We went behind the scenes on the set of The Late Late Toy Show yesterday, and just like the tin man, we left full of heart.
Yesterday was Toy Show Thursday (TST); an unofficial holiday but arguably one of the best days of the year.
The equivalent of Christmas Eve in Toy Show land, TST has become an annual celebration over the years and marks the first time that anyone other than Ryan Tubridy, the performers, and those immediately tied to the show, are told what the theme is. And may I just say, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…
For those of you who didn’t pick up on that not-so-subtle hint, this year’s theme will follow the yellow brick road all the way to Oz with Tubridy being joined by Dorothy, Toto and a whole host of munchkins as they head off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
After finishing the registration rigamarole and swearing myself to secrecy (so help me God), I (and all the other journalists) were ushered inside to meet the man of the hour, Mr Ryan Tubridy himself. It was at this point that I truly knew I was amongst friends as most of the staff had dressed up for the occasion with festive jumpers, reindeer ears, and novelty earrings aplenty. Was it too early to say “Merry Christmas”? Probably, but I did so anyway.
By far one of the most beloved Irish programmes of all time, the Toy Show has achieved cult status since its inception with millions of people settling in to watch the fun each year – last year, international viewers tuned in from over 100 different countries in cities like London, New York, Boston, Dubai and Sydney. Streamed live on RTÉ One and on the RTÉ Player, the show’s premise has burgeoned and evolved over the years, and despite its name, is actually much less about the toys and much more about the kids. As Tubs himself put it, “it’s not a toy show, it’s a childhood show”.
“It’s gotten more under the skin of childhood. I think for years it was a toy show and now it’s a childhood show. Initially, it was all about ‘How does that work? How does that work? How does that work?’, then suddenly the toys became very boring and the kids became much more interesting… I inherited a toy show but we have made it a childhood show.”
So, what can we expect this year? In a word; mayhem. Industry advice is to never work with children or animals but Tubridy is dismissive of such nonsense. “The show is utterly unpredictable… I don’t know what’s coming next. It’s like cutting the brakes in your car and rolling down a very steep hill. It’s terrifying, but I love it.”
“This year, we’re going back to basics. The Wizard of Oz is pure Christmas to me. It’s that lovely dream of no place like home. It’s simplicity, it’s nostalgia, it’s colourful, it’s romantic in its ideals. We think it’s perfect,” Tubs continued, lost in thought. “There aren’t many TV shows left where people will leave their phones down for a couple of hours. So, yeah, we’re going to follow the yellow brick road all the way home.”
From the green room, we moved to the set – one of the show’s best to date. Quirky and interesting and utterly delightful, there are eye-catching knickknacks in every which way… it’s a curious young child’s dream and the perfect playground for Ryan’s exuberant over-the-topness. Talking toys for a moment, everything from Squishmallows to new LEGO sets to Gabby’s Dollhouse will be featured (amongst many, many others). And with the current climate crisis not far from mind, there will also be a special spotlight on more sustainable alternatives – a 3D model of Croke Park and DluluKaloo wooden toys for example.
Now in his 14th year at the helm of the festive favourite, Tubridy’s opening sequence has also grown year on year and while “out of tune” (by his own admissio), it’s an annual highlight, nevertheless.“There’s a song in the middle of the show which is pure Christmas. The Toy Show needed more Christmas I think and we go back to that kind of Dean Martin era this year. That lovely Bing Crosby vibe. The opening number, my role has been reduced to one of such insignificance that if you blink long enough, you’ll miss it. But you know, I’m all in. I’m all in for this, I’ll do whatever they require. You have to buy in fully.”
Tubs is only nervous about the beginning, the middle and the end though; everything else should be fine. More than 200 young performers, hailing from all parts of Ireland, will also take to the stage throughout the show – the youngest of whom is just four-year-old
“The show is peppered with stories and children and moments that reflect where we are now. You will see a flavour of Ukraine in the show, you will see a flavour of people who have gotten a bad throw of the dice in life. We tend not to necessarily talk about it in a very ostentatious way because we have to protect the children, but those undercurrents are there… The Toy Show is about if you’re kind and that’s all that matters.”
As with previous shows from years gone by, this year will have Amanda Coogan, Jason Maguire and Ciara Grant presenting The Late Late Toy Show live with Irish Sign Language (ISL) on the RTÉ News channel and RTÉ Player.
While the show itself is indisputably all about escapism and fun, it has also introduced a more philanthropic element in recent years and tonight’s programme will again feature the now-annual Toy Show Appeal. Back for its third year, the 2021 fundraiser amassed a hugely impressive €6.8million and provided support to over 160 children’s charities. With at least one project in every county in Ireland receiving funds, it is estimated that the monies raised helped over 1.1 million children and family members in 2022 – a testament to just how much this show truly means to the public.
To state the obvious, that’s a hell of a lot of money, but figures aside, it’s times like these that I’m extremely proud to be Irish. The country never feels more united than when watching the Toy Show and the way we pull together when times get tough is nothing short of incredible. The past few years have been one of the hardest years in history for Irish people – I don’t need to relive the details, we were all there – and yet we collectively managed to raise close to €7 million for charity? We’re a generous people but that would warm the cockles of your heart… it certainly did mine.
The Toy Show is more than just a show. For anyone who has ever endeavoured to try and explain the premise to international friends and family, it can be hard to nail down exactly what makes it so great. Is it the inherent Irishness? The nostalgia? The childlike glee that the show encourages in people (both young and old alike)?
Honestly, it’s probably a combination of all three, but it’s also the way it rallies the country to unite for a good cause. Whatever it boils down to, the Toy Show can only be described as an Irish institution and I hope I’m still watching when I’m 90.
You can watch The Late Late Toy Show November 25th, at 9:35pm on RTÉ One. The show will also be available to stream worldwide on the RTÉ Player. A full list of the toys featured on the show can be found on the RTÉ website following the broadcast. All toys featured on the night will be donated to Irish charities. Donations for this year’s appeal can be made throughout the show and after it has finished via the RTÉ website and via the Revolut app.