DAVID FLYNN recalls the popular television series that provided entertainment, escapism and education to generations of Irish children
If you spent your childhood living in Ireland between the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, you wouldn’t have missed seeing or hearing about a television programme featuring friendly folk and puppets travelling around the country in a multi-coloured wagon.
Looking back now, forty years after Wanderly Wagon stopped filming, the progamme might seem basic and obscure, but it meant a lot to Irish children in its time. It gave entertainment, escapism and education to young minds throughout those decades.
One of the cast members was even involved in the mid-1970s in a television advert about the Safe Cross Code, which was a code about road safety devised for young people.
In the series, the colourful wagon was driven on the roads of Ireland by the jovial character, O’Brien, played by popular puppeteer, Eugene Lambert of the Lambert Family Puppet Theatre, which was based in Dublin.
He was joined on the Wanderly Wagon road trip by Godmother, played by Irish stage and screen actress Nora O’Mahoney. Also on the trip was the young man Rory, played by actor Bill Golding.
They were the humans who travelled around in the wagon and they were joined by an array of animals in the form of puppets, including Judge the white dog, Foxy the Fox, a group of mice who lived in the attic, and the unforgettable loud Mr. Crow, who lived in a clock inside the wagon, and sometimes in the downpipe outside the wagon.
They were joined by a couple of squirrels who also lived in the wagon.
Fortycoats was a lovable man of the roads who regularly turned up to see the wagon folk.
He was first played by Bill Golding, (as well as doubling up playing Rory), and when Bill left the series in 1977, Fortycoats was replaced by actor Fran Dempsey. The evil Dr. Astro also turned up travelling through time and space, and was played by familiar comedy actor Frank Kelly, who was also starring at the time on the satirical show, Hall’s Pictorial Weekly.
The crew was joined along the way by Sneaky Snake, who was exactly as his name suggested, and he turned up now and again to cause mischief.
‘Wanderly Wagon’ was first broadcast on Saturday evening, September 30th, 1967. Eugene Lambert had previously starred for five years with his puppets on an earlier children’s RTÉ programme, Murphy agus A Chairde. A horse called Padraig pulled the wagon in the opening episodes, which were in black and white.