Monday 25 June 2018
My brush with fame.
As hard as it may once seem, I once had a whiff of TV notoriety in my homeland. When I was 11. I wasn't a child star. And to be honest, it was a hickory stench. But I have the dubious honour of having been one of the main elements in a RTE children's TV serial plotline on RTE's The Den. For those who don't know, The Den was RTE's answer to CITV and CBBC's the Broom Cupboard. It ran for twenty four years from 1986 to 2010, where it was overhauled by a sixty-odd head of kids' TV and renamed "TRTE" and RTE Jr, and no one's sure what the T stands for. But it'd already been almost dead. For context, the Den began as Dempsey's Den. Hosted by affable disc jockey Ian Dempsey with the aid of two puppet aliens, Zig and Zag, it was initially a series of links to a mix of cartoons, reruns of old ITV serials, Commonwealth filler and US teen sitcoms, as well as the odd native series such as Rimini Riddle or The Morbegs. But the spark of puppeteers Ciaran Morrison and Mick O'Hara turned the Den into some bizarre soap opera, with running storylines, introducing Podge, a ventriloquist's dummy, and later Dustin the Turkey - an illegitimate, streetwise half-vulture from Sallynoggin. When Zig and Zag moved to the UK, on the Big Breakfast, Dustin took over, aided by an infantile sock-haired dog-thing called Soky the Sock Monster, though weirdly the two aliens from Zogs' pet Zuppy remained a regular. By this time, Dempsey had left. And was replaced by Ray D'Arcy. D'Arcy has since gone onto a mystifyingly successful career as a radio DJ and talk show host, yet he was only ever good for kids' TV. He had a magic there that he lacks now. I remember D'Arcy, and then his replacements Damien McCaul (who always seemed to be a poor relation - esp. as it was now "Den II"), and the sadly short-lasting Francis Boylan Jr. Then, in 2005ish, the Den got overhauled. Dustin was moved into his own show and the host segments were hosted by Kathryn McKiernan - a joyously untamed flame-haired youth, though Soky was still hosting the pre-school segments. Dustin's Daily News was the result - a strange hybrid of news satire, celebrity interview (when I say celebrity - the most famous people they got on it were Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle, writer Michael Carroll - who I now know quite well and lots of Irish talent show sorts who have of course vanished, a few GAA players and some prominent children's writers of the time.) and kids' gameshow. Dustin was aided by "the lovely" Sinead Ni Churnain, as well as Snotser, another Den carryover, a falsetto-voiced pig in a blonde wig.
However, they realised they needed a running plot. Such plots were regular in the Den, from Podge coming to life and the regular appearances of Aunty Monica (played by a male actor in drag - who the actor was I have no idea, but he had great comic timing). But they decided to somehow do a spoof of the Max Headroom Broadcasting Hijack.
For those not in the know, Chicago, November 22, 1986, a PBS channel and WGN were hijacked by a bloke in a Max Headroom mask, the PBS showing during a showing of the Doctor Who story "Horror of Fang Rock". "Max" ranted on about Coke, Clutch Cargo and WGN. Dustin's Daily News gave us Martin Duck, a camp, cravatted duck in a blue coat who wanted to run Duck Daily News. He was quite sinister in his arch nature, his blank ping-pong eyes staring at the camera.
This was in January 2006, I was ten, glued to this strange figure who distributed wanted posters. The set for DDN had a TV behind Dustin, but Martin would appear periodically, only to disappear when Dustin looked. And so I emailed in to tell them to look back on the recordings and locate Martin. Thus, they did. Alas, my recording of my appearance is not on, but I did appear - in a voice-only capacity, phoned in,told them, and then the storyline continued. Martin dragged up as "contestant Deirdre Drake" for the not-at-all-the-same-as-Mastermind-but-for-thick-Culchies "Masterbrain game", flirting with Dustin, then kidnapped Sinead and took her place, only for Martin to be tracked down from a secret location, via cryptic clues. A shed in Blackpool, Co. Cork. Then, Limerick. Then, he turned out to be a huge fan. But came back the next year, hijacking the RTE newsroom and was chased through Phoenix Park or something.
I remember speaking to Sinead on the phone, and watching the TV - with the mute button on, as the soundtrack'd be on the phone. I was excited, and got a free pen and T-shirt, which I kept, along with the T-shirt and pen I got from an earlier write-in to Den 2, a part of a best friends photo compilation with my pal Kwesi.
To be honest, I have clearer memories of when Dustin dragged up in Irish dancing frock and wig, or this astonishingly awful country song from Dustin - https://www.rte.ie/archives/2015/1217/754735-dustins-daily-news/ (backing band footage from Pat "the Deal" Campbell's RTE show Country Star Time), considering he had a series of actual hits in Ireland. And then his Eurovision, but that's another story.
But I still feel proud to be involved such a momentous piece of Irish TV.