Yer Only Man: Irish Television Puppets
The release of new documentary Being Elmo has got us thinking about the wealth of great puppet-based children’s programming we were lucky to have had over the decades. For a small island, Ireland had produced some fantastic home-grown childrens programming. From Judge and Crow all the way up along to the notorious Podge and Rodge, Volta takes a look at some of the nation’s favourite children's puppets.
In 1967, the family run Lambert Puppet Theatre concocted a superbly funny and entertaining children's programme about a magical wagon with a colourful cast of characters which continued all the way to 1982. The puppets featured on Wanderly Wagon included Crow, a sharp-witted crow who lived in a cuckoo clock and loved to lash out a zinger where appropriate; Judge, a level-headed dog who crossed over from television to become a national figurehead in the Road Safety Authority’s Safe Cross Code initiative to children; Sneaky Snake whose name says it all, in that he is a sneaky snake; and Foxy, a character who pops up every now and then sporting a tough, gangster persona. Wanderly Wagon also produced a spin-off series called Fortycoats which featured a man who owns a flying sweet-shop and wears forty coats whose catchphrase was “Be me forty coats and fifty pockets!”. You can watch selected episodes of Wanderly Wagon here.
The androgynous red-headed puppet is one of RTE’s most beloved television hosts. Bosco and his human co-hosts not only told us stories, sang us sings and plays games with us, but they also sometime brought us though the Magic Door to somewhere extremely exciting like Dublin Zoo or, if we were really lucky, the HB ice-cream factory. Although the Bosco puppet has a static, somewhat inexpressive face, Paula Lambert's voice performance ensured that there was no shortage of character! Educational, fun and always a great advocate of tidying up through song Bosco still puts a nostalgic smile on many an adult face in Ireland.
Zig and Zag
in 1987, two aliens named Zigmund Ambrose Zogly and Zagnatius Hillary Zogly crash-landed in Donnybrook, Dublin 4 and were promptly taken in by friendly broadcaster Ian Dempsey. Zig and Zag, two brothers from the planet Zog were unique creations indeed. Unlike the Lambert Puppet Theatre characters, they were less about education and more about the pursuit of 'divilment'. Zig and Zag were much more than a quick link between cartoons. Their hilarious banter with Ian Dempsey and later Ray D’Arcy was just as entertaining as Transformers, Jem and the Holograms or Bouli ever could be. Fact: Newly elected President Mary Robinson gave her first post-election television interview to Zig and Zag. The interview gave more insight into Mary Robinson than any journalist could hope to, proving she was a woman of the people and had a superb sense of humour. Not bad for a couple of furry aliens! The aliens also showed signs of psychic abilities when their first single, entitled Christmas No. 1, became the Christmas No. 1 in Ireland in 1990. Spooky.
The irreverent antics of Zig and Zag were nothing in comparison to Dustin the Turkey’s absolute disregard for authority, good taste and celebrities. Dustin the Turkey is the quintessential Dublin “wheeler dealer”, the Del Boy of Baile Atha Cliath. With a strong Northside twang, a penchant for Hiace vans and a good knowledge of what to do with a piece of “4x4”, Dustin often proved to be too much to handle for Ray as he pushed the boundaries of what could be said and implied on children’s television. As fun as Dustin was, Ray D’Arcy’s constant discomfort, embarrassment and often genuine frustration was even more fun for children to watch. And speaking of embarrassment; Dustin went on to represent Ireland in the 2008 Eurovision. Scarleh’! After Zig and Zag departed for the UK, Dustin was joined on The Den by Socky, a sock monster with socks instead of hair and Snotzer, who was initially a very annoying disembodied voice but was eventually revealed to be a pig puppet with a very annoying voice.
Podge and Rodge
In the early 90’s, Zag bought a very ugly puppet from an evil magician. When bad things start to happen in The Den, everyone blamed Zag. Little did they know that his new puppet, Podge, was magical and evil and was deliberately trying to drive all of them mad. Later, the character of Podge progressed to gain his own show with a twin brother Rodge. Podge quickly changed from slightly thespian, diabolical and magical into a dirty-minded farmer. Podge and Rodge’s “A Scare at Bedtime” became a hugely popular prime time TV show. The two perverted puppets would tell a scary story, illustrated by re-enactments performed by actors. The stories were gruesome, unpleasant and usually hilarious! Podge and Rodge went on to host their own chat show, The Podge and Rodge Show in which they invited guests to their grotty Ballydung Manor and insulted them. It was tremendously entertaining and strangely, the guests kept coming back for more.