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'It was the most special thing in the world' - Ray D'Arcy's lovely memories of Christmas on The Den

‘It was a nice feeling rattling around RTÉ on Christmas morning’.

raySource: RTÉ

CHRISTMAS MORNING IN Irish households in the eighties and nineties were dominated by two things: rushing to see what Santa had brought, and The Den.

There was nothing quite like turning on the telly at 7am to be greeted by Zig and Zag, and Ian or Ray, to take the excitement up to fever pitch.

Last year we brought you Ian Dempsey’s memories of that wonderful festive tradition. And this time round we caught up with Ray to reminisce about…

RTÉ on Christmas morning

For eight years we did it live every Christmas morning.

Like Ian, Ray and co would pre-record an opening link for 7am, and then play a Christmas film. After the film it was live in studio for a couple of hours of festive Den magic; madness with Zig and Zag, a blast of Ducktales or The Racooons, and excited phone calls from kids.

denmain Source: Killianm2/YouTube

Ray remembers:

There was one little lad in particular I remember who swore blind he had seen Santa the previous night. He was absolutely convinced.

He also remembers the halls of RTÉ being fairly empty with just a few of them “rattling around”:

The director general of RTÉ would come in for a chat, which is funny now because who on earth, especially children, would want to watch that? It was a nice tradition though.
We got a free breakfast in the RTÉ canteen and someone would always send in a bottle of Bucks Fizz.

On working at Christmas

deb Source: Killianm2/YouTube

I was single at the time, so it wasn’t too much hardship to have to do a few hours work on Christmas morning. I would always head down to my parents’ house in Kildare straight afterwards.
The only thing you’d miss was going out for a few drinks on Christmas Eve, which I think is a real tradition for young people who head home for Christmas.

On Christmas Crisis

D’Arcy took part in several Den Christmas specials over the years, but the most enduringly popular is definitely 1992’s Christmas Crisis.

ray2

Christmas Crisis saw Ray and the lads living in 10 Celebrity Square, with Postman Patrick (played by the genuinely terrifying Podge) causing all kinds of trouble (including breaking Ray’s Pierre Du Plonk clock and stealing his Scent of Man), culminating in an emergency trip to Lapland to see Santa.

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Thinking back there was a storyline but no script. We knew the scenes we wanted to set up, but after that it was all improvised. We were well used to working together at that stage.

Ray remembers:

It was the first time you ever saw Zig and Zag’s bedroom, which was pretty exciting.

bed

And poor Zig got blamed for taking the Scent of Man.

siz

Of course it was Podge posing as Postman Patrick who had been up to no good. D’Arcy said “there was a real evil” in the character. So much so that RTÉ had letters and phonecalls from parents about their children’s fear of Podge.

One poor woman contacted us and said her child was so afraid that we had to bring the child in to RTÉ and show her that Podge was just a puppet, lying there.
Another child was caught doing something bold and said that Podge had made him do it!

Christmas Crisis made use of all the resources that RTÉ had to offer, from a new state-of-the-art TV gallery doubling as Santa’s HQ:

santa

To Crimeline getting involved into the investigation at 10 Celebrity Square:

crime

And of course, there was the trip to Finland to see Santa in Lapland, to make sure Zig was going to be fully exonerated in time for Christmas.

zig

Ray remembers having fun with the crew both on and off screen, particularly throwing in a “great Finnish” joke whenever they could.

To this day people still watch those specials (there was also Must Go To Moscow in 1991, and the 1995 Christmas Carol, featuring Boyzone) at Christmas, so it’s just so great to have been involved in something that people still love so much.

On that famous Christmas visit from Mary Robinson

mary Source: RTÉ

It was between her election and her inauguration and I was wearing the worst shirt ever. Unimaginably bad. It was corduroy and had different coloured panels. The pits.

D’Arcy remembers that Robinson’s nine-year-old son Aubrey was a great fan of The Den, and the sport of the President-elect challenging Dustin on his assertion that she had smelly feet.

Finally, on that pesky Ted

D’Arcy jokes:

You know, you work so hard to make something really special and then in the end all anyone remembers is you fighting with a giant teddy bear.

Ray, of course, spent many Dens wrestling with Ted, and he remembers it was the days when he was feeling a little worse for wear that Ted would be at his most active.

If I was hungover the crew would spot it and that’s the day Ted would appear.

He also recalls bleeding from the head live on air one day, after a particularly rough bout with Ted.

But of his time at The Den on Christmas mornings, Ray says:

It was the most special thing in the world to be there, knowing everyone was watching, celebrating Christmas in everyone’s sitting rooms.

We think so too! Happy Christmas Ray, Zig, Zag, Dustin, Zuppy and Soky, wherever you are today! From all at DailyEdge.ie

Read: ‘It was absolutely live’ – Ian Dempsey reminisces on Christmas morning in The Den>

The Den Christmas Crisis: Ray, Zig and Zag save the day> 

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About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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