The Late Late Toy Show is more than just an entertainment programme. It’s part of our culture and, not only that, it marks the official start of a real Irish Christmas, suggests Jen Hogan.
UNLESS you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that tonight’s the night when the usual bedtimes of children all over the country are abandoned and adults everywhere get set to revisit their inner child as the Late Late Toy Show hits our screens.
We’ve been counting down the sleeps here all week and while all my seven children may not manage to stay awake long enough to see the entire show out, they’re certainly determined to give it their best shot.
This year’s Toy Show received a record number of ticket applications as grown-ups countrywide, myself included, threw their name into the lottery in the hope of being part of the magic they’ve enjoyed since childhood.
In the absence of golden tickets we’ll be setting up camp in front of the fire, all shamelessly decked out in festive onesies.
The kids will have their hot chocolate filled to the brim with marshmallows, the adults a glass of red to toast the season of goodwill and we’ll no doubt look at each other in amazement and disbelief when at 10.30 the younger kids are still awake and buzzing — nothing at all to do with the recent sugar overload.
The Late Late Toy Show is more than just an entertainment programme. It’s part of Irish culture, intrinsic to our Christmas celebrations and just speaking to the staff and children who have been involved in the show, it’s easy to see why.
This is producer Nigel Power’s first Toy Show. When I phoned to speak with him about preparations, he was in the middle of playing with some of the toys he had been sent — which he says, is “a perk of the job”.
Nigel explains that the show is actually a year in the planning but that “it gets intense from September until Toy Show night. The hours can be mad but it doesn’t matter, it’s just great fun. It’s watched all over the world.
“We’ve received letters from all over the world from people saying — can you say hello to my kids, in Dubai, literally everywhere.
“It’s a uniquely Irish programme, most people have grown up with it. “It’s woven into the fabric of Irish society. It’s a national treasure. You don’t have to be in Ireland to enjoy the Toy show,” Nigel says, describing it as “a link to home”.
“You never know how live TV is going to go. That’s the great thing about live TV. One of the most amazing thing about kids is their unpredictability,” Nigel laughs.
“That’s what we want to see, real kids on TV just being themselves having a bit of fun, that’s what it’s all about.”
Researcher Kate Olohan, also known as Chief Elf, has worked on the Toy Show for nine years and says that the show has evolved significantly during her time.
“There has definitely been a shift in marrying technology with the toys, which we’re very conscious of, and that we don’t overdo that because kids are kids and it’s nice to be able to keep the magic of the toy without having anything to do with the phone,” she says.
The performances have really grown, which Kate explains is a great thing because of the new way we watch television. With performances watched over and over again, thanks to On Demand TV and RTÉ player, they need “to stand the test of time”, she adds.
“We’re very conscious that we are a window into the homes of up to 1.5 million people around the country but apart from that, which is huge, we are also conscious that we have kids in studio — we have them in rehearsals, we have them on the night obviously — we want to make their experience magical and memorable too, it’s not just about the millions that are watching.”
“They’re not just a cast member, they’re a huge part of what the Toy Show represents.
“We’re so lucky to work on it,” Kate says excitedly, adding that it often “doesn’t feel like work”. Behind the scenes, is incredibly festive too and “all the researchers dress up”. “Even for the adults in the audience, when they see us dressed up, it just breeds the whole idea that Christmas has started because the Toy Show is on,” she says.
Two children whose dreams came true and who formed part of the 2016 Toy Show line-up are Bernard Lawrence from Mayo and Alex Nicholas from Donegal. Bernard who performed a breathtaking rendition of ‘The Foggy Dew’ says he was incredibly excited to hear he was going on the show. “I nearly broke my neck jumping!” he says. “I couldn’t believe it. My friends and family were so happy.”
Finding the whole occasion even better than he imagined and describing it as the best experience of his life he says “it looks really cool on TV but it was just OTT brilliant!” Alex enchanted the nation with his demonstration of the workings of the “worry plaque”.
When asked about his experience, Alex explains that “Ryan (Tubridy) is really nice. He’s just like a parent or something.”
As for his feelings on the night, he says: “I was nervous at the start but when it came to the evening I just thought, I am so excited”. “My class were so proud they made a poster,” he adds. “It’s probably, mostly the best thing that ever happened to me.” Offering advice to the children taking part in tonight’s show Alex says “It’s ok to be nervous, but you always just get excited at the end.”
Even the celebs aren’t immune to the charm of the Toy Show. Former Ireland rugby captain, Jamie Heaslip popped in last year to surprise young fan Evan Hoban. Heaslip says he enjoyed his time on the Toy Show and as a child it was “something he dreamed of being on”.
So what does the host of the most widely anticipated programme think of it all?
“The great thing about the Toy Show is that it has less to do with the toys and more to do with the children,” Tubridy says. “People remember the child with the watch, or the child with the My Little Pony or with the farm set, or the child obsessed with the weather. I love that. It has got a charm of its own.”
Unlike the many kids who’ll be staying up well past their usual bedtime tonight, Tubridy’s childhood memories of the Toy Show are “from the Sunday afternoons after the show aired. I liked to wait until then to watch it with the sun up outside, the fire on and loads of sweets”.
Much anticipated of course, is the revelation of tonight’s theme. “It is going to be different to anything we’ve ever done before because we are going somewhere we have never been before in terms of the setting, my outfit and the theme generally speaking,” he promises.
“It will have a particular interest to an island nation and it is a universal story, much loved and I think all ages will get a kick out of it, “ he adds.
So — snowman onesie at the ready. Let the hourly countdown to the Toy Show and the official start of Christmas begin!
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