crass tunes. Chacun à son goût! Eleanor Fitzsimons
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My Scottish husband is totally baffled by the Late Late Toy Show tradition. The poor man just doesn’t get that it’s practically the law that children be allowed to stay up in their jim-jams to watch a show that goes on till almost midnight. He thinks it’s just crass commercialism – perish the thought! The Toy Show is pure magic, as anyone who grew up in Ireland will tell you. My memories are also from the era of Uncle Gaybo. We were insanely jealous of the children who took part, though my mother, ever the cynic, would always point out that we could never get on the show because we weren’t related to anyone in RTE. I’m sure she was wrong about that… Catherine Crichton
When I think of childhood telly, it’s of the televisual holy trinity, i.e. the three shows we were allowed stay up late for every year: The Rose of Tralee (mostly for girls, even if my younger brother feigned a smidge of interest just to avoid going to bed), the Eurovision (when Ireland used to actually win the thing once in a while) and the ne plus ultra of all three – The Late Late Toy Show. It was bath, jammies, wet hair squeakily combed and no messing allowed, on pain of being frog-marched up the stairs and missing out. Our collective hearts thumped along with the familiar drums of the signature tune and there it was… a lavish, sparkly, tinsel-soaked set looking like Santa’s Grotto on crack. Oodles of toys, from the old skool to the faddish must-haves were heaped around Gay Byrne, who looked avuncular, jumpertastic and, it had to be said, in his element. How we envied the kids who got to demonstrate games and monsters, dolls and gadgets. If any of them fluffed their words or the toys wouldn’t work, myself and my brothers were united in our Schadenfreude glee of how WE would have done it better. The whirling dervish Billie Barrie kids both awed and frightened me, and we shamelessly fast-forwarded their set-pieces on the video when we watched the show back the next day. In this day and age, some might say it’s a gluttonous ode to consumerism. Not me. It’s 100% escapism, fantasy and fun, especially in the context of Ireland’s economic black hole. My own children are a little too young for the Toy Show this year, but it won’t be long before we’re sitting down to it, while squabbling over a bag of Maltesers and guffawing at Ryan Tubridy’s jumper. Sinéad Gleeson
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My memories of the Late Late Toy Show are dominated by a few things: the excitement of staying up late; the glamour of all those unobtainable toys (that often ended up broken – the waste!) and the Billie Barrie Kids. I was horribly jealous of the Billie Barries because I was also in a stage school and we didn’t get to go on the Show (didn’t even audition!). I thought the BB’s were such fakes with their dazzling smiles and superior costumes.
We – there were 7 of us in my family – used to sit on Toy Show night finding fault with everything and everyone on the Show. My Ma would lament ‘You’re sooooooooooooo critical’, every ten minutes to which we would snarl with cynical, childish laughter. And I loved it. Year after year. Even now, with kids of my own from 17 to one-year-old, I feel excited at the prospect of the Toy Show. It’s a time marker, a lead up to the big day. I’m glad it has endured even if the toys are still mostly unobtainable. I think the talent may have improved though. Has it?! Nuala Ní Chonchúir