AFTER nearly four decades of television, theatre and online adventures, and a long legacy in Irish entertainment and education, it’s no wonder kids’ telly legend Bosco is beloved by all.
Ahead of the lovable puppet’s planned show at Cork’s Everyman on January 30 - which has sadly since been cancelled - I composed myself long enough to get through an interview with Ireland’s favourite redhead.
“Hi, Mike! I’m delighted to talk to ya!”
With that simple, cheery greeting from Bosco, your writer is immediately transported to his childhood.
To say that I am talking to a cultural icon is an understatement: although only five years old, Bosco has been a part of Irish life for more than four decades, bringing that trademark perpetually vivid imagination and sense of wonder to television, theatre, and social media.
In the process, Bosco has made generations of friends of all ages, in Ireland and around the world, and holds a special place in the heart of the nation.
This is an unlikely piece of modern cultural history: an enduring icon whose distinctive voice and shock of red hair are still instantly recognisable, despite the huge social and technological advances that have happened since Bosco’s 1979 debut on RTÉ television.
Bosco is a living link to Irish cultural memory, at a time when even the ‘fast-forward’ button seems like a quaint reference to make about the pace of today’s world.
Bosco speaks fondly of the ’70s and ’80s adventures at the state broadcaster, where the journey began - from making art and craft projects with the grown-ups, to trips to Dublin Zoo.
“I really loved it. I got to do so many things, and I got to meet so many people. I got to do lots of tongue-twisters, and I got to do lots of make and do, and I got to go to the zoo an awful lot!
“Once, I got into the cage with a wolf. Isn’t that amazing? I did, and I got to hold baby tigers. I had such a good time.
“Once, I went into the cage with these little monkeys called marmosets, and they actually kissed me. And a few years ago, I got to go and spend the whole summer in Fota, and I loved that too. And every morning, before I did my show, the lemurs would come down and say hello to me.”
One of the grown-ups on the show at the peak of its popularity was a Corkman called Frank Twomey, an actor and comedian who was in the middle of establishing a now-legendary career, and carries a similar cultural cachet for Corkonians in particular.
When quizzed, Bosco speaks fondly of spending time with Twomey on set, his willingness to get into the spirit of play and pretend, and of his natural comedic gift.
“Frank was very funny. Sometimes, he was so funny, that he didn’t even know he was being funny himself, and you’d have to say ‘Frank, that was very funny!’
“He’s very good at telling stories. He used to tell me a lot of stories, and he was very good at acting poems as well. We were great friends!”
Another thing Bosco has done for many years is visit children in person at theatres and halls around the country - including in the Troubles-era North - and that’s also meant regular stops in Cork over the years.
Theatre is Bosco’s regular gig in non-Covid times, and his show at the Everyman was to be based on Hansel and Gretel. It’s a place that’s near and dear to the little puppet’s own heart.
“Yeah, I have been travelling, doing my shows for a long time, and I did go up to the North a lot, even when there was Troubles up there.
“I love doing all my shows, I still love doing them, ’cause you get to go into really lovely places. And probably my very favourite place is the Everyman. D’you know why? The people are very nice. Everybody is very nice, like the people that work on the stage, and the people that show you to your seat, and everybody goes ‘Howya, Bosco!’, and they love to see you coming in, and I love that the best.
“It has a special magic, when you go into the Everyman and you stand on the stage, you really feel that it’s a very special place, and a very magical place.”
Of course, a big part of Bosco’s live shows is the multi-generational appeal: puppetry in the Lambert family tradition, that’s taken in a wide variety of folk and fairy tales over the years.
They’re attended by families that include parents (and, in increasing numbers, grandparents) that would have grown up watching Ireland’s favourite redhead.
What’s it like watching the grown-ups dropping their guard and getting into the spirit of things?
“They get delighted to see me, and sometimes they get their photo taken with me. They get excited, like really excited! Like how they really don’t mean to get, but they forget about that, then.
“They really like to see me, and then they tell me what they liked best when I was on the telly, and they really like to say to their children, ‘This was our little puppet’. That’s what they say!”
Bosco is no nostalgia act, though: The act is always up to something new, whether it’s making telly appearances on Virgin Media’s Ireland AM, or helping out with charity campaigns like the LauraLynn Foundation.
But where Bosco’s presence has been a real salve for Covid-era anxiety is on social media - across Facebook and Twitter, Bosco posts pictures in costumes and of their famous Box, shares stories, and chats online with the boys and girls in comments and replies.
It can be hard sometimes to learn new things, especially if you’ve been around for as long as Bosco has, but they’ve taken to it naturally, finding another way to connect with friends around the world.
“Isn’t it a really strange thing?” asks Bosco. “One time, if you wanted to talk to someone, just in England, it was very expensive on the phone, and now you just have to go on the computer, and you can talk to anybody, anywhere in the whole world. Like on my Facebook, there’s people from New Zealand, and America - well, they’re Irish people that live in Australia and New Zealand, and they talk to me on Facebook.
“And sometimes they buy things from my shop, and I send them all the way across the world, even to Barbados. That’s very far away!”
Aside from overseeing said online shop, where you can get socks, posters, and even little Bosco puppets of your own, Bosco is also doing a lot of video shout-outs for people via the Irishify service, saying hello and sending good wishes to their friends around the world on special moments in their lives, like birthdays and weddings.
And it’s here that you really see exactly how much Bosco has come to mean to generations of Irish people, to be asked to be a special part of peoples’ milestones.
“I really like doing them. Sometimes, they could be for birthdays, or weddings. I get an awful lot of them for weddings, where people are getting married.
“And I like doing them because you’re going to say something very special, for somebody, to somebody else, and that’s really nice.”
It means a lot to so many people that Bosco is still with us, just like they have been for all of many of our lives - a fond pre-internet memory, and a source of comfort and levity in modern times.
Which is just as well, as it can be quite scary to be a grown-up these days, because things seem so uncertain for so many reasons, and so much is still changing amid the Covid crisis.
Bosco was saddened to call off the Cork show last week: “I’m heartbroken. I’ve had to make the decision because I just couldn’t cope with the uncertainty of not being able to plan from one week to the next, and not knowing whether a show will be cancelled at the last minute.”
“I think that when it all gets too much, they’re saying how many people are in hospital, and everything, that all you can do is sit down and take a deep breath and say, ‘Well, I can’t really do anything else about this - I’ve already been washing my hands a billion times, and doing my best’.
“There’s no point in worrying, sure there isn’t? Everybody can just think about happy things!”
It’s hoped the tour will resume in the autumn.
Visit boscosbox.com for all manner of Bosco-related goodies, and order a video shout-out from Bosco at irishify.com