Well, here we are, the end of our “May Madness”. I’ve written about Lego, The Beano and Studio Ghibli across the last few weeks. Next week I’ll be going back to video games but for now, there’s one more non-video game post to cover. I’ve decided to go with something very Irish, something that was a cultural icon for so many growing up here. It was so popular, RTÉ decided to reboot it for an older audience. I am of course talking about The Den. If you grew up in Ireland between the mid-80s and the 2000s, you will be very familiar with The Den. Even is you didn’t grow up in Ireland, you’re probably familiar with the concept as similar types of shows existed in many different countries.
First broadcasting in 1986, Dempsey’s Den (as it was originally called) starred Ian Dempsey and some very familiar aliens, Zig and Zag. Originally airing on RTÉ One, it was a children’s programme that featured cartoons and live action series aimed at children and teenagers. These included both internationally acquired programming as well as local commissions. In between, Ian Dempsey would hold competitions, interact with Zig and Zag in all sorts of creative ways and even interview guests. These sets took many different forms over the years, from a treehouse to a UFO and even a chip van. The show became an instant hit and would air on RTÉ One until 1988, before moving to RTÉ One’s sister channel, Network 2 (now called RTÉ 2). Network 2 was aimed at a younger audience so Dempsey’s Den fitted in perfectly.
In 1990, Ian Dempsey would leave Dempsey’s Den and be replaced by Ray D’Arcy. RTÉ decided to rename it to just “The Den” and remove any reference to the main host. Ray D’Arcy is probably the most famous host of The Den. He presented it from 1990 until 1998 and was the host for the reboot in 2020. He had a great rapport with the puppets and the guests. Joining Zig and Zag was Dustin The Turkey, who would represent Ireland in the Eurovision in 2008. He also had a very famous interview with the Irish President at the time, Mary Robinson (where he said she had smelly feet). Zig, Zag and Dustin would release several music tracks as well, including ZigZaggin’ Around The World and Funky Ford Cortina. When Zig and Zag departed for Channel 4, Socky The Sock Monster would make his debut, aimed at younger children.
The Den also had other memorable cast members, including Podge and Rodge, a mischievous brother, the diabolical Ted, who would attack Ray, Zuppy, an adorable alien puppy, and Don Conroy, who would teach kids how to draw (mostly owls). Podge and Rodge would eventually get their own late-night show called A Scare At Bedtime. This popular show was unique and very Irish. I’d recommend having a look at it but be warned, it’s very, very rude. The Den would also have a Christmas Special every year, where the gang went in search of Santa Claus, along with all sorts of hijinks along the way.
Ray D’Arcy would leave The Den in 1998 and would be replaced by Damian McCaul from 1998-2003 (where it was rebranded at Den2), Francis Boylan from 2003-2005 (who I actually worked with for a brief period) and Kathryn McKiernan from 2005-2010. Eventually The Den would be phased out. Network 2 (now rebranded as RTÉ2) still have children and teen content but the short segments in between are gone. This is something that happened in many countries, with these type of wacky filler shows being phased out for straight forward children’s scheduling.
The Den had a big impact on me. I loved racing home after school and planting myself inThe Den front of the television. I would watch shows such as Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, Cardcaptors, Action Man, Kenan & Kel, The Yes-No Game Show, Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, Biker Mice from Mars and Spider-Man: The Animated Series among many, many more. I studied media in the hopes of one day becoming a Den host but, alas, the show was discontinued shortly before I graduated. Probably didn’t matter, as my fast-talking style and anxious behaviour probably would have stopped me anyway.
I hope you enjoyed my brief look at The Den. Before I go, I’ll leave you with one classic clip: What’s Snots? Enjoy…